Literature and e-books

Brilliant photo by The Daring Librarian: Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones hinting at the possibilities of e-readers.

The Books and Publishing blog (it comes from the organisers of the annual Book Conference and the International Journal of the Book) has reprinted an extract of an article from the LA Times, using the title “E-books are good news for the literary world”. B & P is a fairly conservative blog, linked closely to traditional publishing, so as you would expect the main “good news” seems (in both their extract and the full article) to be that e-books provide yet another distribution channel for “real books” and that they are more popular than Twitter, and therefore the world is not after all going to hell in a 140 character handbasket.

Their comments are “moderated” so I am not certain if my comment will be published, and anyway most of you probably don’t read either B & P or LAT, so I’ll repeat it here:

Of course e-books and other e-publication possibilities are good news for the literary world. Duh! Wasn’t the codex (which made texts smaller and easier to carry, print (which made them cheaper) so if earlier communications revolutions were good news how could electronic text (which makes “books” both cheaper and more interactive in many ways) be anything else?

Of course the codex was bad news for the spindle turners, and print for the scriptoria, perhaps e may not be good news for traditional publishers (as long as they remain merely traditional publishers).

And that last bracketed comment points to the key failing of e-books so far. Even Amazon singles (which could break open traditional genre restrictions) does little to make text more interactive. So far most of what we have are codexes that imitate scrolls, print that looks like manuscript… but change will come and with change the “literary world” will be renewed and revitalised.

In other words, the real good news for the “literary world” (which is a far larger and more vibrant creature than the traditional publishing industry) is that e-publication is growing, is already breaking down traditional economic restrictions on genres of literature and is showing signs of promise that it will begin to breqak down the walls that separate writers from readers as well as those that separate readers from each other. That is indeed “good news for the literary world”. Though it may not be for traditional publishers, unless they cease from dreaming of the past and begin to dream the future. Those who look only to the past are doomed to repeat it.
And that indeed is the conclusion of David Ulin’s article:

Here, perhaps, we have the true lesson of the Pew findings — that even in the digital world, we want more connection rather than less. This, I think, is what e-books have to offer: the promise of immersion, enhanced or otherwise, just as their analog counterparts have always done.

Though I read almost to the end before getting clues that he would end like this ;)

3 comments on “Literature and e-books

  1. Wieland

    The funny thing is that today most things interesting to us for those e-Readers are from before 1920 or so. All those digitized books on Google or archive.org are old. This is a real Renaissance for the old stuff. It is possible, even probable, that many of these books are read more often today than they were read back then.
    Still, I don’t find the e-Readers well suited to read PDFs. But this will change soon …

  2. Rhett

    I recently bought a Kindle and am loving it. So convenient.

    The key failing for me so far though, is that about half the books I’ve wanted to buy have been unavailable for the Asia Pacific region even though they are available to US Amazon Kindle customers.

    A bit of Googling seems to point towards this being to do with archaic parallel importing laws.

    So it is unethical for me to torrent the books while I wait for our laws to catch up so that I can pay Amazon for the books I’d like to read? ;-)

  3. Tim

    Hehe, as they say. It is so easy in a digital world to run across issues with copyright (and other intellectual property) laws designed for a paper (and other gross material, like the plastic of CDs) world. Maybe we need to rethink the idea of “intellectual property” ;)