Chip MacGregor

September 29, 2010

Will E-books Kill the Printed Page?


Benjamin wrote to ask, "What's your perspective on all the new e-readers?"

History has taught us that as new technologies are developed, the culture adapts to them. We used to walk across the room to change TV channels. We used to stop and find a pay phone to call home. We used to re-type each page of a manuscript that had error. But we've adapted our lives to adjust to remote controls, cel phones, and PC's. (And, of course, the advent of TV's, telephones, and typewriters were cutting-edge technologies in their own days — each requiring adaptation from radios, telegraphs, and handwritten notes, respectively.) Right now we're moving from printed materials to digital materials, and that's creating a lot of change for people. My son will read a book on his cel phone — that's about all anyone needs to know regarding the future of digital technology. All those extant great books and words? They're all out there, ready to be interpreted through a new medium.  So you know what that means? If you don't own one yet, YOU are going to own an e-reader very soon. 
Michaela asked, "Will e-books kill printed books in the long run?' 

I don't honestly know about "the long run." But we've been living with books for roughly 500 years, and it's hard to see that changing. But sure, there are some rough waters ahead as we go through this change. Technology may be killing the cookbook. (Think about it — the last time you needed a recipe, did you go to a cookbook? Or did you simply go online and do a quick search for the ingredients?) Technology may be killing the do-it-yourself manual. (If you need help with a new software program, do you want to drive to Borders to buy a copy, or look for your solution immediately online for free?) It's clear that technology is changing the way we view books and written content. The Kindle was great because of the wireless ability to download books. The Sony Reader was nice because of the workability for those of us in the industry who want to read Word docs. The Nook is better than both, in terms of handling and use. And I think the iPad may outdo all of them because of the flexibility it offers (and no, I do NOT understand why Apple isn't touting the iPad as the future of ebook readers… THAT'S it's best strength). So, in my view, everyone who is reading this will own a digital reader in the next two or three years. And yeah, you can tell me how much you like the tactile feel of pages, the acrid scent of ink in a real book, etc. I like those too. But change happens, and we adapt. 

So the question that seems to be discussed most is usually posed in a fearful manner: "Will ebooks lead to the death of the printed book?" And my answer remains, "Not in my lifetime." We've got a very rich history with printed books, and I don't see them all disappearing any time soon. It'll lead to change, sure — in fact, we're already seeing that change. And change seems to be happening faster than it used to, so the speed with which we change to a digital book world is faster than when the culture was asked to adopt the automobile or the telephone. Still, there is no lack of interest in books. In fact, the world is becoming more literate, not less so (some readers will remember just a couple decades ago when the government was doing a report entitled "Why Johnny Can't Read" — nobody is much concerned with that issue today, since we read all the time). The concern for those of us who work in the industry (writers, editors, agents, publishers, booksellers) is more of distribution than creation. 

 We KNOW there's a readership. We KNOW people want material to read. What we're trying to figure out is how we can monetize it so that the creators can still make a living, and how the people who polish, market, and sell it can still make a living. That's the area everyone is really trying to figure out. It's changing considerably right now, and we have yet to arrive at that next stage where we've all determined who is making money, how they're making it, and what they're making. 
Janet wrote to ask, "Is it true you wore a kilt to the ACFW banquet?"

It's true. I was raised with a Scottish heritage, Janet, so a dress kilt (Prince Charlie jacket, dress sporran, Ghillie brogues, the whole schlamozzle) is part of dressing up for a formal event. 
By the way, my friend Keri Kent sent me this fabulous piece of advice — it PROVES men who wear kilts are heretics:

And this is fun — we were cited in the Publishers Weekly report on that convention — complete with a photo of an author we represent, double-Carol Award winner Jenny B Jones:


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