21 July 2010

More Kindled Thoughts

I started out to simply post this on facebook with a pithy comment. Then my pithy comment grew out of pithy-length and into blog-post-length, and I suddenly remembered: hey! I have a blog!

Hi, Gang. It's been a busy summer. Places to go, sisters to entertain (and be entertained by), old friends to rescue from airline cancellations. Junior League action plans to write. Novel drafts to finish. New books to read, for that matter. You understand.

Anyway, speaking of all the books I've read this summer: back to the NYTimes' panic over "E-books top hardcovers at Amazon", and why this is a non-story.

In the first place, is the NYTimes sure that this number represents people who typically read hardcover books switching over to read them on Kindle? Because I have a counter-data set of one: I have a longstanding policy--way predating the Kindle--of not buying hardcover books by authors I don't know personally. I just don't have any more room to store them.

The Kindle actually means I read a lot more new releases, because in the old days I would have waited for the paperback or for the book to show up at the library. I still do that with hardcovers that aren't available on Kindle, so there's no need to clutch your pearls over the fact that e-book sales overtook sales of "hardcovers for which there is no Kindle edition."

In the second place, the data here is completely skewed, for a whole lot of reasons. Amazon is the only seller of Kindle books, but not the only seller of hardcovers. One of the huge advantages of the Kindle is instant gratification: I order, I read. Amazon can't offer that with paper books, but the Daunt where I kill time on the way to my volunteer gig can. Hardcover is not the only print book format, and I'd wager (I should be a good blogger and look this up, but I'm not going to) it's not even the most popular: the hardcover sections of most bookstores are dwarfed by paperbacks. So measuring e-book sales against hardcover sales, even if you could enlarge your vision from Amazon and look industry-wide (and why can't you, if you've got the resources of the New York Times behind you?), is a bit of a straw man argument.

Look, I love paper books as much as the next bookworm. Here's a picture of part of one wall in my flat--it goes on, there's another bookcase on the opposite wall, and the guest room/study is similarly lined. I love my paper books. I'm a great re-reader, as well, and I love the way the feel and smell of a particular book can conjure up my life at the time that I first read it. I do want to own paper copies of some books: I have a whole shelf of autographed copies of my friends' books, and that simply wouldn't work on Kindle.

But I don't get the "oh noes, electronics are coming to steal your paper!" panic. The invention of recording didn't doom live music performance. Theatre survives alongside film; I own three radios and only one television. Publishers are still turning out hardcover books, 80 years after the invention of cheaper, easier-to-carry paperbacks.

(Okay, so the internet is killing newspapers. Fair enough. But book publishers have been smart enough not to equate "digital" with "free" in readers' minds, and have dodged that bullet. And I'll admit: I miss cassette tapes, because I don't have a way to listen to my mix tapes from high school anymore.)

I would love someone better at research than I am do write an article about how e-books are changing reading habits. Are the numbers of people who tell Pew or the NEA that they've read a novel in the past year changing? Are sales of non-fiction going up or down among different formats? Are people paying for newspaper and magazine subscriptions again, to use on their e-readers? Are total sales of all reading material, in all formats, up or down?

I'm just annoyed at the idea that the New York Times will use front-page real estate on the staggering news that people are consuming books in the same format they consume everything else these days.

1 comment:

  1. Currently, paper is still the most archival method of publication...despite the trend toward digital publications.

    Think about the formats and media we used previously for info/files/text. Did you ever record computer files on tape? OK, Kathryne, you are probably too young. Certainly you used floppy disks, which shrank from 8 to 5 1/4 to 3 1/2 to nonexistent. I still have zip and jaz disks...which also are best found in museums. Anything saved on these, and many other media, are lost.

    Text file have been saved in dozens of then-common formats. My first prof insisted on using Volkswriter. I hope he didn't buy stock in whatever company that was. Even though PDFs now seem ubiquitous, there is no guarantee that Adobe will continue to support the format. (For example, the most recent Adobe Illustrator does not support files created in previous versions.) Other formats may appear and supersede.

    Plus, I'm always concerned about the potential for digital formats to be easily altered. The paper copy on my shelf is inviolable. I, and my students, know how to copy from anything I can view on a computer.

    I'm looking forward to your drafts becoming hard copies.