Saturday, November 6, 2010

Electronic AND Paper Books not Electronic VERSUS Paper Books

A few months ago, I bought a Kindle reader from Amazon and entered the brave new world of ebooks. One of the main reason for this was that I published my debut novel “Love of a Stonemason” as an independent author/publisher and tried it first as an ebook.

Now, I’m not one of those young electronic geeks. I don’t own an ipod or an iphone. I have an old-fashioned Pay-As-You-Go cell phone for emergencies. I have a background in computers but I am much more of a literature lover than a computer freak. However, I instantly fell in love with my Kindle reader. It’s light and small, has a great display, and room for a whole library of my favorite books. Since I fly back and forth between Europe and the United States quite a lot, I don’t have to worry anymore about packing the right kind of books, filling up my suitcase with paper- or hardbacks. I just grab my Kindle and take my library with me.

Aside from the convenience, I want to support ebooks because of all the new opportunities they offer both writers and readers. An author can now publish a book and make it available to readers in very convenient and easy way without having to bother with agents and publishers. This is not meant to discredit agents and/or publishers. They still provide a valuable service. However, with the recession and focus of large publishing houses almost exclusively on bestsellers, we midlist writers now have an opportunity as well.

Now, having sung the praise of ebooks, I am by no means ready to abandon paper versions. The other day, I went through my bookshelves and pulled out a few of my favorite hard covers and paper books, lovingly touching and smelling them, admiring the careful binding and the tasteful cover. As I was working on this blog post, I happened to watch a program on TV on the art of bookbinding, a craft, which has its origins in the fifteenth century with the invention of the printing press. What is amazing is the fact that the traditional craft has managed to survive the change from handmade to mechanized and mass-produced books. And I think it will survive, in small workshops, the onslaught of ebooks as well. Ebooks may have an impact on the mass-produced paper books but it probably won’t affect those specialized bookbinding workshops as much.

In fact, I think that the more ebooks there will be, the more popular they become, there will also be a renewed desire and yearning for the “old-fashioned” paper versions, not the cheaply produced ones so much as the special editions, the classic first editions, as well as art books. It will be a niche industry, focusing more on restoring old works than producing new ones, but it will be lovingly supported by people for whom books aren’t only content but also form, shape, color, paper, glue.

The electronic world is here to stay, but it will not replace or do away with the “stone-and-mortar” or “paper-and-paint” world. Those two realms of reality will co-exist. After all, so far computer art has not replaced paper drawings and paintings on canvas. Sure, some bookstores will disappear, book-binding and creation will become even more of a “niche”-craft. However, I do not think, human beings are ready (or will ever be ready) to live in a totally digital world. We are mental/emotional but also physical beings and we need to satisfy all our senses and abilities, or we impoverish and diminish ourselves.

http://www.artofbookbinding.com.au/htms/services.html

4 comments:

  1. Hello Christa

    I have been a hand bookbinder all my adult life. I remember a conversation I had 15 years ago with Philip Smith, a well known artist/bookbinder, about the new electronic books that were all the rage at the time.

    We thought the advent of these ebooks might spell the end for cheap paperback books. And judging by your comments, it seems this may be, in part at least, true.

    But as a craftsman I am as busy as ever, though most of my work is now taken up with restoring old books, rather than binding new ones.

    Who honestly knows where we will be in a centuries time with regard the ebook.

    I hope and trust however, that there will always be people who value the hand bound book.

    Richard

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  2. Hi Richard,
    I'm so glad you're still busy with your craft. That's great news. I don't think that the regular paperbacks will disappear altogether. Perhaps the focus will shift, more ebooks, fewer paper versions. The good thing is, though, that art and crafts seem to always endure in some form or the other. People are drawn to hand-made things. There are thousands of community school classes, teaching those arts. They wouldn't exist otherwise.
    Christa

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  3. I think the collectors' market will remain in the future. I can only speak from the perspective of the horror small press, but I know that it is a thriving market. Personally, I've never been able to afford some of these fine books, so I've never been a collector of them. But the ones who do collect are very loyal. The industry that has the most to lose from the advent of e-books is the mass markert and trade paperback producers. My personal collection is mostly these two types of books (95% of over 1,000 books). But since I purchased my Kindle I haven't purchased a paper book. And I don't forsee buying any in the near future.

    I do hope the handmade craft remains and even thrives in the future. And I believe you're right, Christa, that people are drawn to handmade items and there should be a continued demand for them in the future.

    -Neal

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  4. Yeah, I know what you mean, Neal. I can't afford most of those fine books either. But it's great that they are available and sometimes you can check them out from the library.

    For me, it's more important that handicrafts and those niche-industries survive and we don't become a totally digital world. I don't think there is a danger in that.

    I love my Kindle and I wouldn't want to be without it. It's just too convenient and fun.

    Christa

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