Thursday, November 13, 2008

The E-Book Revolution

Twelve years ago, I took the astonishing step of gaining the reversion of all my books from my English language publishers and converting them into digital formats. Most people thought I had lost my mind, since there was no user friendly portable reading device even remotely on the horizon and the books had to be read on either laptops or immovable computers.

My motives were twofold. I did not want to suffer the fate of so many of my fellow authors whose books were declared out of print by publishers while existing copies were moldering on shelves in private homes and in libraries where they would be eventually discarded. Another obvious motive was an attempt to keep my authorial name in the public eye for the foreseeable future.

There is, of course, a great deal of ego involved in such an investment of time and money, but as every author knows, the writing of a book whether it be a work of the imagination, opinion or scholarship, is essentially a product of an inner voice that is determined to be heard.

Before the age of digitization there were few options for authors to preserve their work for future generations. Now that digitization makes such preservation possible, there is no reason for any author to accept the extinction of his or her work through unavailability.

Of course, keeping these works alive and available does not mean that anyone will ever read them in the future. Even the most popular writers of yesterday disappear from public view at astonishing speeds, a fate that is sure to be shared by most contemporary best sellers. Digitization will not guarantee readership and many digital books may simply float aimlessly through cyberspace until the end of time, a lonely exile into infinity.

While that long time bet remains in force, digitizing my books involved a shorter term bet as well. I felt certain that, despite all the numerous failures and the dashing of high hopes which ravaged the e-book dream, that reader friendly devices, would one day emerge from the brains and skills of our electronic engineers and eventually reward both readers and entrepreneurs.

I knew in my gut that this would happen and it has. The issue has always been convenience, portability and reading clarity. That issue has been resolved and will now be improved upon exponentially. The first generation Kindle, the Sony Reader and variations of smart phone technology will in a few short years surpass the paper book as a method to distribute content.

I have been making that statement for more than a dozen years. I have been excoriated, pummeled, insulted and cajoled for making such a statement in various public forums. Time and again, people have extolled the technology of the paper book as the only acceptable format for conveying content.

People would declaim:“I love my paper book, the tactile feel of the it, the smell of it, the look of it. I will never abandon my love for the paper book. For me it will be the only way to enjoy stories and absorb information.”

It was difficult to deflect such a view since I, too, love the paper book. My passion is books. Reading them, writing them, savoring them not only for their content but for the beauty of their appearance, the feel of them. For me they represent one of the joyful wonders of life. Admittedly, there were moments of doubt, not doubt about the ultimate clarity and portability of content, but whether or not the human mind would accept the transference and absorption of digital content in a way that would provide people with a satisfactory experience that could rival what one achieved through the paper book.

Even with those devices currently on the market, particularly the Kindle, all of my doubts have been put aside. In fact, I can say with absolute conviction that reading books on this new device has increased the pleasure and absorption of content that not only rivals but in some cases surpasses the experience of reading a paper book. It has even made the act of purchasing the book more convenient and user friendly. I can make my choice, sample it first with excerpts, then buy it at a huge discount from what I would normally pay for a paper book and download it to my device in a matter of seconds.

There are still some obstacles to book selection which may never be overcome, although there are attempts to inform and review the various books that are offered by the companies that dispense them. Unfortunately wading through the hype and the lack of credibility and bias among the reviewers is an enormous problem and my instinct is to ignore them and make my selection based on the downloaded samples and excerpts.

Frankly, although she is widely respected, I do not take my reading cues from Oprah and I have long eschewed reviews from the media and the roar of the publishing company flacks and their profusion of buddy blurbs.

I have no doubt that the day is coming when these portable devices will dominate the educational system. Backpacks will disappear. Libraries will morph into other uses connected with books. Brick and mortar stores will change their focus. Newspapers as we know them today will fade into other forms. Digitization will take over as the method of conveying all forms of information in every profession. It is easy to be carried away by such prognostications.

Unfortunately not all of this orgy of digitization will be good. A new addiction will begin to inflict us, if it hasn’t already, information glut. Too many incoming information missiles assaulting us. But that is a matter for another discussion.

There is nothing, nothing, more wondrous, more powerful in their capacity to teach, persuade, inform and amplify the imagination than words. Stories form the very basis of our civilization. The imagery they insert into the human imagination is the power that fuels the engine of humanity. How these words are delivered may not be as important as the information they impart, but I am happy to report that the e-book method of delivery has surpassed my wildest dreams.


Sphinx Ink said...

You are far-thinking and wise, Warren. I liked your post so much I've sent it on to the members of my writer's group, some of whom are multi-published novelists. Like many writers, they've been reluctant to join the e-book movement. I hope your essay will convince them they need to plan for an electronic future, regardless of the continuance of traditional publishing methods.

Writer Hugo Roberts said...

Dear Mr. Adler,
I enjoyed your article. You’re a veritable visionary. I have two libraries: a collection of paper books (I also love paper books) and a growing collection of digital books (I love them as well).

The digital books are easier to use and enjoy than the paper ones. For example, as a writer I use my dictionaries/thesauri several times a day and my encyclopedias several times a week. They are all a few clicks away. After I began using internet and digital books, I can’t remember the last time I went to a library for research.

We aren't there yet. I have to digitize many books myself that aren’t available that way. Taking notes from digital books is thwarted by the fact that one often can’t copy from digital books. Sometimes I can’t even search the book and have to use the old-fashioned index (if available) while doing my research.

So there’s still a lot of work to be done! I hope to publish a collection of short stories soon. I’ll make sure that it’s available both in paper and as e-Book, so I’ll offer it to publishers like you. If that’s possible let me know at where you can also see a list of my stories.

Hugo Roberts