Monday, January 11, 2010

The 140-word Novel, by Jess Lourey

Sherman Alexie was recently on The Colbert Report to discuss his latest novel, War Dances, which he has refused to release on Kindle or in any other digital format. You can watch the interview below (and I recommend you do), but his main point is that once books are digital, we lose the celebration of the book as an art form and as a community-creator, not to mention the potential royalties lost as readers pirate books as easily as music listeners pirate songs.

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Most authors lack the industry clout to refuse to sell the digital rights to their books, but even more than that, I think many of us don’t know what it means to have our books digitally available. The Google lawsuit seems to be muddying that water even more.

What are the pros and cons of Kindle, and other digital readers? I’m asking you as a reader and/or a writer. What do you see as the future of book delivery, and how will that affect writers and readers? The environment? Privacy?


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I'm afraid Alexie is in denial.

I completely agree with his belief of books as art, but if we don't go with the flow, we're in danger of dying out like the dinosaurs.

Ebooks (good): Adjust font. Less expensive to BUY, not produce. Can take 100 books on an airplane instead of 1. Can encourage people to spend more on books. I've heard they're making digital chat rooms at the start of ebooks encourage readers of your book to have a virtual book club meeting.

Ebooks (bad): Can't read them in the bathtub. :) If you drop your ebook reader, you risk losing your whole library, not just one book. We need to iron out digital piracy and proprietary issues.

Great subject, Jess!

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Lisa Bork said...

I wonder about the effect of ebooks on libraries. I wouldn't want a world without libraries.

G.M. Malliet said...

No one understands the Google thing. Authors, publishers, lawyers, judges, agents. No one. I have tried to read the arguments back and forth and have just ended up praying it will all be all right in the end. I expect that's the reaction of many authors.

Free "look-inside" preview on Amazon I get. That can benefit author and publisher if it's kept to a minimum as a teaser, like a movie trailer. But Google crosses that line.

Alan Orloff said...

Such tough questions for a Monday morning.

I think digital content (ebooks) is/are inevitable. Of course, there are many questions: what market share ebooks will garner, what will be the preferred delivery device (current ereaders, netbooks, phones, Apple's new tablet device? My money's on an all-in-one "superphone"), what kind of business model will be adopted for content providers (authors).

Piracy is an issue, but I'm not sure it's exactly analagous to music. Two differences I see: demographics of the bulk of "buyers." Music skews much younger, I'm guessing, where disposable income levels are lower and technology savvy is greater. Also, I think the perceived value of music is different than books. People are used to getting free music--just turn on any radio. Books may be another matter. (I'm hoping so!)

Of course, if ebooks do turn out like music, then I guess we can start touring, filling huge arenas, and making our money on T-shirts. (Jess, will you be part of my backup group?)

Rock On! (I mean, Write On!)

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Ditto what Elizabeth and Alan said.

I don't spend much time thinking about this (or about books sold on e-bay) because it's out of my hands. My publisher owns my digital rights and will do with them what they wish. But I do know that many of my readers used to ask me when my books were coming to Kindle, and now they can buy them that way. Book sales in any form are a good thing.

Cricket McRae said...

Great questions, Jess. I don't own a Kindle, nor do I particularly want one. However, I get why other people like them.

Every day I get a google alert about one or more of my books being offered on ebay. Amazon always has copies of my books available used, sometimes for .01. Libraries buy my books once for multiple readers. At the last book club meeting I went to six people had passed around two of my books -- one a library copy.

So piracy in ebook form doesn't seem to be that much of an issue to me. And so far I'm not seeing much in the way of books being published exclusively for ebook readers, except in the case of some self-published folks that have chosen that route.

I'll be interested to see how the whole issue is affected by the introduction of the Sony reader and Nook, as well as others to come. Will publishers cater to all these formats in order to ensure readership? Will the Kindle retain dominance because it gained a foothold first?

Jess Lourey said...

Thank you all for your intelligent and provocative input. I agree that digital books are here to stay, but I love Alexie's stand and his hope that we can hang on to the community that's built up around books and the financial incentive that keeps writers writing (I've only heard of this mythical thing).

Another issue that I have with digital books is that they make reading elitist. Anyone can buy a used paperback, or go to the library to check out what they want. Not so of owning a digital reader.

I hope there is always a place for the physicality and sensuality and democracy of real books, and that it's not just in museums.

p.s. Gin, thank you for validating my confusion about the Google issue. We have the same wish on that one--I hope it turns out all right in the end.

Julia Buckley said...

A. I love Stephen Colbert.
B. I love Jess Lourey for this interesting post.
C. I agree with you all that this can't change and Alexie is swimming against the tide.

BUT I think that Alexie is trying to point out that we tend as humans to not notice some of the byproducts of the loss until we are studying an event in retrospect. By focusing only on the inevitability of the change, we might not be fully assessing what we are (willingly) losing because one behemoth of publishing is dictating that loss.

Does that make sense?

Jess Lourey said...

Beautifully said, Julia (and I heart you too!). I think we need to enter into this digital book "revolution" with eyes open and fight for what is important so it happens in a way we can live with.

G.M. Malliet said...

p.s. I actually have no problem with the Kindle, so long as file-sharing doesn't become an issue. I have it on good authority that a laborer is worthy of his hire and file-sharing cheats the writer, the musician, etc.

I remain, however, a complete and unrepentant crank on the Google issue.

Jess Lourey said...

Gin, you are far too gracious too ever be an unrepentant crank. I agree completely about the Google issue. The fact that it is so clouded, and that no one can say exactly what authors will be giving up and exactly what Google will be gaining should be a red flag.