books: what ebooks are not

This post was inspired by a FB thread which triggered an examination of my reflexive contempt for ereaders.  It's an honest contempt, automatic & visceral, and as such not one I'd previously bothered deconstructing.  Being a bookseller is reason enough to despise digital encroachment- it is a blight with no cure.  However devastating previous waves of predation were, savvy, adaptable shops could find gaps to wiggle through.

Metastasizing Borders and Barnes & Nobel's decimated independent new shops but had little impact on the network of used stores.  Then used shops were hit hard by the rise of Amazon, but could at least earn back a portion of lost sales by participating in the online melee.

Digital is the one affliction of retail bookselling for which there is no possible response.  It has already claimed Borders.  Barnes & Nobel is still standing, but hemorrhaging from the self-inflicted wound of the Nook.  While I have no affection for either mega-chain, it would be disastrous for the nation's readers if both went extinct after having killed off the majority of the indie shops.

And digital is an equal opportunity disease which makes no distinction between new & used shops, eroding the profits (and thus the viability) of each with the same robotic vigor.

That's the obvious cause of my contempt for the things, but not the only one.
I also despise the way they extend Amazon's distributional chokehold on the publishing industry.  Anyone who isn't properly skeptical of Amazon's intentions here is advised to Google some combination of Ebook, Amazon & Monopoly.

Then there is the reality that you don't actually own the ebooks you "buy", you're leasing them on the sufferance of the publisher & distributor.  The issues here were highlighted by the kerfuffle over disappeared digital copies of Orwell's 1984.

Delicious, given the Kindle's tireless devotion to wirelessly transmitting their owner's behaviors back to Jeff Bezos' villanous Super Lair.

Often ignored is the whiff of class warfare they exude, being a de facto paywall around the fields of literature.
Kindle enthusiasts who sing the praises of its pricing amuse me.  With physical books the price follows a predictable arc- high on release, gradually falling, falling, until bottoming out when supply overtakes demand.

Guess what the prices of ebooks do?
They stay at whatever arbitrary level the publisher and/or distributor have decided they're worth.

As digital publication erodes the profitability & viability of retail bookshops & physical publishing the reader will be ever more at the mercy of, for want of a better term, The Man.  Amazon is no more your friend than any other global corporate entity & you cede them power at your own peril.

Lastly, there is the thing that ebooks are not- books.
They are negation, antimatter to the physical object 'book'.
They are texts, not books, that require an expensive translating device to be of any use.

I perceive a vast, insupportable gulf between the two.
For those who do not, and have the disposable income to gain egress to the e-club and don't much care about leasing texts from piratical would-be monopolists, or about the sanctity of their reading habits, I guess ereaders work fine.

I hope the romance persists once the machines have finished ravaging what remains of retail bookselling in America.


Moorlock said...

I currently don't have a working e-reader, but I had a Kindle for a while, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I tend to read a lot of oldish literature, so I didn't really pay for nothin'. Just loaded it up with public domain classics I'd always meant to read one of these days and long-form journalism/essays I found on-line when I didn't have time to read 'em.

I like books, and read from them by choice mostly, but I appreciated the Kindle for a couple of things:

1) in those moments where you have a few minutes for little but sitting and reading (e.g. doctors' waiting rooms), you can pull up something appropriate to your attention span, mood, and expected time-to-kill quickly. Beats having to carry around a book, a New Yorker, and a copy of the paper everywhere you go.

2) When travelling in Colombia for a goldurn month, it was nice to have a variety of lit in a small package, rather than carrying around a mountain of paperbacks.

In all, I enjoyed the thing much more than I'd expected to (it was a hand-me-down gift).

baxie said...

I noted in the FB thread that travellers & people with bad eyesight were natural constituencies for ereaders, which have demonstrable advantages over books for both demographics.

Their convenience is precisely what makes them so antithetical to books & bookstores, in the same way smartphones are antithetical to groups of friends attempting to socialize in the 'real' world.

To possess one is to be compelled to use it, to the detriment of the physical world.