The Art of the eBook
e-books make books feel like disposable entertainment … they emphasize immediate entertainment — and gratification — over real “reading,” which takes more commitment, patience, attention and time.
It’s a conflict that has perhaps raged since the dawn of time. Art or entertainment? In literary circles, specifically, publishing circles, that debate seems to now center around eBooks. I refuse to debate the relative merits of eBooks vs. traditional books. I’ve had a Kindle since the first version, love it and never thought twice about it. Reading isn’t a tactile experience for me. The smell/feel/taste of printed paper never held any sway, I just like stories. The Kindle worked out really well because I simply ran out of room on my bookshelf and that was that. Now, the only time I buy a paper book is for very beloved series (I like looking at all seven Harry Potter books on the shelf, and having all three of the Hunger Games in hardcover is a minor point of pride) and when the paperback is cheaper thank the eBook version – grrr.
Part of the reason I love my Kindle is that I can save money while reading more. There’s no question I read far more and have discovered more authors since I’ve gotten it because of the instant gratification purchasing – that process only is possible because the price points are, more often than not, within my tolerance level. Under $7, I don’t think twice about buying an author I’ve never heard of. If the sample chapter hooked me, then I’m in. For $8 and above, the sample better just about blow me away or else it’s on to the next. Paying $11 or $12 or more for an eBook? I’ve stopped reading entire series because the next book was too expensive. Maybe I’ll pick it up next time I’m at Barnes and Noble (where I still go, mostly because my husband likes to drink hot beverages while flipping through car magazines) but probably not, high eBook pricing has lost that author a formerly loyal reader. And I know it’s not the author’s fault.
But back to the point: are cheap, literarily mediocre, non-award-winning, but entertaining eBooks destroying the marketplace for more expensive literature (pronounced with a snobby, possibly British, accent)? Do eBooks make books into disposable entertainment as the author asserts? Aren’t books disposable entertainment like any other kind? How many books on your shelf do you read over and over again? How many movies that you own do you watch over and over again? I have hundreds of CDs full of songs that I listened to for a while then set aside. As a pre-teen I read Are You there God, it’s me Margaret? about once a week. I watched The Neverending Story several times a day at one point in my childhood. However, since becoming an adult there are very few books that I read over and over again. For most people, it’s probably no more than a handful. For the sake of argument let’s say that one out of every ten books you own, you’ll read again someday. Doesn’t that essentially make the other nine disposable? You read it, you may talk about it with your friends or colleagues, then it goes on the shelf, on display for visitors and family. Perhaps you lend it out, perhaps you sell it to a secondhand store or in a garage sale – things that you can’t do with an eBook, true, but that doesn’t make the physical book any less disposable – at least mentally. I admit that avid readers have an emotional connection with physical books but I believe that connection is merely a force of habit. It’s basically an illusion – the smell and tactile sensation of paper have nothing to do with the words or ideas put forth in the book.
Did average Joes start reading less literature when eReaders came on the market, or is it perhaps a shift in our culture that has the masses willing to invest their rapidly diminishing down-time inside the world of a book and have the nerve to want it to be entertaining?
99 cent eBooks that earn authors over a hundred thousand dollars in royalties don’t sound like a problem to me. The readers are happy. The author is happy. Publishing companies don’t like it, but shouldn’t publishing be about authors and readers anyway? Personally I would like more cheap, entertaining books in my life, not fewer.