Thursday, August 15, 2013

An Ebook "Carr" Wreck?

As Nathan Bransford predicted, we’re seeing a flood of “ebooks are in decline” articles, thanks much to an article written by Nicholas Carr, who has much to say about how computers and other electronic devices are ruining our brains and attention spans.

Bransford concedes we might be seeing a plateau in the desire to purchase ebooks “at least, if you look strictly at Q1 [2013] numbers” he says – but what others are not point out but Bransford does is that ebook sales in the first quarter of the year are up five percent when at the same time overall physical book sales are down five percent.
He also points out that ebooks for the first time seized the lead in the adult market, with 33 percent of sales in that first quarter going to ebooks, with 30 percent to paperbacks and 22 percent to hardcovers.
That doesn’t sound like a decline to me.
Robert Rosenberger, writing at, extrapolates this “decline” in the ebook surge as evidence that people don’t want to read ebooks on tablets, riffing on Carr’s familiar technology-is-killing-our-attention-span blues.
Should we be surprised that multi-function tablets are edging out dedicated e-readers? Not at all. In our options-crazy environment, why spend some money on an electronic gadget that can do one thing well when you can spend a little more and get a device that does that thing well, along with a lot of other stuff?
Additionally, I don’t buy the tablet as distraction model that Rosenberger is pushing (as he paraphrases a TechCrunch article):
[T]ablets are distracting to readers because they offer other enticing things to do.
He turns again to Carr – can we ever get any other experts cited here, or is Carr the only authority on the matter – to explain that using computers and such for reading leads to hyperactive hyperlink clicking and page surfing is fundamentally rewiring our brains.
Maybe so. But where’s the evidence?
As I’m reading physical books, I find many things to be distracting – including other books. If I’m reading a book that’s a tough slog, many the time comes that I set the book aside and read another book, or another few books, and then get back to the slog. No electronics or brain-rewiring involved. Same goes for the attention-sucks that are television, writing my own novels, family activities, work, blogging, teaching English, and any other activity that cuts into my dedicated reading time. Even sleeping is a distraction. I’ve had a cold this week, so the time I usually spend on the bus home has been spent sleeping this week. So many distractions, and not a tablet in sight.
Yes, this is anecdotal evidence. But I’ve got more.
I’ve read more ebooks this year than I ever have. I’m not contributing to the surge in ebook buying, though, as I read only (so far) the free classics. But I’ve read more of the free classics on my Kindle Fire with all of its distractions than I ever have in the physical sense. Having the books electronically is encouraging me to read them – choosing between the physical book and the Kindle version is easy; the Kindle wins every time.
Rosenberger also laments it’s easier to scribble in the margins of a physical book, or to turn the edges of the pages into a flip book. That may be. But I’ve gotten more concrete help out of annotating an ebook for inspiration in the books I’m writing than I have elsewhere, and I’ve done lots of physical book annotation, which I have always transcribed into a Word file for easier portability, mixability, and citability. Electronic annotations make it easier for me as a reader and a writer to use the annotations I make.
A Reddit user is also using ebooks to analyze the writing of authors he likes – an important tool for writers who want to be better writers, as I think we all do.
(And again, we have readers here offering we writers excellent writing advice:
[T]he best way to do it is through sentence structure and flow. Shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs convey more happening in more immediate spans of time … Sentence arrangement can also help achieve an effect. Putting the important things first, or arranging things so the word order helps follow the order of action.)
Yes, all anecdotal. But it’s just as pertinent information as Rosenberg and Carr are pushing, and more enlightening that mere dismissal of using technology to read. I think the experts are wrong in this. We’ll have to see.

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