by Jon Skovron
If I am at home and working on a project and suddenly realize I need to re-read The Curious Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson for research, I just pick up my iPad, download it from the Apple Book Store, and ten minutes later I’m deep into my research. What’s more, all of my research is with me wherever I go, with notes and bookmarks synced between devices. And what about readers who don’t need stacks of research? Well, have you ever packed for a trip and been halfway through a book, debating on whether or not to pack another book in case you finish the one you’re reading? It seems whenever I do pack a backup book, I never have time to even crack the main book I’m reading. And when I don’t pack the backup book, it seems I always have tons of time and end up finishing my book half way through the trip and have to go out and buy a new one. And trust me, with my current “To Be Read” stack, I shouldn’t be buying more books. And speaking of my “To Be Read” stack, it takes up an enormous amount of room in a house that is rather small and shared with two boys that grow increasingly less small every time I turn around.
All this to say, ladies and gentlemen, that I believe the age of the e-book is finally upon us. And I for one welcome it.
“But wait!” cry the bibliophiles with their gorgeously decadent stacks of books, their shelves upon shelves, their home libraries of books. “Don’t you miss books? The feel of them? The heft of them? The smell of them?” And I respond, “Well, no. Because I have those, too.” Because I am a bibliophile as well. I have first editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter of Mars series and a 1891 printing of the poetry of Lord Byron mashed up against my well thumbed, cotton-soft copies of The Vampire Lestat and Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I have pristine, never opened hardback copies of American Gods and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell that I bought after reading library copies, for the sole purpose of owning stories that I cherish so much. Man do I love books. Everything about them. So I have no intention of ever giving them up. But you must recognize that the whole paper and glue and cutting and printing thing is a bit inefficient when all you’re essentially trying to do is deliver a bunch of text.
Let’s look at the music industry, which, arguably and despite the efforts of many within it, has weathered the change from analog to digital rather well. There are more bands making more albums more often. And it’s easier to find obscure independent bands that might otherwise have been crushed under the burden of record or CD pressing and printing costs. No longer do I get suckered into buying an album because I liked the single only to find out that the rest of the album is totally different and not something I like at all because now I can stream partial or complete tracks directly on the record label’s site before I buy. And sure, once you digitize something, there’s always the threat of piracy. But as someone who’s worked for an internet security company, I’m telling you right now, that will always be there just like the days when people used to break into your car and steal your CD case. Back when you had CDs. If you ever had CDs. The point is, more and more, music is purchased and consumed as a purely digital medium. Whether the industry likes it or not, the consumer sure does, and they vote with their money.
And yet, an interesting thing has happened. After taking a dramatic nose-dive with the popularization of cassette tapes and CDs, sales of vinyl have actually started to rise again. Why is this? Because there are those people–those audiophiles–who hunger for the organic tones and crackling texture of analog sound. It’s a niche market, to be sure. But it’s a loyal market that is willing to pay a lot of money for their vinyl. Radiohead seems to have figured that out. You can buy their newer albums as a digital only for $10, or if you are a true Radiohead freak (and trust me, there are a lot of them) you can drop $80 on the box set, which includes the digital, CD, and vinyl versions, plus original artwork by the band and a number of other little goodies. And there’s several price points in between those. The more you want, the more you pay. Simple enough.
Another component to the music industry that I think is worth mentioning is the rise in popularity of live shows. Bands tour more, and tour more often. And people go to see them more It’s difficult to say why, precisely, but if I had to guess, I would say that in our increasingly digitized, isolated, online society, we have, as a culture, begun to hunger for the visceral, the experiential. We no longer have a visual, tangible experience with the music when we purchase it. But it’s natural to want to connect things that move us, that give us pleasure, with our reality. Seeing the band live does that like nothing else. It makes the music personal. It connects the listener directly to a community of other people who also like the band enough to go see them live. It becomes an event for everyone there.
So if I may be bold enough to toss my own auger on what this portends for the publishing industry, I think as e-readers become better and more affordable, we will begin to see it slowly become the dominant format. But I don’t think that will kill books., as long as we are willing to diversify a bit.
I think books will become specialty items, like vinyl. Since it will be a specialty market, they will cost more. And if I’m going to pay extra, I’m going to want the full treatment. Leather binding, gold leafing, gorgeously designed pieces of art. Sacred items, almost. And really, I think that’s kind of cool, to bring some of the special and sacred back to books and bookmaking.
I think we will also see more and more interest in live author events. Now, I know some authors aren’t especially pleased about this for various reasons. And I certainly don’t think it’s something that will break a career any more than an author’s current involvement with Facebook, Twitter, and the like. But for those willing, perhaps even eager to make live author appearances less of a drag and more of an event, this will be a wondrous opportunity to return to the age of barding, and the art of intimate storytelling.
Jon Skovron has never really fit in, and has no plans to start now. After twelve years of Catholic school, he went on to study acting at a conservatory program for four years before returning to his first love,writing. His second novel, Misfit, will be published in August, 2011 by Amulet Books.
His first novel, Struts & Frets, was published by Amulet in 2009. Washington Post Book World said, “Skovron perfectly captures that passion—sometimes fierce, sometimes shy—that drives so many young artists to take the raw stuff of life and transform it into something beautiful.” Bestselling author Cory Doctorow said, “Struts & Frets will feel instantly authentic to anyone who’s ever felt the pride and shame of being an outsider”.
Jon lives with his two sons outside Washington, DC.