[Night Bazaar] EBooks, a Romance: Wherein Dark Cults Feast Upon Your Eyeballs

Before I even start my little rant, I’d like to hopefully head any tech-loving, Luddite-despising, Apple-apologist, Kindle-fanatic, Nook-drunk hatas off at the pass. I’m going to say some wacky things, as is my wont. But if you’d like to leave a comment accusing me of being anti-ebook, puh-leeze. I am pro-ebook. I am merely a raving leftist Pinko.

The short version: I love ebooks. I believe the future of reading is in ebooks. The benefits are too many and the downsides too few. Current technologies are utterly unsatisfactory to me as a reader, but the downsides of ebooks as a meta-format are limited only by those technologies. The downsides, in fact, seem largely limited to readers’ attachment to the physical ritual of reading books — i.e., ink on paper. That is significant — and I find it personally very significant. But I’ve read hundreds of ebooks, and I’ll read hundreds or — more likely — thousands more. I love them. I also love the way in which ebook delivery models have empowered writers — not just writers in general, but me personally.

What I’m suspicious of is corporate marketing. Book marketing is now married irrevocably to technology marketing, and I consider that dangerous. The stakes in technology — both in monetary terms and cultural impact — are too high to pretend for an instant that authors themselves, individually or as a group, have enough to cache to run the discussion. Even publishers have dangerously limited mojo in this arena.

The cost of a device — and, far more importantly, the potential profit generated by “future sales” promised by “acquisition” of a new customer — is just too vast, and the cost of books too small compared with movies and music (which people can consume at a faster rate) to think that writers and publishers are any more important than we ever were.

So if you’re reading this on your Kindle or your iPad or your iPod or your Nook, mazel tov. Curl up with your cat, because the future is meow.

Here’s my take on ebooks.I was an early adopter of ebooks. When I got my first Palm Pilot — I don’t even remember the model — I downloaded books from what was then Peanut Press (and would later become a part of the Palm corporate entity. The screen was not color; the text I read was grey-on-grey. But I loved always having a book with me, and after years of reading maybe 10 books a year at most, I read about 20 ebooks that first year I had my Palm. i have an affection for these books, as I vividly remember the liberation I felt being able to just pop out the same device I used to keep track of my schedule, and start reading about the mob. I remember reading Dava Sobel’s Longitude, Greg B. Smith’s Mafia nonfiction Made Men, Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, and thinking “Hell yeah…the future is now, Bubba.” I was a convert.

Later, in the mid-noughties, after I had a color Palm, I discovered Project Gutenberg — which, if you don’t know about, you are (seriously) running late on the ebook parade. Project Gutenberg offers free downloads of public domain texts — which means almost every widely-known book published before 1923 in the United States. Were one living in Australia or, if living most other places, willing to violate international copyright law, one could even download books by anyone who died before 1955 from Project Gutenberg Australia, since Australia is what’s called a “Life + 50” country — short version; its copyright laws are different than those in my beloved home country (I’m looking at you, Sonny Bono).



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