Wednesday, October 05, 2011

March of the Ebooks

I've written before about ebooks, but now, in the UK, they are about to take another leap forward as Amazon have launched a Kindle that costs less than £100.

For me, this is the watershed. I've believed for some time that once we get a sub £100 Kindle, then ebooks will take off, not because it's a Kindle, but because you can get the reader and the books in the same popular, widely known place. Watch this space.

On the subject of ebooks, one of the criticisms laid at their door is that they can be disposed of more easily and lost for future generations. This is, in the thinking of these people the polar opposite of what has happened to the paper and parchment works of Socrates and the penny dreadfuls...oh...they have disappeared. Works by Donne and other enlightenment authors have also been lost despite being written and printed. And this is just in the western world.

How many great works were destroyed in the fifteenth century when the Chinese turned inwards? What marvels never survived from the ancient empires of Africa, such as Egypt, Ghana and Zimbabwe? Works from Babylonia, the Moghul empire and many others from around the globe have also been lost, their authors not even remembered.

No doubt those who suggested writing things on papyrus and parchment were told that there works would be ephemeral by those who carved their tales into rock and clay. In short, literature has always disappeared and rarely by deliberate destruction.

The people who dismiss ebooks as a bad way to keep literature safe also neglect to mention that the British Library, amongst others, store ebooks, but I think there is another reason: Ego.

Some of those that dismiss ebooks are not worried about literature in general, but their books in particular. They fear that their grand works will be lost to future generations and their names will not even be footnotes in the history yet to be written. They fear mortality.

This is not true of everyone who worries over the future of literature, as they do have the good of the written word at heart. But for a significant number of those who 'worry', it is the future of their own reputations that lie at the heart of their dismissive attitude. They are similar to those politicians who see the teaching of history as a record of great events so that one day their names will be remembered. They fear history as a record of life instead of dates and 'great people'.

Ebooks have their problems, they can be deleted when someone has finished with them and lost, but so can novels when they are remaindered, given away or even put in the bin. It is a technological step forward and may end with more people reading more books in the same way that printing opened up reading to many more people. No one knows where this will lead yet, nor can we tell what the consquences will be.

The digitising of music may have hurt the music industry, but live music has been given a shot in the arm and bands can now sell direct to their fanbase. Will the same happen with literature? Will we see the rise of book readings by authors? The growth of local authors over international ones? Is JK Rowling the last of the international big sellers?

Who knows.

It is worth considering a quote: 'Nothing produced by any human is so important that it has to be kept for all eternity, no matter what we may think of our own greatness.'

10 comments:

Author Doc said...

Thanks for this. I read it with great interest. My son - a literature graduate - has been trying to persuade me to by a Kindle but I hesitate on the premise that it might be "just another gadget" to be put aside and gather dust. I like the argument you use about the works lost throughout history.
At the moment I am trying to get going with a cull of books in my home, gathered over the course of more than 50 years and indeed inherited from my own parents.

Martin Willoughby said...

Doc: The Kindle is growing from strength to strength and may end up as just another gadget, but I think that ebooks are here to stay. The ereader manufacturers have learnt from the video wars and allow several formats to be read on their devices.

DRC said...

I don't think we should fear evolution - and it's taken me a while to realise this. Ebooks are on the rise. Ignoring that fact isn't going to do you any favours. In fact you could end up turning your back on success. For those who are fearing this evolution, I suggest embracing both print and ebook. Some publishers offer a print on demand service which opens your work to a wider audience, keeping you up to date with latest gadgets AND allowing your book to maybe live a little longer... ;)

Martin Willoughby said...

DRC: Embrace change, but don't squeeze it so hard it breaks.

Stacy Coles said...

Thanks for the follow and the comment. "Learn from my mistakes or repeat them," is great advice to give your kids. I like that.
I enjoyed this post on e-books. I'm currently working on a short, inspirational story that will be available to purchase traditionally and in e-book form. Technology is an amazing thing. We can either kid ourselves and say the e-book thing will fizzle out, or keep up with technology (especially as writers) and take advantage of the wonderful world of opportunity that is opening up around us.

Martin Willoughby said...

Stacy: Some technology dies before it's had a chance, other technology keeps going because it's useful. Ebooks are useful and all the ereader makers seem to have cottoned on to the idea of allowing multiple formats, which can only help them with sales.

Holly said...

Dare we mention the burning of the Library of Alexandria?

Buying a Kindle was the best technological investment I've made since mobile phones required a battery the size of the one in your car. I didn't think I'd take to it, because I love books (the actual physical book format) so much, but I love it.

I take a Buddhist approach to this stuff. All things pass away. Change is the only constant. I like to think that knowledge is never lost. Sometimes it just has to be rediscovered.

Martin Willoughby said...

Holly: Yes, we dare mention it and that is a great approach to take.

The Vegetable Assassin said...

I've wondered about this myself and I see pros and cons for both formats. Sure, it's nice to have an actual book in the same way it once was to buy a record or CD. You get artwork and the full package. But ebook formats are so convenient, I think they may be a good tool in persuading younger people to start reading. There are so many pros to it in my opinion. Taking a reader on your travels means you can take your entire library without filling a suitcase. What's not to like about that? And a lot of people who wouldn't otherwise find publishing deals, can now publish themselves or make their work available more easily.

I don't think the Kindle and its ilk are the flash in the pan I thought they might be at the start. Everyone seems to have one or want one. It's inevitable technology catch up in the book arena, like it or not.

Martin Willoughby said...

Veg:Ebooks are here to stay. Did you know that you can get a FREE kindle reader for your PC/Laptop/Android?