I’ve made no secret of the fact that I own a kindle, initially for the ease of reading long-out-of-print Balzac, and I’ll admit that I don’t leave home without it. Years ago, someone gave me an electronic reader and I hated the thing. Loathed it with a passion, and so I was surprised by how quickly I became inseparable from my kindle–and bear in mind that I am NOT a gadget person at all.
I get a lot of comments about the kindle. Positive, of course from other kindle owners, as we recognise a fellow user like some lost tribe member: “so how do you like your kindle?” “Love it,” but most of the comments still tend to be derisive, negative and snotty: “I prefer books.” (emphasis on “I”) and ”I refuse to have one in my home.” I’ve given up explaining that I haven’t stopped buying books, or that it’s not an either/or situation. Instead I chalk the reader debate up to a matter of taste. But of course, that’s not the only issue at stake here.
I came across a post called Talking Shop written by Lee Goldberg on his blog in which he discusses e-publishing, and how the publishing world is changing. In particular, he discusses how the “ebook revolution” is empowering authors–especially “mid-list authors” (and this was a point made by John Barlow when he decided to take Hope Road directly to kindle). Another very important point that Lee Goldberg raises is that it’s not easy to get the rights of out-of-print books back from the publisher.
While there’s a consensus that the publishing world is changing, it’s difficult to predict just where it’s going to go. With newspapers folding and downsizing, professional book reviewers are dwindling even as we see the rise of the non-professional (like me)–someone who’s just an obsessive reader and gets some sort of cheap thrill from passing on posts about the books I’ve read. The literary world has been managed by gatekeepers–publishers who select what is going to be published and then managed by literary journals which tell us which of those books are worth buying and reading. While this structure isn’t exactly collapsing, it is undergoing a metamorphosis. Scary if your livelihood depends on it, and exciting f0r someone like me whose major pastime is reading.
An interesting fact is that crime readers are early adopters of the kindle, and along with that goes the idea that the world of crime reading isn’t subject to the same gatekeeping (the gatekeepers of culture and taste–such as literary journals). You’re not going to see the TLS or NYRB stuffed with reviews of crime novels–although there are sites such as The Rap Sheet, edited by J Kingston Pierce, a self-described “labour of love,” which survey the world of crime and inform readers of new and upcoming books. So I speculate that it’s perhaps no accident that crime readers were early adopters of the kindle–there were underlying factors at work–including the fact that we don’t rely on gatekeepers of culture and tend to be more fan-based.
And from that last point I’m moving on to the issue of what it’s like to be a reader who wants to read out of print books or just books that are no longer hot-off-the-presses. Amazon shipping is 3.99, and it’s possible, as we all know, to get a book for a mere penny. Many crime authors seem acutely aware of this pricing, and so they price their work accordingly. Lee Goldberg’s 4 novel Jury Series is a mere $5.99. Allan Guthrie has several titles for $1.99 and $2.99 –including his oop Two-Way Split which is available used in traditional print form for .02 (plus 3.99 shipping) and $2.99 on the kindle. He gets a big fat zero if you buy a used copy, but he gets a percentage if you buy a kindle version.
And this brings me to my another observation, and one I don’t see often. If the publishing world went 100% electronic reader, and I don’t advocate that, by the way, and neither do I think that is the future, but let’s just say that happens, eventually the used book market would dry up. Let’s argue that this happens in the year 2030 and from that point on, only e-books are released (nook, kindle). The used book market after 2030 would be non-existent, so publishers who get zero for used books would still get a chunk of the action via the e-book version if and only if they were involved in the contractual process.
Finally, the oldest surviving cheque was written in 1659, and in Britain there’s a phase-out date of 2018 for check-writing. Ten years ago, most consumer transactions were cheques but now it’s debit cards or credit cards–a system which apparently works great for the credit card industry since they’ve managed to get themselves in between the merchant and the consumer for almost every transaction. There was a time when not having a checkbook would have been unimaginable, and now cheques seem to be the fading into the past. Something to think about….