Point/Counterpoint: The State of Books

A recent re-posting of J.A. Konrath’s “Obsolete Anonymous” post got me to thinking about how things have changed in terms of books within the last year or so…but not so much in the grand scheme of things, but my own view of the drama. I’ll admit…there are times that reading Konrath’s blog depresses me. Other times, it’s motivating. Other times, it pisses me off.

The inner conversation in my head was very much like a point/counterpoint write-up in your local paper. Taking it outside of my head and back onto the internet, it goes something like this:

Point: Amazon and Self publishing are making it easier than ever for more people to make a living off of writing. All writers should rejoice from this. More than that, this new evolution within the book industry has made books less expensive. There’s more competition now; consumers aren’t being forced to buy titles from the same 20-30 authors that have been deemed “successful” by New York. Furthermore, in a time when everyone wants to go green, what better way to contribute that printing on the digital page rather than a paper one? Reading in a digital format takes nothing away from the reading experience other than a means to fill your pretentious bookshelf.

Counterpoint: It is easier than ever before to get your work out there. But a good portion of that work is crap. It is making it hard to find the great writing. Who wants to dig through a crap-ton of manure to find the one flower buried beneath it all? And yes, while most digital titles are cheaper than their physical counterparts, what are we sacrificing? The competition is too much for some–just as Borders. don’t get me started on how digital reading takes nothing away from the reading experience.  There’s nothing sadder than watching a young child become zoned out in front of a screen where everything responds to touch. Then when they see an actual computer, they get confused when nothing happens when they touch the screen. Children’s books in particular provide a more engaging experience when the book is a physical one.

As for the pretentious library comment, I’m insulted. What’s wrong with placing books on a shelf for others to see? Have you seen pictures of Neil Gaiman’s personal library? Let’s see a Kindle offer up that kind of beauty.

Notice that the counterpoint is longer than the point. That’s usually the case with the online discussions. This, I think, is partly because supporters of the traditional book are beginning to become defensive. Part of this is fear but I do think another part of it is pure passion.

By the way, I agree with everything in both the point and the counterpoint. Here’s the thing, folks…when I do read on a Kindle, it’s on a 2nd generation one. No real bells or whistles. I am not making thousands of dollars a month (not even hundreds) on my titles. I am freelancing for a living, trying to put food on the table. Now, if I had, say, a Kindle Fire HD, I might be a bit more inclined to read on an electronic device. (Hear my tin cup clanging)?

So yes, I read in both worlds. And as far as reading experience, I still prefer the physical thing. Although I will admit that in the past year or so, I have enjoyed the Kindle much more.

The difference in the two forms is odd. Thanks to Johann Thorsson, I read Daniel Woodrell’s Wintersbone on my Kindle. I loved the book immensely but there was something about the use of language in the book (flawed southern dialect) that felt alien on a digital screen. It almost felt like it didn’t belong there (a stupid gripe, I know but it is what it is). On the other hand, I am currently reading Mr. Konrath’s Origin on my Kindle and it’s not bothering me at all.

As for the writer in me, I still stand by my previous beliefs: unless you’ve been offered a lucrative contract by either side, it seems silly to me to not pursue both avenues. I know that there are some writers who have agency representation, yet their agents are fine with the author self publishing titles.  I think this is a pretty accurate picture of where the industry stands today. There are some elements of working together, yet I also think that month by month, digital publishing and Amazon are slowly winning the day.

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