Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Ebooks and Print Books - Can We Have Both, Please...?

I was at a big bookstore earlier today, browsing its shelves. I could get that 'fresh pages' scent when I flipped the pages of some new arrivals. You know, that 'this is a brand new book sent out for you to love and enjoy and read until dawn' kind of scent.

Tall racks of books surrounded me as I walked down the aisles, and I loved how solid they were, those racks of multi-hued books. Thick or thin, tall or short, I loved seeing tangible representations of storytelling all around me, almost as much as I enjoyed the solitude that envelops one when you're reading - the kind of solitude that is merely peaceful, not lonely.

For some reason though, I began to feel sad. I couldn't understand why at first. There didn't seem to be any reason for me to turn depressed when I was somewhere I loved, doing something I loved.

And then, it hit me - I really, really adore print books. Only, I was afraid they would disappear in my generation, along with the brick and mortar stores that housed them.

It was an awful thought. Printed books might be unwieldy, inefficient, take up too much space and start turning 'yellow-old' too fast, but I love everything about printed material. There's a particularly lovely texture to printed pages - the sight of black ink impressed onto white/cream paper - that I can't find anywhere else.

It's something I definitely can't find online/in the ebook experience. In a bookstore, I can feel the book in my hands just as much as I feel the story in my mind. That feeling is lost online.

Let's put it this way: I'm the kind of person who buys a book twice simply to possess an edition with a lovelier cover than the last. That's just something I do. I'm a sucker for art anyway, but on books, it's like a double whammy when you get a great story with a cover to match - it's like a gift with oil-painted wrapping or something. Who could resist something like that? Er, well, I can't anyway:)

The way I look at it, if the book's a good one, I'm happy to donate my earlier copy to a nearby children's home/the general downtown Oxfam-like organisation, while savouring the one with the cover I can gaze at every so often. It's win-win all around then:)

I did that today- buy a book twice for its cover, I mean. The book was Angela Carter's 'The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories'. It's a collection of faerie-tale retellings (in an adult style) that I've loved since I first read it earlier this year. Unfortunately, I hadn't been able to get my hands on the cover I liked, one with an intriguingly caped Red Riding Hood figure scurrying towards the book's spine.

Today, when I saw this particular edition on the shelves, I simply couldn't resist it. My copy with a red wolf on its face will find its way to readers elsewhere. Later, I think I actually went pale at the thought of not being able to smooth my fingers over book covers I like before buying books in the future. It's a petty thing, I suppose, but I'm tactile by nature, and this is one of life's little pleasures for me:)

Another book I saw sitting pretty on a shelf was Slyvia Plath's 'The Bell Jar'. So much for not judging a book by its cover. This was a simple cover that caught my eye, of a woman in an old fashioned but elegant off-the-shoulder white dress that was sculpted to her body so that she formed a kind of gorgeous hour-glass figure that suggested grace and elegance but also enforced captivity within her attire. Her face was turned to the side (judging from the angle of her throat) but couldn't be seen. She stood almost carelessly against a cream backdrop, with a relaxed demeanour that contrasted oddly with the sense of captivity I mentioned earlier.

To cut a long story short, it was an enticing shot that made me wonder if Sylvia Plath was as staid a writer as I'd gotten the impression she would be. For some reason or another, I'd never gotten around to reading her work and debunking this impression. The cover staring at me from a random shelf made me pick the book up though. And I was glad I did.

Flipping through this gem of a tale was like playing in my very own personal playground. The passages spoke to me. And something about the weight of the book in my hand, the shuffle of the pages as I read it, the smoothness of its simplistic cover as I thumbed my way absently through its pages... it was an experience all its own.

Just those few minutes... was an entire experience. And the writing was only a part of the experience, though of course it was a big part, no quibbling there. Needless to say, I bought the book:)

Btw, I'm all for the ebook revolution and the opportunities it's affording to readers and writers alike. I can't possibly be against it, can I, seeing as my own stories and poetry are out as ebooks?;) But today, I found myself hoping that print books on bookshelves will somehow survive what's happening in the publishing industry.

I don't mean at the expense of the ebook world, or self-publishing world etc, but just to co-exist somehow. I'm not sure how this could happen but I've been racking my brains thinking of workable solutions.

The obvious solution is if print becomes cheaper. I'm pretty sure books would start flying off shelves if that were the case.

Or... if bookstore shelves in later years are rented by publishing houses/writers to stack their print books as a form of sellable products cum advertising material.

Do you think that's possible? Would this be one way for bookstores and print books to survive the deluge of electronic goods out there?

After all, bookstores are beginning to store electronic items for sale (like ereaders and so on) because the profit ebooks make exceeds print books. But if print books have (instead of meagre profits) the benefit of paid rental space, would that be something to help both bookstore and author? Hmmm, or would it only help the bookstore? That, I'm not sure...

But in the future, when print becomes as much advertising as it does an actually saleable product, shelves just might be worth renting out. And if there is a worry of money being the sole, valueless arbiter of what ends up on the stores, I would think that making prices compulsorily equal per shelf would mean that the bookstore would still be able to choose which book it wants to shelve.

The only problem I can see here would be the price of rental, but since a contest between the price of cheap rental vs profit of expensive books would probably be won by rental, bookstores might be better off renting space out even at low rates.

I dunno, this may not be a workable solution for the future. But it just might be. In the far future maybe.

For now, bookstores are definitely not going anywhere fast where I am (Asia). Ebooks simply haven't proliferated here at the rate they have in the US or Europe (no doubt in part due to Amazon's current set-up, as mentioned in this informative post by David Gaughran).

Despite wishing I could get my hand on Kindle ebooks for various reasons (all the way from convenience to pricing), I'm kinda thankful for this state of affairs. As selfish as it must sound, I'm glad I'm getting the best of both worlds for just a little longer. Print books when I need their comforting weight in my hands, and ebooks (via channels other than Amazon) for when I need to try out something new and (mostly) cheap:)

I don't think that's a bad deal, is it?:)

Share/Bookmark Subscribe

No comments: