… nasty things that they are. They use up trees, and fuel, and they dirty the air in their production and transport. They take up shelf space, they’re a slow and bulky way for someone to spread their ideas. They take forever to arrive after ordering — most books I want aren’t available locally — and shipping costs heaps.
Once I’ve read the darn things it’s not easy to dispose of them again. They lie around, cluttering up the place and gathering dust. If I do manage to sell them or give them away there’s more transport and time involved.
And the reading! They’re usually too heavy, or too floppy, or the print’s too small, or a horrid font, and there’s no way to set my own preferences. Without a built-in backlight it’s hard to read a book in bed — the reading light’s always in the wrong place to see the text clearly.
And then the non-fiction books go out of date, and errors remain uncorrected.
I’ve been listening to radio interview this morning — it’s fascinating stuff and I’d like to know more. The subject of the interview has written a book on the topic, published recently.
I know without even looking that there’s no point wasting time trying to buy this book locally, so head over to Amazon. It’s available now in hardback. Hardback! Why would I want a hardback book? They cost more, weigh more and tend to be larger than paperback. This one’s US$18.48. I can pretty much double that price with shipping to New Zealand.
The paperback won’t be published for several months.
So, how about other editions? I could have it on a Kindle right now. If I were in the US. Kindle hasn’t spread to New Zealand. I have an iPod touch, an iPhone and several computers. I could read it on any one of them, if there were an appropriate edition.
Now I know from my own experience that Amazon isn’t always a reliable source of information about alternative editions 1, so I go looking. After locating and roaming around the publisher’s site and the book’s own website I discovered a link to an audio edition. That’s not quite what I want, but it may do.
Hopeful, I followed the link, only to find that, incredibly, the MP3 edition is out of stock! Unbelievable! How can an MP3 be out of stock? And, what’s more, it costs more than the hardcover edition. I know there’s voice talent and production processes and all that, but for heaven’s sake, layout, printing and most of the materials and distribution costs don’t come into play.
Books should die. It’s well past time for them to be replaced as a medium. We no longer use stone tablets, papyrus, or scrolls. They had their time and then we moved on to new media.
The time of the book is past. Saving up scads of information to ‘publish’ in a single chunk on sacrificial dead trees is a fossilised concept. The planet can’t afford such a wasteful habit, either.
It’s long past time for authors and publishers / distributors to come up with interesting, viable alternatives to ‘the book’.
We have this new stuff called technology. Let’s find ways to make it work to spread the ideas and information that used to be in books.
Readers come up with excuses: ‘I can’t read off a screen’. Well sure you can; it’s just a matter of practice. ‘I love the smell and feel of a new book.’ Well, I love the feel of a well-designed computer device on which I can read text. I love enlarging the fonts if I need to, and making the screen darker or brighter or more contrasty.
Every technology has both benefits and drawbacks. I think that dead-tree technology has had its centuries. This should be the dawn of a new era in publishing.