Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Re-Thinking the 'E'

Amidst the heat of summer and the heft of books being carried in the summer heat, now is a good time to ponder the e-book.

I used to think of my e-book reader (Kindle, for those keeping score at home) as a tool I kept for convenience and desperation. I am a Print Girl, now and forever.

But as I considered how to find new homes for my already-read books, I had to wonder: why remain married to print for every book?

I'm not keen on the control Amazon has over my reader and its contents. Sure, I can get a refund, but if Amazon can put a book on my reader, it can take it off. (And has, for other readers in the past.)

I prefer my e-books inexpensive. Right now I'm considering an e-copy of my favorite Marge Piercy poetry book, but it's more than a couple of bucks. I realize that some older books haven't yet gone "e," but the absurd price of an e-book astounds me. Maybe I don't know enough about the process of e-publishing, but I also can't imagine why an e-book would cost nearly as much as its printed doppelgänger.

However, it's nice to know that I have more than 100 books at my fingertips when I have my Kindle in hand. I have some good ones, too, like Mary Poppins, Chronicles of Narnia, some Stephen King and a little Neil Gaiman. I also have begun to purchase books I do not have in print, including the blockbusters The Goldfinch and The Son.

Having said that, I have heard about Amazon's war with publishers, and I would hate to think my book selection is being so overtly controlled — and my e-book selection even more so. I don't know a lot about the E-World, but the idea of having to convert books from one seller's format to mine, or having to download a special program to read them, does not make me happy.

Plus, we all realize that e-technology assigns us only a "lease" for music and books we claim to have purchased. Ask iTunes or Bruce Willis, and they'll tell you: if you "buy" a digital album, it's not yours to will to your children. How much did you pay for that bestseller you can't give, loan or resell, like you can with print?

Finally, let's be honest: technology changes fast. Today's e-reader could be tomorrow's Apple Lisa. If Amazon went out of business, who would support my technology? I've invested a few hundred dollars in books and a reader that very well could become obsolete. I'm one of the only people I know who still burns her albums to CD "just in case." I'm not a troglodyte, but I am suspicious of the "latest and greatest," considering how quickly it's replaced these days.

Printed books, on the other hand, are the same. I can buy a book printed in 1895 and it still reads the same as a book printed today. I love the smell, the heft, how pages feel when they're turned. I don't write in my books, but I use sticky notes like a madwoman.

I suppose, in the end, we change our minds based on our needs and environment. My bookshelves are full of great books, and I adore seeing them, thumbing through them, taking them off their shelves. Someday, I may not have room for my library full of books. I may not want to move them to another home, or I may simply decide they need new owners. Every few months, I have to consider the inventory, and I love to match books with the right person.

Someday, I may not want that heavy hardback. Some days, I don't want that heavy hardback, and the $1.99 copy of The Goldfinch is right up my alley. I guess we'll just have to see.

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