The Recycle Bin

Today’s post is inspired by my mother, who (unbeknownst to her) raised an interesting question about ebooks. My mother only recently got rid of AOL but has somehow managed to jump immediately to having an iPhone, where – to her delight – she can download ebooks. Just one problem – “What do I do with them after I read them?”

I take after my dad. He doesn’t join Netflix for the same reason I don’t belong to a library – we need to own, and display, the things we love. With him, it’s movies. With me, it’s books. I have lots of them, and give or take the sporadic “do I really need three copies of Pride and Prejudice?” I keep 98% of what I buy or what’s given to me.

I like arranging books on my shelf, being able to look at them, picking up old favorites to re-read, or just  reorganizing my shelves when I’m bored. But mostly I like owning books. For these reasons, I don’t really buy ebooks. I say “really” because I’ve purchased five ebooks in my life, but I don’t see myself buying more if they are also available in print. I have nothing against them and see no difference between reading a book and reading an ebook during the act of reading. My love lies in the books themselves. There are books I have in my apartment right now that I know I won’t read again, but I like knowing they’re there.

But there are those with a less romanticized notion of books. So you tell me, embracers of ebooks, what do you do? If no one can see the physical evidence that you’ve read Thomas Pynchon, do you bother keeping him on your ereader? Can you delete and move on, the way technology does, or do you transfer each ebook to every new ereader because you just can’t let go?

Guest Blogger: Tracy Marchini

Tracy’s new e-book, PubSpeak: A Writer’s Dictionary of Publishing Terms is now on sale through the following retailers: Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Amazon UK. Tracy writes: 

Hello readers and writers of Glass Cases!

I’m very excited to be here today and host a contest for my new ebook, Pub Speak: A Writer’s Dictionary of Publishing Terms. When I wrote the book, I was envisioning an author who may have received their first contract using it to look up terms, or perhaps someone who wanted to get into the industry reading it to get a jump on the numerous other graduates competing for the same internships. I think there is a lexicon in publishing, and like many businesses, those that speak the language tend to do better than those that don’t!

Today though, we build a new lexicon – one of wit, and snark, and hopefully, pants-peeing.

It’s a Pub Speak Definition Contest and the winner will receive an electronic copy of the book, as well as my eternal admiration and probably some embarrassing congratulatory tweets. (You know you want it.)

I’ve listed six terms out of the 400 plus in the book. Choose one term – or all six – and come up with a definition in the comments section. Keep the comments limited to one definition only, but feel free to comment again choosing a different word. Only use each term once – no multiple definitions please from the same commenter, please.

Example: So if one of the terms was “advance,” your definition could be, “Advance: A figment of the writer’s imagination” or, as a second comment, “Advance: Half what you made that year at McDonalds.”

Here are the terms, good luck!

1) cheap edition
2) offer
3) work
4) novelette
5) shelf life
6) advance

Sarah and I will pick the winner and announce on Monday.

E-Book Paranoia Is So 2009

Last year, I wrote a blog post about one of the many “books are dying” panels that went on in 2009. For the record, I also love the smell and feel of books and stand by my post. Real, physical books are not going anywhere! Anywhere, I tell you!

Now, some perspective.

If Nathan Bransford’s annual e-book poll is any indication, it looks like even more people are embracing this newfangled e-book “trend” than ever before. That’s right. Apparently e-books were not just some phase publishing went through in college. Something tells me that by 2012, that percentages in Nathan’s yearly question will reach more than half. And even when that happens, I will still stand by my 2009 blog post. Here’s why:

We all knew an e-book majority was coming. It’s what we’ve been preparing for. So when I saw this article this morning by Leah McLaren, I had to rub my eyes and remind myself what year this was. Are we really still anti-e-reader? Are we seriously, in 2010, lamenting over the still-hasn’t-happened-yet loss of physical books? This line, particularly stood out to me: “…the act of giving books as gifts – once the simplest of holiday rituals – has been perverted beyond recognition as a result of technology.”

Has it?

Among McLaren’s other “most alarming” concerns about e-books is that:
1) “It has robbed us of the ability to share, discuss and passive-aggressively communicate through our mutual gift-book choices.”
2) “Once e-books completely take over, it will become impossible to know who actually reads and who doesn’t”

These quotes make me think she’s winking at her own foolishness, but this article was still written and published, so it’s getting talked about. With 2010 now ending, it makes me wonder why this article was published in the first place. Was it written in 2008 and shelved? Has the author been out of the publishing loop for some reason?

No matter the reason, the point is that the whole e-book “debate” is still, in fact, a debate. Books still make the best gifts. They always will. Unlike CDs, tangible books are still the dominant format, so gift-give away!

Speaking of the music industry, which is the best and easiest comparison, we’re used to updating our music collection with the advent of new technology. 45s, 78s, 8-tracks, cassettes, and CDs were all viable ways to listen to music. So, the dawn of mp3s weren’t really that big of a deal. They were just one more evolutionary notch. When I get an iTunes gift card, I don’t think it’s impersonal or tacky. I just think “sweet, now I can buy stuff I like in the format that I usually listen to it.”

But books have been in the same bound-pieces-of-paper format since, well… since books were invented. So naturally, we’re freaking out that someone is trying to change them. I find it sad that people like Leah McLaren are still writing articles that fear technology, rather than embrace it. It’s also upsetting that people with that viewpoint need to be reminded that CDs are still around. People even still buy them regularly! Even the majority of people who now get their music digitally are buying them. They just use them differently now, which, ironically, are more for gift-giving purposes. Owning a special edition or boxed set of your favorite band’s work just isn’t the same when you can see the work put into the packaging and liner notes.

The only difference between books and music is that we have a romanticized notion of what a book means. Or, more specifically, that it has meaning at all. I count myself among those who have this view, by the way. But, for the sake of my job and for the sake of the future of literature, I must put my personal feelings aside. 

Books will eventually become novelties too, reserved only for the retro, the collector, or the die-hard. And yes, to me this is sad. There are those of us (let’s face, if you’re reading this blog, you are included in this group) who will always buy books the way music purists still buy CDs (and even records). But we live in a small world, us literary folk. Eventually the “rest” will win. How they buy books will determine how they are sold. As the minority, we’ll do what we can and adapt to the change, and hopefully through it all, we remember that the words inside the pretty covers are what ultimately matter anyway.