Or maybe I didn’t. But anyway, the big foofaraw is over, in some sense, assuming that Amazon restores the Macmillan titles to its click-click-land. And guess what? Normal people (not writers or people in the publishing industry) don’t know or care what happened at Amazon, and look at you blankly as if to say, “SO WHAT?!” when you try to explain why writers are canceling their wishlists and getting upset. In fact, my sister-in-law said last night on the phone that she tries to read my LJ, but can’t make heads or tails out of “that stuff you talk about to your writer friends.” (GRIN) So . . . hey, the rest of the world doesn’t know what the HECK everyone got their knickers in a knot over. Now, if their TEEVEE SIGNAL had gone black, well, sir, THAT would have been a probby-lem! But books, eh. Especially ones they weren’t even going to buy anyway . . . they only read vampire stuff!
Anyhow. If you were hibernating all weekend and didn’t watch the Internet tearing its hair and dashing around in circles, there was a b*t*hfight on the playground. Amazon wants to price e-books no higher than $10, Macmillan wants a higher price for new releases so as not to compete with hardcovers (I have some doubt that they really do–film at 11), so they drew lines in the sand. Amazon pulled Macmillan’s books and (I am told) even yanked sample chapters off of people’s Kindles (more on this in a moment), but Macmillan won the p*ss*ng contest, or so it appears. Most people conjecture that this was kicked off by the release of the lame new Apple iPad with its agreement (signed by all five of the other American publishers) concerning an “agency” system of pricing; apparently, the plan is to release ebooks at the same time as the hardcovers with comparable prices, but to lower the ebook price within a few months. Authors had nothing to do with any of this, BTW. It’s all because the business model of publishing is waaaay behind the times, and they’re going to have to adjust ASAP. Ebooks may not be wonderful for everyone, but they aren’t going away.
Whew. But anyway, I Have Been Cogitatin’ on this. I ain’t so sure the ebook revolution is going to be all fun and daisies. I do like being able to put my own content out there with no middleman, but where are the downsides?
Let’s say that the ebook becomes the standard within a few years, that textbooks go away and schools issue Kindles/iPads/whatevers to students so that they don’t have to lug six heavy texts to and fro (I had a huge backpack and before that a bookbag, dinosaur that I am), and that pretty soon there is really no such thing as a book–at least not as a NEW book. Let’s say that the physical book goes the way of the eight-track tape (not like vinyl records, which still have a way of being popular). Everybody throws away all those old books except a few weirdos like me who keep musty shelves on the wall, and nobody has to worry about the mites that sometimes get into moldy old paper.
What would be the downside to this?
Well . . . my first thought is, you are essentially handing over control of your content to WHOEVER it is that services the e-readers.
Once you give centralized control of all reading material/text to ANYone, be it the Kindle people or the industry or the GOVERNMENT (oh, G-d forbid!), you give away everything. Because then what is to stop Them (whoever They turn out to be) from revising history textbooks and putting them out with the changes–say, that WWI never happened and the Holocaust didn’t happen and that slavery never happened, or whatever–and then in effect changing history? After a couple of generations, the students/kids would start to believe it. Shades of 1984. Yes, it COULD happen. Revisionist history is actually already happening. It would just be a whole lot easier and the belief in the “new history” would be more widespread if a central control got hold of all text and ALL TEXT came to you on the Kindle or via the ‘net. (The ‘net, sorry to say, may not forever be the free thing that it now is. Net neutrality and other threats to it are always going on. I can’t be sure that someday the ‘net might not come under a similar control.) It could become impossible to post certain content because it’s too politically incorrect, or the science is deemed too “dangerous” to share, or something.
Okay, you say I’m a paranoid nutcase. Fine. You get a gold star.
But let’s think a little smaller. If it is true that Amazon deleted sample chapters of Macmillan books from Kindles on Friday, then Amazon could delete whatever it wanted from Kindles whenever it wanted (and people would have no recourse save to yell and stomp their feet.) If a Kindle can only hold yay-so-many books, and then you have to archive the others onto their mass storage, it means you might lose the stuff in mass storage under a number of possible scenarios. Again . . . someone else has control over your content. Not ideal.
It’s easy on the e-reader to do a search for text strings, sure, and it’s fun not to have to lug around books. I can see some advantages. But comparing texts side-by-side or doing research using primary sources, the way you do in a library, ain’t so easy, eh?
My eyes tire quickly when I’m staring at a screen. No matter what kind of screen it is. I do well with the AlphaSmart screen and somewhat OK with this LCD flat screen, but not if I stare all day. I have trouble seeing the iPhone and iPod Touch screens, probably because they’re glowing brightly and I’m staring at them when the ambient light is not as bright. (I can’t watch teevee in the dark, either. It’s the visual infirmities.) I like the feel of a printout or a book. I like to wonder who checked this book out of the library in the past. (Used to be that I could look at the signatures on the card stuck in the pocket and know who had checked a book out before me, sometimes years before!)
A book printed on acid-free paper may last long enough for your grandchildren to read it. On the other hand, most people I know could not read a 5-1/4 floppy disk with any equipment they now have, and many can’t read a 3-1/2 diskette. Forget about an old 8″ floppy and the formats they used during the CP/M years. How quickly technology changes, and how seldom we think to go get all the stuff off the old media that we might want someday.
I don’t know. I do know that this shakeout has only just begun. There will be much more fun to watch as the ebook makes its place and begins moving into a wider market–assuming ereaders come down in price to a reasonable price point of, say, $100 or less, the way calculators did when they caught on.