Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rise of the Ebook Equals the Fall of the Print Book?

I’ve been studying the literary markets by reading magazines to see which ones my stories would fit in. I’m still considering self-publishing my book but I want to put some of my stories in magazines too since that’s how authors get their larger works exposed. Publishing both big and small can be very beneficial.

Fortunately, many of the sources I want to submit to are online magazines and so most of their fiction is free. If I had to purchase the paper magazines it would get really expensive as much as I prefer reading the paper ones. So far this summer, I’ve only bought one print science fiction magazine, issue 103 of Clarkesworld. The stories and articles looked so great that I wanted to read everything in hardcopy without having to print them up on my printer. Printing them on the printer can eventually add up to colourless clutter of papers that are held together by nothing more than staples.

The Nightmare of a World Without Print

This reminds me of an interview I saw on a re-run of a TV-hosted horror movie show called Cinema Insomnia. Even though this show mostly features cheaply-made horror and sci fi films that it basically makes fun of, the host, Mr. Lobo, interviews another horror movie host, John Stanley of the San Francisco area, about a book (The Gang that Shot Up Hollywood) he released at the time, which was 2012. They talk about how the internet and digital media was apparently (and still is) making print obsolete. They discuss the physical experience that a reader gets from reading a print book that he/she won’t get reading a digital version
For book nerds like myself, the ebook permanently bumping off the print one is a nightmare no horror movie can match. In the interview, Mr. Lobo himself puts it similarly when he says to Mr. Stanley: “We are living in a world where bookstores are closing and media is all breaking apart and consolidating and changing, and it must be a nightmare taking on [a project] such as putting out a book in this day and age.” To which Stanley responds: “It is. This might be the last book in a print paper format. . . . If I write another book two or three years from now, what is going to exist out there? What is the world going to be like? Is a paper book still acceptable?”

To that last question, three years after that interview, I respond: Yes, Mr. Stanley, I’m happy to say it still is. Although the majority may be turning to their devices to read their books, there is still a crowd of readers, especially of the speculative genres, that likes to read and collect printed books and that crowd will probably continue to be around for a long time.

Books are Like Music Albums

As much as I make my work available in ebook format as well as print, it doesn’t mean print versions have to or will disappear. Similar to many music lovers, especially of vintage music, who continue to collect vinyl records, and have been doing so since vinyl went out of popularity 20 years ago or so, there is a crowd of us that sees the printed book not just as a medium to convey story but as an art within itself. Reading for us is not just a mental engagement but a physical one. It’s a physical one that involves holding the material the story is printed on. This engagement is most intimate when the story from the book is represented on the front cover by wonderful art, as are a lot of science fiction and fantasy stories. Sadly, unlike years ago, much of that art is produced by digital means and so is too photographic, missing the interpretive aspect of the illustrator that freehand art often conveys. However, it is still part of the larger art of book printing and binding.  So we like to touch this art as much as we like to read and view it.

It’s About Collecting Things

Also, as sci fi and fantasy geeks, and as literary geeks in general, we like to collect things. Can you collect pixels and shelve them on your book case? Of course not. Pixels are only with you when you conjure them up at the press of a button on your hand-held device, similar to the way Aladdin conjures up the genie from its lamp. Then when we don’t want to read any more, also at the press of a button, we make the pixels disappear into some cyber netherworld. Hell, even the damn button in many cases nowadays is made of nothing more than pixels!

Comic book cover depicting a giant genie rising from a lamp and a young Arabic man and woman looking up at him.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

We as speculative fiction fans, like to collect the tangible versions of what we see in movies, on TV and read about in books. We like Star Wars and Star Trek but can’t just stop with the movies and TV episodes. We want Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Capt. Kirk or Lt. Uhura in our lives. We want the aliens, no matter how weird or inhuman-looking (for me the more inhuman the better!), with us in our physical lives. So we collect things like the action figures of these characters, the posters for the movies and TV shows and the models of spaceships from them. Similar is true for our love of fantasy movies and TV such as Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones or Universal’s classic horror flicks.

The same goes with our books about imaginary events such as space battles, epic fantasy battles and dead people seeking vengeance. Many of us want the hardcopy books that convey these events of other worlds, and not just want to see them on a device’s screen where the book is going to be replaced by something totally unrelated.

So as long as there will be avid readers who are in love with the art of the medium the story is told on, there will be printed books. So what if demand for the printed book is small? That only means that much more money the author and publisher will make off of that million dollar best- seller. Every little bit counts, doesn’t it? If not, why not? If you think us small niche of hardcopy book lovers will become extinct with the hardcopy books themselves, why? Feel free to leave your answers in the box below.

Until next time . . . 

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