Having just read yet another diatribe about ebooks – along the lines of real books smell lovely and feel lovely and I love secondhand bookshops and is the real book dead? I don’t think so – I went away, had a quick seethe, and have returned to calmly put down a couple of my thoughts on ebooks.
So. Deep breath…
Yes, printed books look and feel lovely. I don’t have much of a sense of smell but it seems to be a general consensus that they smell lovely too. No argument from me so far. Secondhand bookshops? Fabulous. One of my favourite places in the country is Barter Books in Alnwick which is a real treasure trove, and an experience in itself. I was delighted to spend a lovely day there as part of my thirtieth birthday celebration, and found a rare copy of the story of my hometown’s co-operative movement, which I would never even have known about. Plus the shop itself is simply amazing with a mural that any booklover will gaze at for hours.
BUT. But but but. I imagine that at some point in the dim and distant past someone somewhere said “You know, these beautiful parchments that these monks are spending hours illuminating and painstakingly writing out are so beautiful and they smell so lovely and they’re so nice to handle and that secondhand manuscript shop is such fun to browse through, it’s a shame to replace them with that modern new-fangled printing press.” And presumably someone else said “yes, BUT this modern new-fangled printing press will make books cheaper to make and sell and will open up access to reading and writing to thousands more people. That’s got to be a good thing, right?” I say presumably, as otherwise I guess we’d still be writing on parchment.
You know what? Ebooks make books cheaper to write and read and buy and sell and open up reading and writing, or at least make them more reachable, for millions of people. More people will read and write books than might have otherwise happened. Yes, that means there will be a load of rubbish done too, but people are having a go – doesn’t that count for something? I’m reading books that I just couldn’t afford if I had to buy printed ones (and I do still use my library, before people shout at me. A lot). If you ask me, the real death of the book would have been if there WEREN’T ebooks, as prices of printed books, distribution, discounts, etc etc etc would rise so that more and more people would be priced out of the market and books would have returned to being a luxury item. In my very humble and personal opinion with no publishing expertise at all.
And while we’re sort of hovering around the subject, please DON’T use the term ‘real books’ with regard to printed books. It’s the content that makes it a book, not the material. If we’re going to be snobby about it, there’s plenty of books I’d say weren’t real books because, frankly, the content is dire. Printed on paper or screen.
And the gatekeeper thing? I think I do agree that we need gatekeepers to help sort out the really good books and push them forward. I know I do, in the end, want to be published by a publishing house although who knows what will happen in the future, and don’t forget that I’ve done my own short kindle book (hint hint). BUT. Just say you’re browsing the kindle store. Yes, there are probably thousands of books you won’t come across because of the MILLIONS on there and that’s a shame. The thing is, we’re not living in an age where if you make a discovery about a book you really enjoyed you have to handwrite a dozen notes and get the footman to jog around to each of your friends’ houses to tell them about it. The means by which we actually have all of these books swamping the store, the little thing called the INTERNET, is also the means to spread the word about books you enjoy. I have 1300 followers on twitter, some of whom will read this, and retweet it to however many thousand followers they have, or hundreds, or tens, or even three followers. Whatever. The point is, in minutes I can tell people what I think of x book and more people will hear about it than I can shake a stick at.
Nicola Morgan did a blog post this morning about a fantastic-sounding book called Florence and Giles. Within minutes not only had I bought it but at least three other people that I saw in my twitter stream. The books are out there, Scully. You just have to know where to look.
Now, I’ve got to say that not all books work as ebooks. Coffee-table books, those beautiful tomes with gorgeous glossy photos and artwork just aren’t the same on screen, as technology stands at the minute. Some books relying on typography or texture. Some reflective or devotional books, arty books, books that use layout creatively. Not to say they never will be, just not yet. And I do still prefer to sit down and read a picture book with my toddlers.
But who actually decided that it was one or the other? This isn’t VHS and Betamax. Print books and ebooks can co-exist, as long as we don’t descend to silly, can’t-be-bothered so-called arguments that end in a very dismissive and snooty Is the real book dead? I don’t think so.
Is the real book dead? Give me a break.