Here’s an example of understatement: The book industry is in turmoil right now.
Spend just a few minutes on the internet and you’ll find a wide variety of people gnashing their teeth and climbing up on their soapbox to proclaim what’s wrong and how to fix it. According to the site you read, Amazon is either destroying books (and life as we know it), or single-handedly rescuing authors from the dark dungeon of traditional publishing. Self-published authors are either the forward-thinking saviors of the written word or fools who think they can write well and be successful without agents and editors and publishers helping them.
The waters are further muddied by the fact that the battle lines aren’t clearly drawn. Some authors love Amazon and aren’t fond of independent bookstores that have limited shelf space, with no room for their books. Some authors hate Amazon and ask their readers to support independent bookstores. Readers are just as divided between Amazon, B&N, and the independent stores. While the publishers and Amazon are pretty clearly on different sides, if you look hard enough you can find agents and publishers who do support Amazon, at least partly.
As I watch this all unfold, I’m fascinated by the plot complexities, and also by the passionate arguments everyone makes for the “right” way to handle books, the either/or stance many people are taking. Are eBooks evil? Destroying literacy? I don’t get that—if you’re reading an eBook you’re actually reading, right? I personally still prefer a printed book, although the idea of having 3500 books on one gadget instead of piled up on the floor of my basement appeals to me. I don’t have a Kindle, or a Nook, although I do have the apps for both on my iPad. And yes, I have bought and read eBooks. Some of them I enjoyed them very much and some of them I deleted without finishing, just like printed books (although with printed books “deleting” takes a little more work). My love for printed books doesn’t make me “outdated” and I’m not just clinging to a dying format.
I’ve always been a fan of choices, and as a reader I want choices. Sometimes I want the book the cheapest way I can get it—maybe at a used bookstore, maybe from Amazon, maybe at the library. Sometimes I want to wander around a real bookstore and browse covers, hold the book in my hand, buy something I’ve never heard of that looks interesting. If I’m travelling, I like having eBooks rather than a pile of printed books. I have no desire to read someone’s self-published book if it has not been edited or proofread, if there are gaping plot holes or grammatical mistakes. Neither do I want to read the latest traditionally published tripe from someone capitalizing on his/her 15 minutes of fame. I want to read good books with good stories. And honestly, where I get that book or what format that book is in really doesn’t matter much to me.
So what about the readers? That’s the piece I think is missing from all this sound and fury. Seems like we’re stuck in the middle of this battle, and while we might come out the winners, we might not. And let’s not make the mistake of thinking we can easily group readers into one big category—we’re a complex group. I’m not the “average” reader. I don’t even know what “average reader” means. Is “reader” even the right audience to talk about—maybe “book buyer” is more in line with what the publishers and authors and Amazon are fighting over, the people who are paying money for books. But then what happens to libraries, and to the library patrons who can’t afford to buy the books, or a Kindle or a Nook?
Like I said earlier, lots of complexities. I have no solution to end this battle, just a plea: Don’t forget the readers.
What do you think about this book battle? Has it affected you, changed your approach to reading? To buying? Borders friends, I know lots of you lost your jobs partly because of this—what do you think about it?