Photo Credit: blog.bookmasters.com
By Yonatan Gordon
We would be remiss if we didn’t begin a series about the nature of the book, with the debate over print vs. digital. Let’s first bring a recent article from Kane Hsieh entitled “Why Do We Keep Making Ebooks Like Paper Books?”
The nice thing about this piece, is that it portrays both sides of the coin pretty well. On the one hand, you have readers who enjoy lining their walls with those beloved printed books. Then you have the digital minded reader, who is looking to experience reading in a different way. The challenge then, as Kane describes, is to make Ebook reading truly something different.
To abstract the discussion somewhat, we could then say that the act of holding fast to printed books, is about the act of reading as an artform; whereas the guiding principle for Ebooks, is that they don’t desecrate the reading experience.
This reading of the debate may seem a stretch at first, but it fits many of the motivations and sentiments people associate with both mediums. For instance, while readers love filling their homes with print books, there is no specific drive to do the same for digital libraries. Also if you observe most articles written about the debate, the question generally shifts to the quality or trustworthiness of the Ebooks now flooding the market. But these concerns aren’t specific to Ebooks, as technological advancements over the years have also led to what has been dubbed the “self-publishing revolution.” When the editorial and publishing controls of the pasts are no longer enforceable, both self-published print books and Ebooks, share the stage in the debate over the state of the book industry today.
That being said, there is a noticeable difference between print books (even the self-published variety) and Ebooks. While self-published titles still, at least superficially, take the form a book, it is much more difficult to distinguish Ebooks from other content floating around the internet.
The print vs. digital divide then is also a debate over establishing firm conceptual boundaries for content. As Kane writes, while a print book is “a chunk of a few hundred pages of writing,” he suggests reading Ebooks on an “infinite sheet”. But why stop with one Ebook? Maybe all Ebooks, and all digital content for that matter, could be seen as residing on some infinite sheet, or sea of information, in the cloud somewhere?
It is no wonder then that this is the most hotly debated topic in the book industry today. Whereas publishers prefer packaging and selling small packets of content, most authors would be happy if their works were mass-distributed on some virtual sea. Putting compensation and intellectual copyright issues aside, the “zero” distribution costs, that allow authors to “reach millions of readers instantly,” seems a most compelling reason to at least promote Ebook versions.
But amidst this vast sea of content, the beneficial and good messages could get obfuscated. This is why, even though the internet brought us a way to spread “memes, viral content” and “instant sharing,” this widespread availability isn’t necessarily a good thing. With more choices, the question then becomes what to chose?
The concern over Ebooks, and self-publishing for that matter, then is that it shouldn’t become another “internet” of things. In the drive to make all things digital, there is still this motivation to hold onto the content that is worthwhile. Like a person that has his favorite selection of bookmarked websites, readers still have favorite authors, genres, and topics of interest. More than availability then, readers need ways to sift through all the content, and sort out the good from the bad.
This is similar to the books coming out today about how to navigate through today’s age of information. Increasingly, writers are encouraging people to tune out most of the “noise,” and pay attention only to those things that are meaningful.
In effect, this is what publishers were always meant to be. The people that sorted through hundreds of manuscript submissions, and found those diamonds in the ruff worth publishing. But instead of relying on the acquisitions editor, today the choice is being left to us. Now each and every manuscript can get published for next to nothing (or for literally nothing). Because of this, it has become imperative for readers to develop their own “diamond in the ruff” finding abilities. The good news is that while the acquisitions editor had their own reasons for accepting or rejecting a manuscript, we need not follow the same stipulations these days. For instance, many great books were never accepted simply because their market was too small. Obviously, a reader who is part of that ultra-niche market, wouldn’t find this a compelling reason to reject a book on their favorite subject.
The question then becomes not whether a book will sell, but whether the content jives with what the reader is looking for. If the choices were pre-selected and limited before, now readers are expected to take the place of both treasure hunters and knowledge seekers. Now that the decision making process has transitioned to the readers themselves, it is now up to them to navigate this vast sea of content. The hope is that once readers learn how to swim through these seas, they will be able to happily come away with some exceptional finds.
To be continued…