Novels will never go away. There’ll always be people who need story in their lives, for whatever reason, and a novel gives you enough–not just a flash like a short story or a film (which is longer, but doesn’t have the same cooperative-creation aspects).
Technology is not going away. If anything, more and MORE people will be adopting the e-reader technologies. Younger people will be introduced to it via schools (where textbooks on e-readers would be the most eminently sensible things they’ve done in years, if they can keep the kids from destroying their e-readers through carelessness and pranks). Younger people may never read a printed book. That’s still in the future, but not as far away as you might hope or think. The Jetsons future never materialized (and I mourn it, as I neeeeeeed Rosie the Robot Housekeeper and a flying car), but this one is here. Now.
So. I have had several arguments with people on various mailing lists about whether e-book borrowing is the same as print-library borrowing. Many people have told me that they see no problem with authors and their income, because libraries have always existed (since Ben Franklin came up with the idea, anyhow). But unlike library sales of today, when libraries all over the country buy a couple of hardcopies of your novel and lend it to one person at a time–and, significantly, have to replace a copy that is lost, stolen, defaced, or just plain worn out by purchasing another copy–the e-lending model allows one copy of a book to be lent over and over with no damage to the book. Amazon has a lending program: if you are an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow a couple of Kindle books a month out of their vast collection. While you have the book checked out, you can copy out the passages you want to keep. Why would you go back and buy the book (in most cases, unless you LOVE it)? That’s one book sale potentially lost. It would only have cost you a couple of dollars to buy a copy, but you didn’t have to. (I don’t have an objection to free samples on the Kindle, though. Those lead to purchases.)
Very soon all DRM will be broken (if it hasn’t already) such that if you lend a book to someone, that book might be cloned and sent to hundreds of other readers for free. (This can be seen as good or bad, but if you are relying on an income from the tiny royalties you get from selling a book for $2.99, it leans toward bad indeed.) The limitations that some publishers are attempting to put on library lending right now may seem “petty,” but they’re trying to keep some re-buying going in this situation. Pirate sites will pop up where people can get free copies of books. You might argue that people could always copy out print books by hand (ha) or that they could photocopy them (I’ve seen that done when a book is out of print and rare, and it is a HUGE cost and hassle!), but copying the e-file is almost too easy. Too tempting. Erase that author’s royalties.
Worst of all, to me, is that once authors are not getting advances and not getting much in the way of royalties, they’re going to have to go out and get real jobs (unless they have sugar daddies like mine who work for a living and allow them to stay home and labor on the unseen details). This will mean that their books have to be worked on in whatever spare time they have, and the books will come out more slowly, if at all.
Look at the transformation of the music industry. Sure, it’s great for us as listeners to be able to get free MP3s when promotion time rolls around, and it’s cool that we can buy ANY track as a “single” from the various vendors, and we’re happy to be able to sample so many artists’ output without paying much (if anything). But artists no longer get much money from their CD sales and royalties from iTunes and such. They, however, can go on a concert tour and perform. Writers can’t do that as effectively. So one of the income-streams available to singers/songwriters is not available to writers, at least not so much. Are we ignoring the future when we say we want cheaper e-books? Do we care whether anyone ever writes another word except for personal reasons (ego, the desire to be read, the desire to leave something behind for posterity, an inner drive, whatever)–meaning that many of the series now begun may be abandoned because the author is working flippin’ burgers instead of typing at the glowing altar?
Information wants to be free. Intellectual property is worth something. An author or singer deserves to be compensated for all that work. Do not starve an ox as it treads out the grain. How does this all fit together?
In other words, it’s not as simple as people who love to get “Free!” books would like to think.
Some of us are dumb enough to go on scribbling anyway. But now that the gatekeepers can be circumvented through putting books out on Kindle and through CreateSpace, Lulu, and other non-ripoff print POD services, it’s quite difficult to find books that you want to read. It’s not difficult to find BOOKS, which are all over the place. But it’s tougher to find books that don’t have clunky prose with constant howlers (“While driving down the interstate, a tree fell off a truck and bounced off the car”) and so many typos that the book soon flies against the wall. It’s tougher to find books with at least a semblance of originality. Many books don’t have coherent plots, and the plot holes are so large that they boggle the mind. These books aren’t much fun to try to read. But when the only way to find books is wading through the hype created by publicists and friends of the author who write that every potboiler is “captivating” and a “must-read,” you find yourself doing a lot of weeding. Perhaps you don’t mind being an involuntary beta reader or proofreader for someone’s first draft that was rushed to market because it COULD be. One thing I can promise you about my own books is that you won’t find howlers or typos, and you’ll be seeing an umpty-umpth draft that has all the plot problems (at least the ones that I agree are problems) fixed. But that won’t always be the case with books you download.
Any coin has a flip side.
What are your thoughts on the matter?
* * *
I simply LOVE these book reports that an author has provided on his website for lazy middle schoolers who want something to turn in without having to actually read the book! I am going to shamelessly copy this guy and put book reports up on my novels as soon as I can think of some that are nearly as funny! (Anything to drive traffic to the site and to the books’ buying pages, right?)
* * *
“[If you think] that people don’t need to read, that people don’t like books, that they want to be “entertained” (as if reading were something hideous, something other than also entertainment), then we come to an impasse. But if, like me, you believe that books preserve the past, illuminate the present, and point the way to the future . . . then you can understand why I seem to be upset.”
–Harlan Ellison, _Sleepless Night in the Procrustean Bed_