3 Reasons Why Physical Books Just Won’t Die

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A slice of my SciFi bookshelf.

Hugh Howey posted an intriguing exploration of a possible – perhaps even likely – near-future in which our very concept of e-readers and e-reading has shifted. We’ll own physical book-like objects that are technically blank but will fill with words via native or bionic technology. This way we get the traditional feel of a book if we want that, but maintain the swap-out, thousands-in-your-pocket convenience we’ve come to know through current e-readers and e-reader apps. Or we can let all the physicality go entirely and allow our GoogleGlass accessories or GoogleLens contacts to let us read on walls and ceilings or whatever else might be in sight. We’ll even get to do all of this while we ride from place to place in our self-driving cars, which means even more time for reading. Yay!

I could see any or all of that happening. Even things we haven’t yet imagined. And I’m excited about it! But I don’t think physical books will stop being relevant to readers or end up wholly phased out of the market. Not because of heft/feel/smell/etc. alone, as some folks might suggest, but for three other reasons. 

1) They won’t disappear yet because there’s still a frankly nonexistent (or at least profoundly constrained) model of interpersonal loans for ebooks. So while physical book purchases may eventually decrease significantly, without a more ebook-owner-friendly method of legal sharing, folks who love handing a friend a book when they visit or giving away a book one has already read and don’t need anymore will still want physical books. It’s still one of my biggest frustrations, honestly, because “you can read it when I’m done” is currently impossible unless I let someone else use my e-reader or share an e-reader account with them, which I’m not going to do. Someone on the supplier side could fix this problem if they wanted to, but I’m pretty sure they don’t.

I’m not in any way resistant to new technology. I love new tech and would love to see – and probably use – the faux-book multi-faceted e-reader Howey talks about or glasses that let me read on the ceiling in bed (*please soon*). Currently, I primarily use audio books and pick up ebooks sometimes if there’s no audio option, but if I really enjoy something or find it useful, I get a hardcopy to have around for rereading, sharing, and gifting. See what I did there, though? I bought both! We can’t think of these markets as simply cannibalistic, ebooks eating the physical book market for lunch. They can serve unique as well as overlapping functions.

2) Physical books will also matter for collectors (which I think most of the “but I like the smell” type folks probably are). Collectors aren’t typically about pure utility so much as aesthetics and a certain experience of use and ownership. For some sorts of readers, the faux-book e-reader may be just enough like an old-fashioned book to satisfy them, but to many collectors? Even if it’s an excellent facsimile and/or very handy, they’re still going to want to handle their battered copy of Little House on the Prairie, sigh happily at the line of coordinated color on their shelf that corresponds with their favorite scifi series, and stack intriguing mini-collections on and around coffee tables as a gesture of intellectual openness toward visitors. For these folks, a faux-book that’s both static and dynamic in the way Howey describes would be like a meal at a major chain restaurant would be for most foodies – adequate, maybe even good, but never offering the unique experience they appreciate from gourmet supper clubs, high-end food artists, exotic foreign street vendors, and kitschy Mom & Pop hole-in-the-walls with a specialty to die for.

I could foresee a trend toward personal collections of what one might consider heirloom books, for example, books bought or otherwise gathered with the intention of passing them down. I love that I have my brother’s copy of Ender’s Game, my mother’s copy of The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, and a friend’s once personal copy of her best-selling book. I don’t want just any copy of those books. I want the copies with histories that matter to me. There’s still a visceral difference for me between the content itself, even its base packaging (look/feel/smell), and the unique ineffable quality a book takes on when I read it with my neice and then say she can take it home with her. It’s not just a story or even just a book then. It’s a treasure.

3) Considering the take-backsies problem some e-reader users have experienced, especially if some legal dispute occurs or even just as standard practice for dealing with electronic versions of certain periodicals, it’s not hard to feel like “ownership” in a wholly electronic environment is far more tenuous than in the physical world. Yes, my physical books can be stolen or waterlogged by flood or set on fire, but barring extreme circumstances or my active desire to part with them, I’m sure they’ll be accessible to anyone in my home or office thirty years from now. I’m not sure my e-copy of Analog scifi magazine will still be accessible even 30 days from now.

There’s a certain sense of permanence and domain that comes with physical books that ebooks – by their nature and amplified by the policies surrounding them – just don’t have. Perhaps that sense is an illusion or irrelevant to some readers (or with regard to some books), but I think it’s not something we can wholly discount.

So, while it may become a semi-niche market, like scrapbooking or art collecting, I strongly suspect that distinct physical books will likely stick around a good long while.

~A.

First Lines, Establishing Trust, & the Authorial Blue Box (#MondayBlogs)

It’s almost become cliche, the way writing advice books talk about first lines as if they are a fetish item for readers.  Personally, I don’t necessarily remember “first lines” as a reader. Not in the “everything before the first period” sense.  But you do have a very short time to convince me that I will enjoy this journey you’ve mapped out for me.

If I’ve opened the book, I’m already at least vaguely interested. But as a bit of a bookworm, someone who loves a good story and beautiful wordsmithing, I’m even more than interested.  I am primed and ready to WANT to enjoy the book.

Whether in the first sentence or the first four, if you don’t take that spark of book love and make fire… I don’t TRUST you.  That’s the best way I can explain it.  Even if I keep reading, it’s with wariness (even predisposed weariness) because I don’t trust that you can keep me engaged, that the story will speak to me deeply and consistently enough for me to lose myself in your world and the lives of your characters.

I honestly can’t say I always have poor reading experiences after poor first impressions. But I can say that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of being thrown into something that makes me literally forget time and space for a while, a poor first impression leaves me primed to locate, even fixate, on every rough patch or error. I often don’t even notice many of these issues if I’m swept up in the story from the start.

It’s like finding a rodent or insect in your house. Aren’t you searching every shadow after that? Inspecting every discoloration? Jumping when anything not attached to you moves?  Don’t do that to readers.  It’s not a fun way to read a book and often these are the books I never finish or only come back to years later.

When I open your book, I’m holding out my hand to you. Meet my hope with something beautiful or fascinating, a puzzle or a glimpse inside something truly unusual.  Make me say “Yes. Yes!  I will travel with you!”  You’re my guide to this world. I have to trust you.

So be my Doctor Who.  Widen my eyes and grab my hand and when you say “run,” I’ll do it with a smile. Even if your blue box is a plain old motorcycle or a dragon or space skis or bare feet on glittering beaches.

I want to go.  I wouldn’t be knocking on the door of your world, opening your book, if I didn’t want to go.  I just need to know that wherever we’re going, I’m in capable hands.

First impressions establish trust.

What do you think?  What do first impressions do for you?


Photo: Hook Hand by Phostezel at SXC.hu.

The real problem with Star Trek Into Darkness‘s bungled Blu-ray release

I saw someone mention plans to live-tweet a Star Trek: Into Darkness rewatch and I thought “Oh, yay! It’s out!” In hunting it down for purchase, however, I stumbled into this article and all I could do was sigh. REALLY?

Dear Media Companies:

As a hardcore fan of a great many things, particularly SciFi, Fantasy, and related genres, I’d really appreciate it if you gave me an opportunity to purchase your wares within some sort of PACKAGE that is – if not REASONABLY priced – at least not going to skin my wallet alive and force me to purchase multiple copies of the same crap I already own. What I want is ONE copy of the film itself and ONE copy of every special feature you care to share with the public at large for a fee.

I do not need, nor do I want, FIVE COPIES of the same movie, which each come with half of a featurette or every other word of the commentary track. Please tell your marketing guys to make some sense. Because instead of getting me as a $$$ customer, purchasing a MegaPlusSuperAwesomeExtraSpecialAllInOne boxed set, I’m just going to pick up whatever is most easily accessible for me at the most reasonable price, which will probably not be any of your special store affiliates.

No thanks,

~Me

Gigaom

If you’re not a hardcore DVD/Blu-ray enthusiast, you may not be aware of an interesting kerfuffle that’s just arisen. But while it might only seem to affect your more devoted variety of Star Trek fans on the surface, it serves as a case study of what’s going wrong with the physical media world at this moment.

This summer, the Paramount (s VIA) film Star Trek Into Darkness managed an impressive thing for a major blockbuster released in 2013 — not only was it critically popular for the most part, but it actually managed to make some money at the box office, as well.

But the site Trekcore.com last week ran an extraordinarily thorough review of the upcoming Blu-ray release of Star Trek Into Darkness — one that rated the Blu-ray transfer quality at five stars, but the special features at 0.5 stars.

Why such a dramatic difference in…

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Time

A fascinating concept to really get you thinking about what time means to you and what you do with it.

In Her Words Avenue

If you were given a book, started reading, and realized it was the story of your life, would you keep reading only until your present time? would you close the book and forget about it? or maybe read just the last chapter? Would you really want to know all the turns your life might take?  I know I would, I wouldn’t read the whole book, because chances are I would want to modify the parts I didn’t like, where suffering and hardships occur, but I would love to read the last chapter, challenging myself to accept whatever it might be.  Dwelling on the subject, I started thinking about life, specifically Time. There are so many lives outside of our owns and how time means something different for each of us.

Some want to catch up with it, others avoid it running so fast.  Some need it, like the perfect cure of…

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Mini-Review Roundup: The Personal MBA, Platform, & Indie/Small Press #BookMarketing (#AmReading)

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The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business by Josh Kaufman

I’m a fan of the bootstrap approach to education, even as I also appreciate formal credentials and the work that often goes with them, so I was excited to find this book. It is truly encyclopedic without getting bogged down in (or, at least, without under-explaining) business jargon. It does feel a bit like a hodge-podge and like surface comprehensiveness sometimes trumps useful depth, but it’s a nice addition to a home set of business reference books. If you’re looking for accessible depth on key business topics, I’d again refer you to “Understanding Michael Porter” by Joan Magretta, which I mentioned in my post on competition and the business of writing.

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt

I know why this book is lauded. There’s some great content in here. It does, however, read rather like what much of it is – a collection of blog posts. It could have just been called “50 Things You Need to Know About Platforms,” a single blog post that would index the rest by topic. Now, maybe I’ve just been reading too much in this topic and often related startup advice these days, but most of this info is already discussed in so many places – for free. It makes me wonder if Hyatt is somewhat a victim of his own success with these ideas. Maybe he was the chicken who laid the whole platform egg, I can’t tell. At this point, though, I’d say that if you are only going to pick up one book on this topic or if you are unlikely to wander the internet, reading even just a handful of related blogs, then absolutely get this. If you are already hip deep in these issues, you can probably skip it, but, for the completists out there, since it’s kind of a classic in the field now, it’s worth picking up.

Indie & Small Press Book Marketing by William Hertling

This is actually a small but mighty little book that encapsulates both the key strategies and more detailed tactics of successfully marketing a book. True, it sometimes reads like an ebook-first text (complete with a few links that you obviously can’t open in a paperback version and some spots in need of copy editing), but the information that many other books take 20 pages to provide, this book does in 2 or less. I can’t say yet whether it is “The Book to Buy” on this topic, since I still have a whole stack of related books to go through, but I can say that NONE in my stack are this concise (less than 100 pages) while remaining informative. So, if you want a quick, logically structured, super-handy little marketing book, or even just want a great place to start, then this is an excellent book to pick up! I was excited about this book and it didn’t disappoint!


Current Reads: I’ve picked up some classic and fresh new fantasy books, which I’ll discuss in an upcoming post, as well as both Stephen King’s “On Writing” and Sol Stein’s “Stein on Writing.” (Yes, I do tend to read multiple books at once, switching based on my mood.) Everyone keeps recommending the King book, but the Stein one feels more readable and enjoyable for me right now. Am I missing something? Is this about me being more of an editor at heart and/or not actually being much of a Stephen King fan? (This is actually the third time I’ve tried to get into the King book and I still don’t know if I’ll finish it!)

~A23
@Aequanimitas23