Ebooks, Libraries, and Crumbling Cliffs

Read this first: A librarian speaks – The Failure of Ebook Devices. Note especially the tone of the first comment, which seems to imply that nothing should ever be allowed to stand in the way of consuming information for free, no matter what the information is, no matter what the source is, and no matter what the consequences are.

Backing up a bit, I find it a little odd that libraries are trying to find their relevance in the coming age by being the lender of the device. In a world where every book is electronically distributable, and every cell phone can distribute it, the library as a repository of information will disappear. Every reader will be a library. Every book will be “loaned” and “loaned” and “loaned,” until everyone has a copy, and only the first one got paid for.

That crumbling edge in the path ahead is not the death of a distribution center that was created to address the scarcity and cost of books, which is all a library is. That edge is the end of content creation, which I submit is a problem of a far more serious nature.

Even in a world where writers all have “day jobs” to put food on the table and brake pads in the car, what sort of writing is going to go on if no one can ever be paid to do so? Where will the content come form, when no one can expect any kind of reward except accolade? If all you got for waiting tables or deciding on loan applications or sewing up a new style of skirt was the accolade of your peers, would you do it? Why are authors going to be expected to work for free?

Make no mistake about it, the greatest threat facing literature in this Brave New World ahead of us is going to be the issue of author payment, and a world in which every reader can pass the book on for free to every person on Earth is not a world that’s going to pay authors for content creation. What’s left? Advertising? Product placement?

One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, eager for his Yuban Columbian Roast® coffee, he discovered that in his Sealy Posturpedic® bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.

Do we really want books to go the Hollow-wood route? Perhaps several pages of ads in the middle? Those annoying mail-in cards that magazines love so much? Of course, ebooks can have Google AdSense ads in them. Maybe that’s where we’re going.

Maybe all those libraries that are scrambling to find relevance in the digital age can hire authors. We’ll live in big communal groups, surrounded by the moldering bindings of our past, and pound out chapters for an hourly rate. That’ll be great literature, eh?

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2 responses to “Ebooks, Libraries, and Crumbling Cliffs

  1. I kind of wish people would stop worrying so much about change. Change happens. Some move with it faster than others, but it is inevitable. New things don’t necessarily mean the end of the old, sometimes it simply allows things to change forms. Look at piercing and tattoos. They have survived from oldest times to modern day, but I’m thinking none of the original tribes that used these forms of art would appreciate the modern versions that have come to being. That said, there are many who still use both of these devices for their original purposes. Maybe books will go someday – I doubt it will be anytime soon – but if they go, so be it. Books are not the important thing. The important thing is the reading and the sharing of ideas. If the form that it occurs in changes, maybe that is for the good. For me, I love my books and I won’t ever let go of my paper backs of anything. No matter what device comes out. That doesn’t mean I won’t have the device and all new works on it.

  2. levimontgomery

    The thought of the change itself doesn’t bother me much. However, to the extent that we can control change at all, we certainly owe it to ourselves and our future to to try to minimize the downsides and maximize the upsides of change. Don’t get me wrong — I love the new devices such as Amazon’s Kindle, but I do have that one gripe. Well, I have a couple of piddly little gripes, too, like “When are they going to fix the text reflow so that it deals with widows?” but those will be dealt with by technology (or we can just begin to ignore widows in “real” books, too, which would irritate me for a while, but I’d get over it).

    My biggest concern (as evidenced by the music industry) is “How do we prevent a dearth of payment from being the end of content creation?”