Friday, November 04, 2011

Changing times--A look at ebooks and the evolution of digital media

Things are changing quickly these days. Some of these changes inspire wonder as new technology entertains us or makes our lives easier. Some inspire dread and fear as many of these same changing technologies seem to be the harbinger of destruction for traditions and institutions we've come to know and love.

And yet, things have always changed. Perhaps not so quickly as they do now where most high-end tech is outdated within six months of hitting the shelves, but they've always changed. In visual entertainment, reels gave way to Beta to VHS to DVD to Blueray/HD and digital. In music, records gave way to cassette tapes, to CDs, and now to digital. Movies/television and music are two popular de-stressing pastimes most people partake in. Reading is another. Should we be surprised that traditional printed books are also moving toward digital in the form of e-books?

The transition between technologies seems to grow ever shorter. I'll admit that though I still have some favorite VHS tapes from childhood, I haven't owned a VCR since highschool, and even my DVD's I find to be a less preferred format to digital which with home sharing and apple tv I can watch anything in my library from any tv (or ipad) in my house with just a couple clicks of a button. I don't have a CD player in my house, and only purchase CDs when I'm at a concert and want to get them signed. Of course, once I get home I import them to itunes and permanently shelf the CD. Movements toward such digital dependence never would have occurred without MP3 players and streaming devices like the apple TV. Now that dedicated e-reading devices are easily accessible and reasonably priced  (the new kindle is cheaper than an ipod nano) will they become the preferred vehicle for reading?

The benefits are much the same with all media moving toward digital. A definite plus is the drastic reduction of physical space needed for storing a collection, which means not only more room in your house, but one can carry a plethora of choices in a small handbag with minimal added weight. The ability to buy digital copies at any time  day or night from nearly any location is also a bonus (though can lead to dangerously impulsive splurges). As a whole one doesn't have to worry about damages associated with previous formats such as scratched cds/dvds or torn/smudged pages.

But there are frightening negatives as well. File corruption is always a fear, though that one is decreasing now that most companies offer offsite backups of purchases, but I acutely remember several friends who lost hundreds of dollars in music when their hard drives gave up the ghost, taking all their digital purchases with them. Some had backups of most of the music. At least two did not. As stated earlier, this is becoming less of an issue as most media providers allow you to redownload previous purchases, but what happens if their company goes under? Or if something happens to their servers? A physical book could get destroyed in fire or flood, but you will never pull a book off your shelf, open it, and suddenly find the book has glitched and is now filled with a jumble of indecipherable code (unless you spontaneously lose the ability to read the language it is written in, I suppose. LOL). Then there are compatibility issues. I'm sure this will eventually be resolved, but most e-stores sell e-books in proprietary formats which other e-readers will not open. If you switch devices (because let's face it, how long do most people hold onto tech these days before upgrading, 3-4 years? maybe less?) you have a possibility of losing access to your previously purchased library. Digital music has become much more standardized, so I imagine other media will be eventually, but when it does, will you be able to upgrade your library or are your purchases lost and stuck in a time vortex?

All of that said, books are different than other entertainment media in a very important way. Music and movies have always required special hardware to be enjoyed and once those formats became outdated not only were the formats hard to find but the hardware needed to play them eventually broke down and replacements became scarce and/or expensive. A physical book is and always has been self contained.  Barring disaster, any book you own will always 'work' when you go to read it, its format will not become outdated, and it will never need to be recharged. The movement toward digital changes that, putting it on the same level as other media. How many of you have found yourself once again buying an old favorite movie because the previous format(s) no longer play with your current setup?

I don't think anyone makes VHS or Cassette tapes anymore. I can't even remember the last time I saw these formats on a shelf. DVD and CD formats can be found, but walk into any store that sells them and you'll probably notice that the sections devoted to them are much smaller. Of course, almost all stores carry less physical product on the shelves than they used to, and bookstores are certainly not immune. The midlist authors are all but gone. New titles have less time than ever to make their mark, and even titles which sell are restocked at smaller numbers.

Hard economic times, increased online shopping, e-books, or any combination of the above could very well be to blame. And yet, studies show that more people are reading more books than ever, and that is being contributed to the rise of e-books and the ease e-readers enable people to impulse buy books. Of course, at the same time, e-readers all but eliminate browsing so while more books are selling, they tend to be only those that make a big enough splash to show up on e-reader charts or under recommendations. With a glut e-books hitting the market every day, breaking in and finding an audience is actually getting harder.

So what will happen to the paperback? Is it to go the way of the Betamax and VHS? Or does its physicality and simple, self contained usefulness guarantee its continued existence? Or, will paperbacks fall somewhere in between, like vinyl records which are feverishly collected and cherished by some but largely forgotten by many?

It's hard to say. I guess only time--and consumers voting with their dollars--will tell.

It has been a little over a year since the last time I discussed ebooks on the blog. A lot of people weighed in on previous print vs ebook discussions, but as it has been a while so I'd like to ask again--get a temperature of the changing situation, if you will. What are your thoughts? E-books: love them? Hate them? Haven't tried them yet? What about print? Are you done with dead trees or will someone have to pry your beloved tomes from your fingers before you give them up? Anyone want to make predictions on the market? I'd love to hear from you, so chime in!

11 comments:

Diane P said...

For Nov. 1st I bought 3 paperbacks and 8 digital books. You're right, it is quick and easy to buy e-books. I did peruse a couple of paperback books but later bought them as e-books. It is so easy to carry a variety of books on my Kindle as I read different genres. It goes everywhere with me.

Andrew said...

I'm more of an old fashioned guy when it comes to books. I don't mess with those tricked out e-books.

Michelle Cummings said...

I love to read, and have collected first edition hardcover books for years. However, I have owned a kindle for 2 1/2 years and absolutely love it. It is easier to take everywhere I go, and I can go back and reread a book, especially if it is a series and I can't remember what happened in a previous book. I have read a few print copies in the last few years, when not available on kindle, and I don't miss the feel of hardcovers at all!

Louise said...

I love e-books. For me, I need to give my hands and wrists something lighter to hold. And being able to bump the text size up to something manageable for my poor, decrepit eyesight is a huge plus. I got rid of most of my physical books; just saved the really important autobiographies, LOTR, Harry Potter (both US and UK versions), and the signed paperbacks. :D

I am just now reading my first library title on my Kindle (the direct from Amazon lending library, still have a couple of technical issues with my local library).

I do however prefer to purchase my e-books as I love to re-read a bunch of my favorite series a lot. A library selection won't make that such an easy task. I also love to be able to support the author by buying the book I want (usually on release day if it's something I've been desperately waiting for).

That being said, I am a technophile. I love my e-toys. :D For me, an e-reader was a natural progression from reading digital library books on my laptop. I've had a Kindle for 2 years (2 in 2 years thanks to an 8-year-old landing on my first one) and have yet to regret it.

Sorwen said...

I've loved my Kindle since I bought it. I by dead tree book versions of all books I want on my shelf, but I always buy a digital copy because I can have that book with me all of the time. If I suddenly want to re-read a book that I haven't looked at in years I can just pull it up and start reading. Thankfully this is becoming easier as publishers learn most are willing to give them money for an electronic copy a book they no longer print even if they already own the book. Go figure. They can make money off of books they already sold before. What is the world coming to. (Jab is at publishers and not Kalayna)

As for momentary over splurging, well no one said being an adult was easy. :p I'm sorry but that is a non-argument to me. I find that people need to grow up and put their big boy and girl pants on as it is.

As for loss of the item as you say most companies have backups, off site backups, off site backups of off site backups, and tape backups of off site backups of off site backups. On top of all that the hardware is generally replaced long before it becomes an issue that it could be lost. It is possible it could still be possible the item or the fact you bought the item could be lost, but every day that becomes a smaller and smaller issues almost to the point to be ludicrous to even worry about it. I could almost as easily trip on my way to work and fall into a mulcher.

What will happen to paper back? I doubt it will totally go away. Print on Demand is getting much easier and much more cost effective. I'm sure for a long time you will be able to get a paper back and people will even choose to. It will simply be Print on Demand.

Then too there is the picky factor. For every person that totally goes digital there is the person that doesn't want digital for some things. While I like digital copies of everything I much prefer text books, graphic novels, and a few other books in print. Having a search option is great, but for me it is just much easier when blindly looking for something to just flip through a book(plus if I own the book notes in the margins are just so much easier even over working on a touch screen). As for graphic novels I just find it more comfortable to read with a paper book instead. I might read novels 100% of the time, but other books digital only accounts for 10% of my over all usage in those cases.

Anonymous said...

I love ebooks because I can now finially get the font size I want and the lighting I want and can read for more than 10 minutes before my eyes get all zonked...I have read your first 2 books The Haven series and those are the first books I have read in 40 years in a short time...I really want the Third Blood book when will it be releasted to buy so I can read it

chameleon said...

I love eBooks! I love how easy it is to "lug" around a dozen books on my iTouch, and I really love how I can finish a book at 2am and buy the sequel (assuming it's out) at 2:01... I love that my just realeased eBook arrives on my iTouch at 1am the day of release... I love that my iTouch is light, that I can read one-handed in the dark...

what i don't like so much? the pricing for one... i know this is about the publishers, not the authors, so don't think i'm blaming you... but it would be nice if eBooks weren't MORE expensive than the hard copy... especially as most of the time you can't lend them or resell them!

I also kind of miss "flipping" thru a book, recognizing a book by its cover (seriously - i just don't notice the covers anymore!) and finding my favorite spot in a book just by letting it fall open...

but honestly, since i started reading on my iTouch i have probably read more books in the last year and a half than in the last 10 years!!!!

qweenblaz said...

i don't have a kindle and there's nothing better than chillin with a book after a long day and everyone has gone to bed.

Anonymous said...

The first place I look for a book is my local library. If it is unavailable, as in they don't have it, I'll consider buying the ebook. If it's just a matter of waiting my turn, I add it to my hold list at the library. If I love a book and know I want to read it more than once, or if I just can't wait I'll buy the ebook. I love my Nook and carry it with me everywhere. I also love the privacy it allows, and it's bailed my son out of textbook hell a couple of times when the book wasn't available in any bookstore; I just downloaded it to my Nook and problem solved. The computer has actually had the biggest impact on me as a reader - I spend a lot of time online looking for new authors and books. I still love my local library and visit a few times a week, but there's so much more to be found online - like your blog! Can't wait for the next Alex book, write fast!

Brent said...

I currently have 234 books that I've purchased through Amazon for my Kindle app on my iPhone.

I work night shift as an RN, so it is really hard for me to get out to a book store to purchase new books. This way, once I finish a book, I can nearly immediately purchase another - likely in the same series.

Still love all of the hundreds of paperbacks that decorate my den, but since I'm carrying my phone anyway, this has become a very convenient method for reading novels.

Thanks for the awesome books! :-D

MaliaJayy said...

I have had a Kindle for two years now, and I love it! i Have 683 titles to date, and it is amazing. I am a college student, so I love the convinence of having all my books in one place, at the tip of my fingers, lighter than ever, and CHEAP! ^_^ However, I still have all of my classic faves in hardcover and paper back. Jane Austen, James Patterson, Omar Tyree... I have atleast 2 books from all my favorite authors (including Once Bitten, and Twice Dead ^_-) im print. I need a library in my house someday! Besides, my Kindle is a little personal to me. I don't share it lol
All in all, keep my classics and top favorites in print, and all other books on my Kindle. Best of both worlds :)