A long time ago, in the dark days when MC Hammer pants were still considered fashionable, cellphones were the size of cinder blocks and Steve Urkel ruled the Earth with an iron fist, people did this really insane thing: they read books… made of paper.
I know, “Impossible!” you say. “A book? Made of paper? What kind of uncivilized hillbilly bumpkins existed in this horrible age?! Surely you jest!” Trust me. It’s all true.
Around that very same time, I was working as a lowly editor in the publishing industry and attended a conference held by a large Canadian printer. One of the panelists mentioned that he’d been speaking with several companies in the U.S. about the possibility of creating… digital books. He added that maybe someday the printed book might even become *gasp* obsolete!
Needless to say it caused quite an uproar. Fancy words were shouted, complimentary cheese pastries were hurled, papercuts were inflicted. People couldn’t quite wrap their heads around the fact that digital books might be a reality. It would never take off!
Fast-forward to today and it seems like you can’t toss a printed copy of the Hunger Games without hitting someone in the head using a Kindle, Kobo, Nook or other fancy schmancy digital eReader. And okay, I might be exaggerating a little bit about the demise of the printed word. It’s still hanging in there despite some tough times for publishers, distributors and booksellers (RIP to my homie, Borders – and hang in there, Barnes & Noble). But there’s little doubt that the world has changed and eBooks are here to stay. Just look at new products like (begin shameless marketing plug!) the WordPerfect eBook reader, which works with the newly released WordPerfect Office X6 and lets you create your very own eBook for smartphones and digital readers like the Kindle.
eBooks are clearly well on their way to becoming a dominant new technology. Yet as an avid book collector (which is a polite way of saying “someone who got wedgied a lot in junior high school”), I’d vowed long ago never to get involved in any newfangled e-whatchamacallems. I’d keep my paperback copy of the literary masterpiece known as Curious George, thank you very much.
Then about a year ago I actually picked up a Kindle and flipped through it for the first time. Much to my amazement, I fell in love with the thing. It’s an incredible piece of technology which really got me thinking about how the rise of eBooks might actually be a good thing.
First off, there are the environmental benefits to consider. I remember my old editor telling me about a visit he’d once made to a landfill outside Chicago that was literally filled with nothing but discarded books (for a lot of booksellers, the standard practice for unsold books is to have the covers ripped off and shipped back to the distributor as proof of delivery while the remaining pages are tossed into the garbage or recycled). Considering the waste involved in printing, eBooks might just be a valid alternative that keeps Mother Nature happy while still allowing Twilight fanatics to enjoy reading terrible tween vampire fiction.
The other great thing about eBooks is that it really opens up new avenues for writers. After all, getting published is often as much about luck and perseverance as it is talent, so the rise of the eBook really does level the playing field in terms of being able to reach a whole new audience. Take this dude here for example – a first time author who has literally sold millions of copies of his books on Amazon without so much as a publisher or any kind of print distribution.
So I’ve made my peace with digital readers and jumped on the eBook bandwagon. I’ve already started picking up a few digital versions of books here and there. It turns out that you can enjoy your Kindle and still keep your printed book collection at the same time. Yes, eBooks are here to stay, but don’t worry Curious George, you ain’t going nowhere.
Do you have an eBook reader like the Kindle or Nook? Do you think moving from a print to a digital format is a good thing or a bad thing for books?