Two things have recently come together for me to remind me of the potential cost of e-books recently.
I’m not talking about the dollars and cents cost – that is obviously much lower than buying a physical book. Nor am I talking about the environmental cost. Admittedly, it takes power to read an e-book, but there must be a lot of physical books which absorb not only power in their production, but also resources such as paper.
What I’m talking about is the loss of skills.
The first instance which really brought this home to me was recently receiving a Kindle. When you turn it off, it somewhat ironically has varied screensavers of the bygone age of printing: blocks for printing, type, rolled up newspapers, sharpened pencils. All very beautifully photographed in black and white, but also a bit sad.
The second was speaking to an illustrator who works primarily on children’s books and text books. As we all know, traditional publishers have been really shaken up by the popularity of e-books. From the outside at least, it seems as if they are running scared. As I understand it, this has lead them to be more and more conservative in their choices for books, and also on the outlay they are willing to make on a book. My friend the illustrator is at the end of the food chain, and so when publishers don’t publish as much, or decide they can recycle illustrations from previous editions, he’s one of the little people who lose out.
This is a great post I read recently on this subject: Birth of a book from Katy at Storytelling Nomad. It certainly brought on a dose of nostalgia for me.
I recognise that the market for books is not infinitely expandable, but arguably, publishers (and ultimately readers) are shooting themselves in the foot by taking this approach. By producing less titles, they make it harder to get published, especially if you are a new author. Therefore, more people are bound to either be disheartened by rejections, or turn to Indie publishing, compounding the problem.
By providing less work for all the people who rely on the publishing industry, (graphic designers, illustrators, printers and so on), they decrease the skills base available to them, as people are forced to move into different industries.
I was taught graphics by a fabulous old gentleman who had worked in advertising in the days before computers. This was a man who really understood colour, layout and the impact of different fonts. He made us draw letters by hand, and there are a great many fine nuances in their shape which influences the feel of the finished piece. Now that we can all produce our own covers, and the formatting of the book is largely a dictate of whichever device we are producing it for, all of that sophistication is lost.
As someone about to become an Indie author myself, I realise that this may seem like a slightly hypocritical rant. 🙂 However, I do think there is a place for both e-books, and truly beautiful hard copy books. Maybe this is how physical books can truly differentiate themselves? If we want a quick read, an airport book, or to sample a new author, then e-books seem a good way to go without using precious resources.
But for a really treasured tome, or to own books by authors we adore, perhaps we should be willing to spend a bit more for a beautiful thing. Maybe this is just my buried luddite coming out, but the loss of the special for the ease of the mass produced seems to make us all poorer. Love to hear your thoughts.