Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Loneliness Of The eBook Reader

Here. This is the print version of my award winning book.

See? There's the award sticker! It's ON the book, put there by my publisher.
They had this moment of glory when those stickers came in the mail, when they could detach them from the sticker sheet and pick a spot on the book cover to put it.
It must have been a moment of tactile glory. Something they could touch, success, felt in the embossed surface of that plaque.
My publisher tells me  – and they know these things  –  that print sales drop the moment the eBook version is launched. They are all in favor of eBooks, too, tell me they are more profitable, which I believe. It's obvious, right? Less work, less fuss, no print costs, no shipping costs, no mountain of books sitting in storage waiting to be sold.
It's easier for the reader, too. Instant download, no shelf space, no extra weight in the luggage when you travel, and it's also much easier to read from a highlighted screen that from paper on a plane.
There's no denying that – I bought an iPad just the other day for my travels this summer, and yes, I downloaded books that I've always meant to read but never got around to buying.

I've also downloaded some movies. And before I leave I'll buy ALL of Dr. Who to watch on the plane.

Here's the thing, though. I have to admit this wasn't my own thought. It was brought up by my best friend's  daughter. She's twenty-two, a math student, and an avid reader and music lover.
While we were having coffee together today, this subject came up.
We were talking about the launch of my new book, "Under The Same Sun", scheduled for October 1st. I said that I had no idea how many copies would actually be printed because the demand for eBooks seems to be so much higher, and how glad I was that it says in my contract that I'm getting ten copies. I love to have my own books in print. I WANT to have my own books in print!
Constanze threw me a very sad, very thoughtful glance and said, "Soon there won't be any shops at all anymore because everyone buys everything online."
That made me think.
She went on to say that for her (she's twenty-two! A member of the electronic generation!) going to a book store was an adventure. It meant foraging for new books, leafing through them, talking to people, listening to reading advice, and finally coming away with a bag full of loot, something she could hug to herself on the ride home. She also said that even though she didn't have a whole lot of time to read just now, she really enjoyed just looking at her book shelves, seeing all the books she loves so well there. It gives her the feeling that she can pick out one at any moment and read. It's tactile, it's real, it's a friend.

The movies, she said. People don't go to the movies like they used to, with TV on demand, cheap DVDs and film downloads.
The record stores – why spend time at a record store, browsing through CDs, if you can just download the songs you want from iTunes?

"We are creating a society of loneliness," was her verdict, "We don't have to leave our homes for anything at all anymore. But it's fun to go to the movies and share the experience with a theater full of people, and it's fun to buy a book because an enthusiastic sales person tells you what they thought of it. It's an adventure, one of the last adventures we city creatures have, to go to a book store and find new books. If it goes on like this we'll all be spending all our time in front of computers, on our own, cut off from other people, and gratify our needs speedily and without having to talk to anyone else at all. We won't even need clothes anymore because no one else will see us."

I'd not seen it like that before.

I'm an author. I want to hold my book, the book a publisher took the trouble to publish, in my hands.
I also want to go on book signing tours, make contact with my readers, look into their faces and hear their opinions of my novels. I want to meet the REAL people.

What I'm trying to say is, maybe not everything that's new is also a blessing.
Maybe there will come a day when we regret not having a print copy of the book we love so much.
A paper book can't easily be taken away from you. An electronic copy can just be deleted.

My publisher posted a blog post about the same subject today. They know better than I do, of course, being involved in the market while I'm only the writer. If you want to read their insights, go here:




  1. I am 17 and part of what you call the "electronic generation"

    Books smell good. Books feel good. Books make this amazing sound when you turn a page.
    Nothing feels better than ink and paper.

    I have shelves and shelves of books around my bed and I must say that the safest I ever felt was between these shelves; laying in bed with all those books around me is magical
    I will never feel the same thing with an iPad under my pillow.

    Books will always, always win.

    1. Good for you! I was just like you at your age. Books were my escape. :)

  2. This is so true. I was opposed to e-books because to me books have soul. People are already separated from each other by several modern inventions- air-conditioning and television. No more sitting on your hot porch at night with neighbors. Movie theaters still exist but are tiny, claustrophic spaces- not the grand palaces and events of yore. This all leads to lonely, dysfunctional societies. Libraries and book stores are probably next. The smell and feel of real books traded for downloading e-books. The question is- would we go back to the way it was?

    1. Hopefully there will be space for every version. I really hope that.

  3. As for shopping online... if I know exactly what I want, I order it online over breakfast or at work. Saves so much time. However, nothing beats browsing a book store. ^^

  4. Interesting. E-books are easier, but there's nothing like cuddling up in bed at night with a real book 8)

    1. And then stuff it under your pillow and drift off into dreamland! Yes!

  5. Gorgeous photos of the book - love the sticker!

  6. AS i think you know, Mariam, since about two years ago, I may been unable to read print because of the problems with my eyes. Having had a couple of operations, things are better but only for short periods of time. How I have blessed eBooks! They are great but, like you, I hope and pray that they will never replace the real thing. After all, some people watch DVD's and still go to the cinema; some people listen to CD's and still go to concerts.

    Interestingly, looking at the royalty statements for M's earliest books, they are selling almost exactly the same number of printed books as they are eBooks (although I am not sure how significant that is).