This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Trees Will Continue to Die

            When I first decided to put my mystery novel, TheMcHenry Inheritance, on Amazon, I toyed with the idea of making it an e-book only. A couple of friends were highly supportive, saying it was the wave of the future, and that print books were dinosaurs of the digital age.
            But the more people I talked to, the more dubious the idea became. Over and over I heard people say they preferred the print version of a book to the Kindle, Nook or iPad version.
            Moreover, the people who were saying this were not older folks who never made their peace with computers. (And to avoid stereotyping, I should mention that I know of at least one woman in her late 80s, no relation to me, who is reading my book on a Kindle.) They included a professor at Montana State University, a technical writer, and a couple of nonprofit agency directors — in short, people who use computers regularly and can in no way be considered technophobes. They just prefer the printed word.

Change Happens at Its Own Pace

            A lot of people tend to assume that when a new technology comes along, it will quickly drive out the old. Sometimes it does. Digital cameras wiped out film within a decade and the automobile did the same for the horse and buggy. But the arc of progress is by no means always clear and unimpeded.
            When television came along, a lot of people thought it would make radio and newspapers obsolete, but it didn’t. Electronic transfers and online banking have become hugely popular, yet plenty of checks are written each year. In fact, about 90 percent of them seem to be written by people ahead of me in line at the grocery store. Target and WalMart might wipe out the grocery store, but if there’s money to be made from it, they’ll still be taking checks.
            Print versions of books, and presumably the stores that sell them, look to be one of those things that will continue to survive and be profitable despite the newer technologies for reading. It will be a lesser market than it was before, and the players in it will have to be nimble and think strategically, but  old-school books fill a need and ought to do so for some time to come.

The Magic of Print

            Last month I went to Bookshop Santa Cruz, one of the leading independent bookstores in the country, for the unveiling of their new print-on-demand book machine. It was a big community event, with probably 200 or so people on hand. They even held a contest to name the machine, and the winner was Walt, in honor of the fact that poet Walt Whitman appears on many of the store’s logos.
            Friday night I was back at the store to get the proof copy of The McHenry Inheritance that had been run off a couple of hours earlier on the Walt. Something came over me when the book was handed across the counter — an emotional kick that I simply didn’t feel when I went to Amazon and saw my e-book in the Kindle store for the first time. Call it the magic of print.
            A print book is more work for a self-published author, and the final product costs the reader more money than the digital version. I’m willing to do the work, and people tell me they’re willing to pay the difference, so there must be value in there somewhere. In another ten days to two weeks, my book, already published online, will finally be, literally, “in print.”