Saturday, May 26, 2012

The book's the thing

There are still books out there. Many, many books. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Books have been here for... well, not forever, but for a very long time. More than I can remember, at least, but that’s not saying much.

The thing is: the book is quite a clever concept. A bundle of knowledge, strapped together by pieces of leather... well, once by leather... But it is the concept of the book which matters, whether in hard cover or in soft cover.

“What about an electronic cover?”
“How can something electronic be a cover? It is virtual.”
“Therefore it does not exist?”
“Yes, I mean no. I mean, it must exist if we can still read its pages.”
“But that doesn’t make it a book.”
“Not even an electronic book?”
“Call me a romantic. I still like the smell of leather... Well, something to hold in my hands.”
“I hold my Kindle in my hands. Can even hold it and turn the pages with the same hand.”

*insert awkward pause

“Anyhow, I liked things the way they were.”
“Writing on stone, you mean.”
“Now let’s not go to extremes.”
“Me go to extremes!”

The thing is, electronic books, electronic information of any type, excites me. No, it is not a fetish. I simply like access to anything, anywhere, at any time. Many of you will claim that I have become a part of the “me now” generation which demands immediate satisfaction, and can do with nothing less. But I will have nothing to do with this.

I have always had a fascination for books. I would travel with my parents and suddenly disappear. They knew then to search for the nearest bookstore. Opening a book was an exploration, an exploration into a parallel universe from whence I emerged changed, even if only in a small way. But so much has happened since. It used to be that a teacher could stand up at the front of a one room schoolhouse and teach students all there was needed to know. A set of encyclopedias could contain all of the information of both the modern and ancient worlds. Dictionaries could contain an accurate list of vocabulary and not need to be updated for decades. But then came the information explosion. Books became out of date almost before they were published. A wise teacher soon realized that s/he could no longer be a valid source of information but should rather serve as “facilitator”, in leading students to search, find and properly evaluate information. Huge conglomerations which once controlled the access to knowledge, have now lost their control over us. And writers can now easily turn out their novels on a computer, and even go way of self-publishing rather than suffer years of rejection at the hands of literary agents and publishers who are becoming less and less willing to take chances in a market whose bottom is falling out.

When I finally got my own novel published, I had no idea what was waiting for me in the literary world. Bookstores, however big, can not even represent a fraction of what is out there. Many of you will claim that most of the books published today are probably not even worth printing. But the thing is, there are many good books out there which would have never gotten published otherwise. And I, personally, take this to be the decisive factor: not the surplus of what we consider unworthy, but rather the absence of what should be there.

But what I have found to be even more compounding is how social networks offer an interactive platform in which readers and writers come together - where readers and writers no longer sit in worlds clearly separate, but are now accountable to each other. Writing has become a social experience in ways never conceived of before.

And I realize now that being a writer not only means that I should write books, but that I also should bring something back to books and writers that I read. This is why I began my own book review blog - “The Virtual Muser eBook Review”. And I must say that I am learning as much from this experience as I am from my own writing.

Books are here to stay. Maybe not in the way that you would expect or hope them to. But they have been here forever, at least in the human experience. Whether they were written in stone, or told and passed down from generation to generation. Think of it: the concept has never changed. And what about the need?

You might say, then - why even sell books? Why not just put them up there for anybody to download? Isn’t the message the thing that is important? You may or may not be surprised to hear that more and more writers are doing exactly this. Is this the beginning of a serious trend? We will wait and find out.


  1. David I didn't know that more and more writers are putting their stuff out there for free... given how expensive ebooks for Kindle etc... from Amazon etc..... are - almost exactly the same as a hard copy version and often without pictures .... I am surprised. I confess I don't get the pricing structure.

    A lot of folks put their music out for free - or at least teasers. I guess it's the same principle?

    1. Apparently there has been a case of price fixing, which has pushed the cost of eBooks up. But, after this was brought to court, the prices should start going down again.
      There is also a difference between books that are already in print, and are hastily coming out in eBook format also, in order to catch up with the digital revolution - and books that are targeted mainly for the eBook market in the beginning. It costs a publisher a large sum to publish a book in printed format, and they have to sell about 10,000 copies to start earning a profit. So I guess, when following up with a eBook as well, they see this also as a way to pay for the cost of the book.
      When bringing out a book in eBook format, the overhead is not high and there really is no reason to charge anywhere near to the cost of the printed book.
      There is quite a vibrant social network of readers and writers out there. And there are teasers of all sorts - giveaways, contest giveaways, special temporary discounts, etc. And there is a growing number of writers who are putting up their books for free - or almost free (99 cents). Their main interest is in being read. But I am speaking more of new writers, rather than writers who are well-established in the book publishing framework.
      If you go into kindle on Amazon and ask to sort eBooks from lowest price (0) upwards, you will see a long line of free books. Not necessarily the books you want to read, but still... And most books are cheaper on our sites, such as Smashwords.
      Usually we decide on a book that we want to read through the publicity hype, but a book that is not selling at a real cost cannot afford publicity through the usual channels. They depend on the reader/writer social networks.