I own thousands of books. Old-fashioned pasteboard, buckram, leather and paper. I love the written word in all its forms and the ebook is something I am very gradually coming to terms with over the luddite impulses that have generally ruled my reading life. As part of my ongoing internal wrestling match on the incipient eBook revolution, I've been researching the potential prizes and pitfalls of the current iteration of the phenomenon.
Awhile back, Newsweek Published this Op/Ed by Techie Geek Chic Jacob Weisberg In Defense Of the Kindle makes the argument that the Kindle - while clunky - is a step forward for struggling publishers and writers. He scores several good points regarding the inevitability of the e-book as a format and makes good mileage with his theme that "sure it stinks now, but do does every technology when it first comes out, be patient."
The ebook may well be inevitable. But is the Kindle? A Kindle world is a world where your books are infinitely portable - as long as you don't lose your $400 Kindle reader. Your books don't belong to you, but you have a limited lease to read them, a very limited ability to loan them to others.
I pick on the Kindle because it's the big fish and the easiest target, but this is a model that is propogating all over the place in various forms. The Sony eReader is much the same (also $400) a device that gives you access to a digital library of books that you can't really pass to the guy next to you on the airplane.
Which brings us to our Challenger(s)...
Literary agent Michael Bourret wrote an interesting blog post at his agency's (DG) blog titled "Is Kindle a Danger To Ownership?" (He was apparently inspired by this article in the Christian Science Monitor.) Both Michael and CSM make a compelling case that our libraries are headed the way of our movies and music, down a road where the concept of "owning" a book you buy is a foreign concept and loaning a well-loved paperback to your friend is a thing of the past.
Michael and CSM both point out that there is a middle ground, a path that does not take us down the Kindle road toward a third party claiming proprietary ownership of our libraries. A hybrid model where the purchase of a hardcopy comes with a free ebook version of the text is working for several publishers. A model that can reflect the current culture of a book as a possession, where the word-of-mouth can be accompanied by the load of a well-loved copy of the text. A loan that often leads to more sales for an author and a broadened fanbase.
And then there's me...
I'm still trying to make up my mind about the Kindle. To be honest, (aside from the price) the most significant drawback for me is the fact that you don't want to use an eReader in the bath tub or on a sandy beach. I like to read in circumstances that the eReaders of the world might consider "adverse conditions".
My reading habits aside, I'm still torn on the whole thing.
Like I said, the ebook might be inevitable, but the platform isn't necessarily. The idea of a world where we don't own the books we buy makes me intensely uncomfortable. As an avid collector of books, the very idea is anathema to me.
I can come to terms with the idea that the ebook is an environmental necessity. That the forests of the world cannot support the creation of yet another mountain range of pulp paperbacks to match the ten or twenty the publishing industry has generated in the last hundred years or so. And with the written record of culture in the industrialized world growing exponentially, this is ever more true with each passing year.
In the snarl of Digital Rights Management and contracts and whathaveyou, the larger picture so often gets obscured... Whether it's ink or electrons, the growth or literary culture and the transmission of ideas depends largely upon the works belonging to the reader, not to the librarian.
Please let me know what you think of Kindle, the Sony eReader, and others as well as eBooks in general in the comments section.
(Cross-posted at Pages To Type Before I Sleep)