Some more pbook-love turned ebook hate, but at least Random House seems reasonable

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Summary: As long as there is more than one way to make a book, there are going to be those who swear there is only way to /read/ a book. This post briefly looks at one guy who bemoans the loss of book covers as an art-form, and how Random House shows maturity and wins my dollars by not demonizing ebooks.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

(03:15:39 CST)

Some more pbook-love turned ebook hate, but at least Random House seems reasonable

I was originally going to post about Google's new Buzz feature, tonight, and about its ups and downs. It is right in the middle of some big changes, though, and anything I write is bound to be contradicted by changes and therefore rendered pointless before too much time has passed; so I figured I would leave it for now. In a week or two, when no one gives a crap, maybe I'll come back to it. And that ladies and gentlemen, is why my blog is so gosh-darn popular. Timing.

Instead, I'll return to a topic that I have posted about a couple of times in the past few weeks: the social ideas behind ebooks. If book culture is a series of information streams most typified by the reader coming into possession of a book after hearing about it or browsing and finding it more serendipitously; perhaps the third greatest information stream is seeing what other people are reading through the book-cover. Being a nosey sort, a bit voyeur. The second, of course, is gossiping directly about books.

How much information do we lose when book buying is no longer done face to face (we'll leave online shopping a bit to the side, right now); and is made more or less impossible (by way of being so impractical) via ebooks? How much more is lost when we stop feeling comfortable gossiping about books? Gossiping, mind you, is something that, if anything, is being made even more possible as sites like BookGlutton show the potential of ebooks to be integrated into social sites. You might lose cookies and spending 30 minutes talking about a new haircut, first, but there is at least potential to get more done. That third part, though, is almost completely destroyed by current ebooks technology. Now, you have to guess what everyone else is reading. You know it involves, say, a Sony Reader of some sort, but that is all you are getting unless you approach and ask. And dalmilling, boys and germs, is bad.

I asked about this last aspect, mostly humorously, in a post called "The Flirtatious Reader, by Odwar Dergey". Coverspy (Twitter Tumblr) seeks to bring to light how much will be lost when that stream of bookjacket voyeurism goes. The tweets name the books and the, um, tumbles (?) show a picture of the cover.

I am not sure what the two accounts are really trying to accomplish. A Twitter feed and small collection of cover images ganked from some online bookstore doe not quite inspire the feeling of seeing someone on the bus reading a Saul Bellow novel. Sure, it brings attention to the loss, or to the phenomenon, but it also has three big gaps in my opinion. First, 90% of the books I see read-in-public around here are of the James Patterson pulp style club, or crappy mass-markets. Neither of which has a cover worth caring about. Secondly, no one pays $300 for an e-Reading device because it less convenient to read on the go as opposed to a new hardcover. This means the people with those devices are reading more than they previously did, most likely, and almost definitely not reading less than they used to read. That is kind of the point the Coverspy people are pointing out, that convenience trumps art; but, you know, if it came down to being able to read in transit or not being able to read but the book in potentia might have a pretty cover, the actually reading is going to trump it. The third basic flaw, as I see it, is that same-old snark I talked about in my "Who Loves Books More?" post. The idea that reading pathetic words on a technological device is inferior to reading brillian words on the corpse of trees and glue.

While many of the most passionate bibliophiles continue to search for reasons to never trust an ebook, at least it is good to see Random House appreciating the medium.With all the Macmillan and Amazon dust-up, and the continued fight over when ebooks should be released in a book cycle; it seems that publishers are not going to be happy until ebooks are the price of hardcovers, harder to get, and delayed. I am happy to report that Random House has come out, as quoted in a recent E-Reads article called "Random Goes Rogue" on the side of ebooks. At least to the degree that they hold that publishers are not necessarily the best units to decide how to sell ebooks directly, and to the degree that they see no reason to postpone ebook sales just to artificially drive up hardcover sales. I see cheers to Random House, for that.

And then I head to bed.

Si Vales, Valeo


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