By August 20, 2010 3 Comments Read More →

Weeklings: E-books, E-books, E-books . . . Aieeee!

It’s a headline that will hearten the e-evangelists and terrify the p-book lovers: “Mass Paperback Publisher Goes All-Digital” (Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, Wall Street Journal). In response to declining sales, struggling Dorchester Publishing announced that it will print books on electrons, not paper. Publishers Weekly (“Dorchester Drops Mass Market Publishing for E-Book/POD Model,” by Jim Milliot) added this quote from Dorchester president John Prebich: “These are like pioneer times in publishing. We felt like we needed to take some chances and make a bold move.”

I feel compelled to remind everyone that, during pioneer times, some parties turned to cannibalism, too.

(Dorchester later clarified that it’s only going all-digital “for the next six months,” which is going to leave gaps in some people’s p-bookshelves.)

And, at something called the Techonomy Conference, someone called Nicholas Negroponte said something like “The Physical Book Is Dead in 5 Years,” which must make Prebich feel better. Negroponte, like so many people lately, cited Amazon’s big claim that sales of Kindle books recently surpassed those of hardcover books. While significant, I don’t think that’s an apples-to-apples comparison. But it does signify something significant: people buying all those Kindle books aren’t too worried about owning them 10 years from now. It’s like buying music from iTunes: you own it as long as you use a Kindle or an iPod. So are books more disposable than ever?

Over at Three Minute Media, the go-to source for people who don’t have four minutes to spend on a story, James Erik Abels anchors the news that “Amazon Just Wrote the End of Print.” My, but it’s echoey in here.

In his keynote at SCBWI, industry veteran Rubin Pfeffer caused attendees to scratch their heads when he suggested that “perhaps SCBWI should become an e-publisher” (“Pfeffer Challenges SCBWI to Join the Digital Age,” by Wendy Werris, PW). I’ve seen Winnie-the-Pooh on the iPad, and it’s cool and all, but I really, really don’t want my kids to huddle around my e-reader at storytime. Call me sentimental–and, if I’m reading Winnie-the-Pooh, I am sentimental, am’n’t I?

Since we won’t need all those paper books anymore, Rob Walker in the New York Times Magazine surveys “Creative New Uses for Books“–you know, those pesky paper husks you have lying around. My favorite creative new use was as a cover for your e-reader.

In the Washington Post, Philip Kennicott (I can just imagine him on the phone, saying “Philip, one l, Kennicott, two n’s and two t’s”) asks, “As electronic readers gain popularity, what happens to the personal library?

The library, alas, may go the way of the separate dining room and the formal parlor, not because we won’t read anymore, but because we won’t read books anymore, at least not books printed on paper.

I’ve read a dozen essays just like it and am bracing myself for dozens more. I’ll probably read them for consolation, actually.

Author Pete Hamill, who will be publishing an e-book exclusive (They Are Us, coming this fall) despite not yet owning an e-reader, has a poignant question, full of import for the culture of books (“Pete Hamill, Patriarch of Print, Goes Direct to Digital,” by Julie Bosman, NYT):

“Some things have occurred to me,” Mr. Hamill said. “Will there be a book signing?”

Then again, I guess this won’t happen anymore.

On the other hand, we won’t have these, either.

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

3 Comments on "Weeklings: E-books, E-books, E-books . . . Aieeee!"

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  1. Mary says:

    There, there, Keir! Read this essay on “The Tragic Death of Practically Everything” and feel much better:
    http://technologizer.com/2010/08/18/the-tragic-death-of-practically-everything/

  2. Keir Graff says:

    Ha! The Atlantic also had a nice piece moderating the drama of the Wired article–reminding people that plenty of old technology continues to exist alongside new.

    I think I’m not so afraid of e-books as I am tired of reading sweeping pronouncements about them. As an LP fan who still finds and buys LPs, I don’t worry that paper books are going away tomorrow. But media hysteria has a way of making readers feel as if CHANGE is happening NOW and if you don’t ACT FAST you’ll be LEFT BEHIND!

    I prefer to ease my way into these newfangled technologies….

  3. One of the best pieces I’ve read on printed books vs. ebooks is by Stephen J. Gertz on Booktryst:
    http://www.booktryst.com/2010/08/e-publishing-consultant-mike-shatzkin.html

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