Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rise of the Digital Book

I'm reading a book right now. Not so unusual, since I read all the time.  But what's different for me in an unexpected way is I'm reading a book in its old five hundred year old format -- paper, ink, binding, the whole enchilada.  I've read books all my life, from Tom Swift's wonderful sci-fi adventures and beyond.  In fact I've listed a few of my all time favs at my Goodreads page.

What's odd for me is how awkward reading an old fashioned book is for me now.  I'm an early adopter by nature, so I've been reading ebooks on my iphone as soon as I bought the thing and I haven't really looked back.  With memories of dial phones and black and white television still roaming my brain, the idea of having twenty or fifty or a hundred books in my pocket, accessable at any time is well, it's mind blowing.  I read when I'm standing in a line, waiting for a meal in a cafe, in bed, on the sofa, on the sidewalk, in a plane, you name it, I read there. It doesn't matter if it's day or night, if there's sufficient light, if I remembered to put it in my backpack.  My phone is always with me, anytime, any place.
So a friend handed me a copy of The Windup Girl, which I have to say, I'm thoroughly enjoying.  However, because it's a traditional book, I've got to be at the right place and time to read it.  I have to be in the right position, with a good light or it's a nightmare.  And god forbid you lose your grip. The book closes and you have to search around hoping to find your place.

I'm not blogging about this to whine about traditional books, only to say  my struggle with a simple technology I've used all my life, the paper book, surprised me.  It's a bit like the advent of the automobile I suppose. People were used to horses. They were organic. You had a relationship with your transportation. Then this sputtering, smoking thing called an automobile came along. The initial reaction from many was "it's not a horse." But as time passed, they found themselves surprised about having adopted the new technology.  They could go further, faster and without the care and maintenance involved with a horse.

And like the horse, I think the traditional book will continue to be produced, albeit in a more specialized form.  Just like the special relationship some people have with their horses, many of us have with our books. There's a smell, a feel to it that's part of the experience of reading.  However, if given the choice of hasseling with a traditional book or downloading one (I probably could have purchased ten books and downloaded them in the time it's taking to read this blog), more and more of us will surprise ourselves and gravitate to the new technology.

So what's your preference and why?

Richard Hacker

Both Available Now from your favorite digital bookseller

Web & Blog: www.richardhacker.comFacebook: @Richard_Hacker


Big Mike said...

When I first became published 6 years ago, 90% of sales were paperback. Now 95% are E format. Now that's a change.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I love my Kindle. I have a relationship with it. It doesn't swing closed and fall on my nose -- and wake me up!

As to the horse versus the car, well, my husband has a relationsip with his 1976 Lancia, adversarial. It's a lot more work than a horse, and smells worse.

As to paper books, once in a while I do read a "real" book. Using a paperclip or a post-it-note to hold my place helps. But I love my Kindle.

PSKarr said...

As you say, reading on a digital device is not the same. I am not sure if I will ever not feel nostalgic about holding a real book in my hands. But that's because I grew up hoarding yellowed and tattered books that I could lay my hands on. The future generations may never see a real book - who knows!

Having said that, I love the Kindle because it allows me to carry hundreds of books in my bag, and switch from one to another. Plus it has given tremendous opportunities to struggling authors. It is also easier to download a book anywhere rather than wait for your store to have it in stock.

The closing of Borders, BooksAMillion and many others might be a harbinger of things to come.

Nikki said...

I am emphatically not an early adopter. I bought my first and only cell phone two years ago. It's a tool to contact others when I'm away from home, and nothing else. So I can't say if I'd like a Kindle-type reader or not, though I'm sometimes tempted because of all the wonderful books not available in print. But one reason I resist buying one is that when I read, I'm dangerous. The beef stew boiling over on the stove, babies crying, that 18-wheeler screeching to a halt in front of me--they don't exist when I'm reading. Goddess only knows what trouble I'd get into if I had a hundred books in my pocket instead of one in my hand.
Another reason is that I like real life, too. I've had the most amazing conversations in the grocery store line. I people-watch to inspire my own books. I meditate in the doc's waiting room.
Finally, reading is a pleasure, a gift to myself. Sure, I read while stirring the spaghetti sauce, but I look forward to an hour or so in my comfy chair, blanket over my legs, cup of tea at my elbow, proper lighting over my shoulder. I suppose I could read a device there, but I'd lose the tactile input and the sweet anticipation of turning the pages, and the growing weight of a book telling me it's time to slide into sleep.
Besides, as I grow older I tend to misplace things more. Losing a book is bad enough; losing a Kindle, with a whole library on it, would be tragic.