Wednesday, June 30, 2010

E-book Expectations

My brother-in-law, who blogs at The Lithium Press, got me to thinking more about e-books after his interesting post on how academia is handling the e-book revolution.

He mentions the "digital natives" which are today's young'uns, those who have grown up in the digital age and do not know a world without Web 2.0, Facebook, and all that other folderol. Part of their folderol includes no preconceived notions, he says, on the superiority of printed books over electronic books. Old folks like me tend to cling to the printed page as if it were imbued with some totemic quality. Not so, say these digital natives, who are much more willing to peruse stuff online, and don't see the necessity of antiquated things such as libraries and such.

That's well and good. I downloaded iBooks to my iPod Touch tonight, and now have nine free e-books to read.

And there's the trouble.

As fascinated as I am with electronic books, I've yet to pay for one. And while digital natives are buying books, they're still clamoring for books that cost pennies on the dollar, simply because they tote up their own tired mantra: You don't have to pay to print or distribute these books, so the books should be cheaper. As if the act of writing, editing and marketing books suddenly cost a lot less and are just as disposable as the printed page.

So we have the conundrum -- and maybe it's mostly imaginary -- of digital natives balking at spending a lot on e-books when they think they should be cheaper than they are currently, while authors and publishers are saying, "Hey, we evil magicians need to make a livin' too, ya know." Add to the mix the digital natives' general disdain for copyright law, and you've gone from fossilized fuds like me complaining that e-books don't smell or feel right to the wild west of "Well, that book ought to be free. Or real cheap.

I feel their pain. As I browsed through the iBooks store, I went straight for the freebies. They're treated comically at the moment, especially classics. I could spend $4.99 for a copy of Kenneth Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows" if I wanted a nice color cover and illustrations, or I could get just the words for free. Guess which route I took?

Now, I've just written a book. It's nowhere near being published, except on my blog. So technically, anyone who wants it can download it for free. Is that bad? Well, maybe not -- maybe I can get a following and then, joy, get it published. Or maybe they'll just steal it; that's always a possibility. More likely, it's not worth stealing. But as easy as the web has made publishing, it's made it just as easy to steal and to belittle the work that goes into producing a good book.

The battle will continue.

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