Friday, 27 July 2012

Confessions of an E-Book Agnostic

I'm going to say this right up front: I don't dig on e-books. I'm not against them; it's not a point of principle, I have no strong feelings about their effect on the publishing ecosystem. It's just that I like to read on paper. That's my preference, and I can't see it changing any time soon.

It's not that I'm a technophobe. That's one thing I'm pretty confident that I couldn't be accused of. Before I got my break as an author, I spent ten years as a partner in a web design business. I even helped build the Mysterious Press online e-book shop, including the back-end coding.

It's not that I don't have the devices to hand. Between me and my wife, we have three iOS devices that run the Kindle app, as well as iBooks. I've dowloaded a few e-books to my own iPhone, read a few short stories (I can recommend Chris F Holm's 8 Pounds), tried to read a novel by a well-known self-publishing advocate (couldn't, it was sucky), but that's about the height of it.

Despite all the convenience that e-books offer, and the ease of availability, we still have a house full of old-fashioned books (see photo - our little girl getting a head start). We have one room dedicated to their storage, and even then, we have bookcases in other rooms for the overflow.

There are two driving forces in my (and my wife's) failure to move with the times:

Books are Objects of Desire

We like owning books. We like to have them on our shelves, lined up, spines out. We display some vanity in how we arrange them, the volumes we're proudest of getting the most prominent display, the trashy paperbacks banished to the spare room. We like nice, hefty hardbacks.  Special editions are even better. The books on display say something about us in the same way that the pictures on our walls do. They're a visible illustration of who we are as people, the places we've been, the things we value, the things we aspire to.

The Experience Matters

I've been an iPod user for a few years now; unlike e-books, I put up little resistance to that advancement. But I rarely buy music through iTunes. I still buy physical CDs. I still spend time flipping through racks in HMV, hoping to find something special. I still order them online and wait the few days for them to show up.


Because I care about the quality. I want better than the iTunes standard bitrate of 128kbps, so I'll wait a few days, or drive to a store, and rip the CD with lossless audio. Besides, I want to physically own what I buy. In the event of some terrible catastrophe wiping my iTunes library, I know I'll still have the vast majority of my music safely stored on shiny discs.

The importance of the format became more apparent to me when I recently bought a good quality turntable to pair with my stereo. Not only could I revisit the vinyl I collected in my youth (yes, I'm that old), I could also buy some of favourite albums on superior quality black groovy plastic. Some of these were albums I hadn't discovered until long after I'd made the move to CD, so I'd never heard them as they were originally intended. I'm talking about mono pressings of LPs like Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, and John Mayall's Blues Breakers Featuring Eric Clapton. And they sound magnificent on vinyl, with more weight and presence than any version I've heard before.

The most important thing I noticed, however, is this: I listen to music on vinyl in a very different way. When I thought about it, I realised that I experience music in completely different ways according to the format. With iTunes, music becomes a backdrop for whatever I'm doing, whether that be writing, reading, doing the dishes, whatever. I tend to listen to CDs in my car, when I'm on the move, so I get long stretches if I'm heading out of town, or short snippets if I'm only going to the shops. It's rarely a start-to-finish listen.

But with vinyl, I do nothing other than listen. And I listen actively. I don't read, I don't tidy, I do nothing other that get up and turn the record over so I can listen to side two (ah, the loveliness of actually a side two is not to be underestimated). In other words, the format on which my content is delivered has a huge impact on how I experience that content.

The same applies to books. The reading experience is different. It's not the tactile aspect, though that is important. It's the importance one places on the reading itself. I'll go further and say the experience of reading a mass market paperback is different to reading a first edition hardback. The experience itself has greater value.

But That's Just Me

Your mileage will vary, of course. I'm not saying I'm right or wrong on this. It may well be true that I'm missing out on a world of reading possibilities. And I'm not ruling out ever making the transition to the Kindle, Nook, or whatever device is de rigueur by the time I finally give in. But this is where I am now. Agnostic, sticking with what I know, but willing, someday, to change my mind based on the evidence before me.

I've got a couple of related topics I want to blog about over the next week or so; check back if you're interested.


SJIHolliday said...

I completely agree with this post! I have a room full of books, piles next to my bed, others in living room, some at my parents house, etc etc. I also have a digital pad type thing that I *can* read ebooks on, so far I have read one (because it wasn't available any other way). I enjoyed that book and will read the author's next one, but I long for it to be made available in paper. I have hundreds of tracks on iTunes but rarely use it, I also like to browse through my CDs (and often find empty boxes, much to my annoyance). I don't have anything against electronic stuff, I see all the benefits. But so far, for me at least, I am not convinced they are something I need. Yet.

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

I buy lots of books, mostly hardbacks of friends and I love them (as you well know, having seen my house!) But I READ mostly now on the iPad kindle app. It's just my timing; I tend to read in the middle of the night and I don't want to wake up the hubbins.

Of course, once I saw the pic of Her Adorableness, the rest of your post was all blah blah blah. :)

Greg Mollin said...

I personally buy both. I've got stacks of first edition hardcovers that I end up purchasing a second time for my nook. I prefer the experience of reading an actual book, and have been a collector all my life, but my wife can't deal with the glare from my book light. That said, she's gonna have to find a blackout mask next week when I start reading my arc of Ratlines.

Wendy said...

A friend and I were just talking about this today. I LOVE owning books, but I love reading on my Kindle Fire more than I like reading out of a paper book because of lifestyle issues. I'm a writer who also has a full-time job and two active boys and I read on the fly -- waiting in line, while cooking, etc. It's just super easy for me.

It's certainly not as romantic as curling up with a hardback book in a cozy chair, but since I never get to curl up in the cozy chair this is a next best thing. Maybe in ten years when the boys are out of the house (or nearly out) I will re-kindle my romance with the chair and the book. (I can hope??)

Oh, the other bonus... my youngest kid can't yank the book mark out of my book and yell, "What's this piece of paper sticking out of here, Mommy?" (Frequent event at our house.)