Sunday, March 14, 2010

It's Time To Vote With Our Money [Take Action]

I spent the day yesterday in Tucson, Arizona at their Festival of Books. I attended three sessions with authors and was overwhelmed by the fact that in each session, someone asked the question, "What do you think will happen to books now that ebooks are on the rise?" All of the authors admitted to being scared that the traditional bound paper bookstores will disappear in five years. Then most authors were quick to append, "But e-readers don't smell" or "What will we sign?" Members of the audience asked, "How do you curl up with a Kindle?"

As a believer in free enterprise, and the power that our money has in dictating our future, the answer seems simple to me. IF YOU DO NOT WANT BOOKS TO DISAPPEAR, BUY PAPER BOOKS. Don't buy the Nook. Don't buy the Kindle. Buy yourself a copy of the book. We've all seen that the electronic versions are going to cost the same amount of money as their paper counterparts, so buying an eReader will likely end up being the more expensive route in the end.

Not only are readers more expensive, but how will you spread the word about great books? The Kindle doesn't allow you to share files. The Nook only lets you share with other Nook users, and only a certain number of times. My copy of WILLOW by Julia Hoban, has been read at least seven times. None of the people who read it would have purchased it to read it, but some have purchased it now that they have read it. This model of sharing books and spreading the word is important and needs to be preserved.

Having tried out a few readers in stores, I find that they are less comfortable to me. And, even with the invention of the easy-on-the-eyes e-ink, I find them more taxing to read. I spend a lot of time online everyday, I don't want to read my books on an electronic device. I want paper in my hands.

Put aside the social aspect that a bound book brings, and take a look at the environment impact it has. Most people argue that the readers save the planet because they aren't printed on paper. They might be right. But what about their batteries? We all know that batteries eventually have to be replaced. What will happen to the heavy metals that are in those batteries that are thrown away? The vast majority of people still toss old batteries in the trash because hazardous waste disposal sites and events are few and far between. The pollution that will leave in the ground and our ground water is, in my opinion, much more detrimental to the environment than the recycled paper, or sustainable-forest-supplied paper that most publishers use to print their books. Plus, it takes paper what, a year or two to decompose? Those heavy metals will be in our soil for a lot longer than that and will have a lot worse effects on our planet than paper books that might happen to get tossed in the landfill. We can hope though, there will be recycling programs for used devices and their batteries. Production of an ebook does produce significantly less CO2, but I'm not convinced that the CO2 production comparison is the most important environmental factor. Most environmental groups agree that until ebook manufacturers disclose the chemicals and compounds found in their devices, we will not be able to make a completely informed decision about their environmental impact.

Some people may presume that I am anti-technology because of the last paragraph. I'm not. In fact, I subscribe to more tech posts daily than I do book posts in my Google Reader. I love my smartphone, love my netbook, laptop, Zune, GPS, and usually get pulled to the side when I go through an airport security checkpoint for a deeper inspection of my bag because of the number of charger cables and electronic devices I travel with. I rely heavily on these devices. In contrast, I still buy CDs. I buy CDs and rip the file to my laptop, so that I can play it on my phone or Zune. I have a hard copy in case my laptop's hard drive crashes, or my laptop gets stolen. Do I download music? Sure. If I only want one song off of an album, or if the download is significantly cheaper than what I could buy the CD for. I weigh my perceived financial risk when choosing to download a song, and make my decision based on the outcome of that perception. I always make sure to buy DRM-free, but I'm not sure that's an option with e-books. Plus, you've all heard the horror stories about the person who lost all 30,000 songs they downloaded from iTunes and couldn't get them back. Can you imagine if that happened with our precious books?

My last point, and I think you dystopia-lovers might relate to this, is that what happens if, heaven forbid, there is a massive electro-magnetic pulse (EMP)? If all of our books are electronic and virtual, think of the wealth of knowledge and culture that will be lost! (unless you keep yours in a lead-lined safe) One author said that we'd have stories in the future, but not books. If something happened to wipe out our electronics, we would lose so much, both personally and anthropologically. In my mind, paranoid as I may be, this type of electronic destruction is more feasible than a world-wide fire or natural disaster that takes out every tangible thing on the planet. Do I think it'll happen? Hope not. But I'm just sayin'.

So, the only conclusion I can come to is that if you want to save the paper book, vote with your money. Tell the publishing and technology industries that you don't want books to disappear, or become cost-prohibitive, and purchase copies of bound books instead of their electronic counterparts. It's the only sure way to make a statement that will be heard to preserve our way of reading.


Anonymous said...

This is a great post and I have a lot of respect for what you are saying. A few of my friends have bought either a Kindle or Nook and have been trying to convince me to get one but I just haven't been able to do it. See I don't get to spend a lot of money right now so spending all that money makes no sense to me. Also, when I need "retail therapy" I go to my local bookstore whether it's the used bookstore or a Borders or B&N. Feeling that book in my hand is so precious. Then seeing it on my bookshelf...that's irreplaceable.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Your concern about what happens if all those files go *poof* is one I share. I'm always hearing that someone just lost all of their iTunes - and that WILL happen with books as well. What if it does happen on a large scale? So much would be lost.

And I'm with you - I stare at a screen long enough, thank you!

La Coccinelle said...

I'm not sure if I'd like e-books. Maybe if I had a reader. But I don't think I could read a whole novel on my computer screen!

Another thing I'd be worried about if I were an author would be someone finding a way around the no-sharing limits of the software. Then your book could be passed around to many people without you making a cent. Thousands of people might read and love your book, but since few people actually bought it, the publishing company wouldn't know it was a success... and then they might not publish any more of your books. (This is fundamentally different than a library. Yes, one book can be read by many people... but they don't all read it at once and the book doesn't make copies of itself!)

Cleverly Inked said...

I think a ebook is ok for an easy read. Quick and fun. I am not sold on the ereaders. I still love the look of a book on a shelf

April (BooksandWine) said...

So I was reading this in my google reader, and the ad at the bottom was for a Sony Pocket Reader, lol irony.

I just have to say, I have an eReader and I love it. I think it's perfect for travelling, and also for getting free classics via Project Guttenburg. Now, I haven't given up my paper/traditional books, but I'd like to believe they can peacefully coexist.

Lisa R said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa R said...

Oh, you are so much more eloquent than me. But at least I'm not the only one that feels this way.

"And yeah, I'm seeing people standing in lines reading their Kindle, their Sony, their Nook. Oh, yes, and the old fashioned paper books. It's a people thing. Whatever floats your boat."

For the full content of the blog that set me off,( I saw red when seeing the "old fashioned" remark and just had to respond.