Mark Terry

Friday, July 16, 2010

Ch-ch-ch-changes

July 16, 2010
I think it's clear that publishing, book-buying and book-reading is undergoing some sort of revolution. A couple things made me frown a little bit. I think if you've been around a while you realize that when things change, there's not necessarily anything you can do about it but adapt and ride the wave. Sometimes changes are so big that trying to fight them is pointless--my wife works with some people who do nothing but complain about the fact that they have to use computers on the job and that their checks are direct-deposited and that they have to do all of their work-related business-y things online.

I feel like that with e-books a bit. As I wrote earlier, I have a Kindle, although to-date I've only read one book on it. I've got dozens of paper books to read so I'm planning on alternating. There are things to criticize about the Kindle (the page numbering thing drives me nuts) and the iPad (glare and smudge prints and a so-so search function on the iBookstore), but I don't have many complaints about paper books. None, really, and I don't have to charge the damn things.

Yesterday I interviewed author Tim Hallinan for a piece I'm doing on him for the ITW Report and it was a fun interview in that we ranged all over the place and got talking about e-books and Kindle self-publishing. One of the things Tim said gave me pause, when discussing e-books, though. He commented that there were just some writers who he wouldn't buy in e-book (James Lee Burke, for instance) because, he said ruefully, "They're too good for e-books, they deserve paper."

I know how he feels, and he said it with humor, understanding it might be misinterpreted. And maybe a little sadness, too. We're not fools, we can read the handwriting on the wall.

I commented that I'd had an oddly emotional experience the other day. We have a large walk-in closet off Ian's bedroom that we call "the library" because it's where a lot of our books are stored (there and in bookshelves all over the house). Ian's friend is going up to Isle Royale camping this weekend and I was looking for A Superior Death by Nevada Barr, an excellent mystery that takes place there, to give to her. I have hundreds of books in there in no particular order and as I was pawing through them each book, many that I'd forgotten I'd read, sort of set off a memory--of a great story, of a character, of where and when I was reading it, whatever. And I wondered if that sort of experience was going to be totally lost with e-books (as was the option of loaning a book to someone to take in an 8-hour car ride and possibly 4-hour boat ride).

Then today I read a bit of a column by Nancy Ettenheim in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, where she wrote:

"I remember when Amazon.com first burst onto the book scene. I am a book junkie, and there is no fix like a huge bookstore for someone like me. Amazon is the mother of them all. Meanwhile, back in Milwaukee, it very soon became apparent that every dollar I spent at Amazon was a dollar that Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops would never get. After one or two purchases at Amazon, I quit, went cold turkey. But we all know the results of everyone's collective love affair with Amazon: Schwartz is now out of business, one of the truly great losses to our community.

"It is clear that online buying does not just pose a hypothetical threat to our local businesses--the casualties are already out there. We owe it to ourselves, our community and our local business owners who bust their butts to stay in business to carefully consider the ramifications of our online buying. If each of us changes his or her purchasing habits even part of the time, we will have assisted in the reinvestment in our own community."

Well, it does make you wonder, doesn't it? We lose things and we gain things and there's very little doubt the genie's out of this particular bottle. But sometimes I wonder if we lose more than we gain.

Thoughts?

8 Comments:

Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Our local Hollywood Video is closing, selling off all its stock and fixtures. I'm going to miss browsing there, just as I miss browsing at the record store. I have little hope that bookstores won't eventually follow. You can buy everything online now, even groceries in some areas, so I suppose at some point there will never be a need to leave the house. Good in some ways, bad in others.

7:43 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Jude,
Yeah, I know. We switched from Blockbuster to Netflix and it's a great business model--and the fact that some times of the years my 3 videos sit there unseen for 2 months before we either watch them or return them seems to suggest it works really well for Netflix--and I occasionally miss browsing. And I was dumfounded (how often do I get to use that word?) last Christmas when I went to Borders to get a CD for my wife only to discover that even Borders had downsized their music CD section to almost nothing.

8:37 AM  
Blogger Debra L Martin said...

It's clear that change is in the air - I totally agree. If you had asked me a year ago if I would ever get a Kindle, I would have definitely said NO! I love paper books. I love holding books, but a funny thing has happened over the past year. It may very well have something to do with publishing my own ebooks, and being active on kindleboards.

Last week I was on a long car trip and had brought a book to read. Turns out that it was one of those books that you really need to think about and the car trip was way too noisy. So I was stuck with no book to read.

On Wednesday, my new Kindle arrived and already I have a dozen books loaded to read. Thinking back to that car trip, it would have been good to at least have the option to pick something else to read without lugging a bunch of books with me.

I still love paper books and have a stack to read still, but I think I may get used to reading the books on the Kindle very easily as well.

11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember how I used to take day trips to Manhatten (about an hour and a half by bus) to visit the huge bookstores there where I was able to find books not available locally. It was a thrill to find myself surrounded by more books than I'd ever seen, most of them exotic, books I hadn't even realized existed. And that sort of thrill is gone today. But if you had asked me in 1970 if I would prefer to have practically every book in the world (seemingly) available for browsing, and instant purchase, without buying a bus ticket, or even leaving my house...well, that would have been a far more thrilling prospect. For me, it is the words that count. I may feel nostalgia for the physical husk of a book I enjoyed long ago but that's only because I first encountered the words in that physical form.

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

I've never lived in a big city, always in small cities or in semi-rural towns. If I wanted to drive twenty miles or so, to an area filled with the biggest collection of malls and strip malls and big box stores in the state (an area which I try to avoid precisely because of that) I could find one of those big box Barnes & Noble stores.

The advantage of Amazon.com is that essentially they have every book that is in print and many that aren't. I've been an Amazon customer since 1997 (wow! that's a long time) -- and I think I buy more books now than I ever have and that is due to the convenience of ordering from them. I have Amazon Prime so I get free two day shipping... and so I never hesitate to just order a book whenever I hear of a potentially interesting one (and I order all kinds of stuff, from pots and pans to refill brush heads for electric toothbrush... hmmm and I bought the brushes there too). With Amazon I can pre-order books in advance of publication so that I automatically get it upon publication. (It's almost like giving myself surprise gifts because I forget about them and a book I had forgotten about having pre-ordered suddenly appears on my front porch.)

Netflix provides the same kind of amazing collection of movies, far more than any brick & mortar store could ever stock. The collection of movies available for instant online access is larger than any video store could carry. (We tend to watch an oddball variety of movies -- from big Hollywood hits to foreign films to quirky indie flicks to oldies, even silent films.) Yes, sometimes their DVDs sit around our house for a couple of weeks before we find time to watch -- but my son probably watches four or five instant access films a week. And I can see where instant access will replace the DVD in the mail in a very few years.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

As an editor of (ahem) many years . . . yeah, I lament the dying of print. As a novelist, I like holding my book in my hands. As a woman whose best friend from college has watched as his journalism prospects change and morph as newspapers die . . . and see the media changes alone of rushing to get it online, a la tabloids (and the inherent mistakes found in that kind of journalism . . .) . . . It makes me sad and I think there are a lot of things that we will miss. But I am practical enough to think you can't stop (going to my blog earlier today) a "tipping point." It's just changed and no amount of shopping in a certain way to support stores, etc., will change it. Just as I have tried to avoid, for YEARS, buying products made by Phillip Morris, for instance--which includes Jell-o and Cool Whip and things you can't even believe they own . . . and you realize you are ONE person . . . and you can buy with integrity . . . but they are too huge and there's not much you can do except be content with where you put your dollars.

As an aside, for years I went out of my way to buy BP based on reports I read on how they disposed to chemicals versus some of gas giants being a lot more unscrupulous. And now look at the mess in the Gulf.

And I boycott General Mills. And man . . . every year, my kids' school does those boxtops for education and my kids are the only ones who NEVER bring in boxtops. You can fight city hall. But can you?

1:53 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

I went to Toronto in May and my husband and I went to 'The World's Largest Bookstore'. It was incredible! I came home with 6 books on yoga and teaching yoga. Yes, I know I paid the Canadian price, but these were books that I had not seen around here and I didn't want to write down the names and try to find them on Amazon.

I find the act of browsing a bookstore to be a peaceful, meditative interlude that gets lost in when translated into computer shopping or using a Kindle.

There is something to be said for being able to hold a book in your hands. The smell, the feel, the sound of pages turning, the comforting weight of a book or two in your bag goes beyond the dollar.

I've purchased my share from Amazon and I have no plans (right now anyway) to buy a Kindle or some version of it. I can see that it would solve some storage issues, but somehow it just wouldn't be the same.

For now, you can find me behind my huge piles of books!

3:36 PM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Well, I see I managed to post as anonymous. Guess I'm not yet totally comfortable with all these computer changes.

3:14 PM  

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