Sunday, March 13, 2011

What is a book?

Back in January, I posed this question over on The Naked Truth. I thought it might be time to look at the question again, especially in light of Random House's decision to go with the agency model, the inquiries into whether or not the agency model is legal -- not only here but in Great Britain -- and Australia's decision that it is NOT legal (Way to, OZ!). So, with your indulgence, here's the post from January, with a few additional comments or edits.

What is a Book?

According to Jeffrey Matthews (vp for corporate strategy for Scholastic), “That’s the $64 million question.”

It is also a question the publishing industry — publishers and authors alike — can’t seem to agree upon. Ten years ago, it was easy to answer that question. A book was, well, a book. It was something you could walk into a bookstore or your public library and hold, take home and read. You bought a book you liked and read it, sometimes many times. You loaned it to your friends and family — often with threats of violence if they didn’t return it. You could sell it to used bookstores for a bit of pocket cash (of course, if you did and then someone else bought the book, the author didn’t get any more money from it).

Now it’s not quite so simple to answer that question. A number of publishers feel a book is still a book — that physical incarnation of an author’s words into print. Print being the operative word. E-books have thrown a wrench into the works and the industry simply hasn’t figured out how to respond. This includes publishers, agents and writers.

That’s one of the reasons we find so many publishers applying DRM to their e-books. Not understanding that doing so is like telling a recalcitrant child “no”, publishers say they have to apply DRM to their e-books to protect them from piracy. They don’t stop to think that that merely waves a red flag saying, “I bet you can’t find a way to break our code.” Guess what, that’s a challenge and what happens when you issue a challenge? It’s usually taken up. Don’t believe me, simply google “how to break DRM” and see how many hits you get and how many verified codes using Python and other programs there are.

DRM does something else. It adds to the cost of e-books. And, honestly, there will always be people out there who will post digital versions of books online for free. Their reasons vary. Some do it because, in their countries, the books may not be available in digital — and sometimes even in print — formats. Some do it because, as noted above, it’s a challenge and they hate being told they can’t do something. But digital piracy isn’t limited to books released in digital formats. If I remember correctly, the last Harry Potter book — none of which have been legitimately released as e-books — was online as a PDF e-book before the book hit the shelves. So, how did applying DRM to a digital file help prevent piracy?

But there is another reason people break DRM on e-books. A book that is "protected" by DRM is tied to a certain type of device. For example, if you by a DRM'd e-book through Amazon, it is tied to the kindle or kindle apps. It's the same with B&N and the nook, etc. But worse, there is a limit on how many compatible devices the e-book can be downloaded to. Say you have a family of three. Every one of them have a kindle and they have the kindle app for their laptops or smart phones, etc. That's at least 6 potential forms of tech that e-book can be read on. But, wait. There's a hitch. The publisher has limited the number of devices to 4. So Junior can't read that book on his smart phone because it is already registered to the maximum number of devices. That's like telling me I can only read a physical book in four of six rooms in my house. Sorry, but I bought it, I should be able to read it when and where I want -- and on whatever device I have with me at the time.

And this brings me to the question posed in the title of this post. What is a book?

This is a question those of us involved with Naked Reader Press asked ourselves long before we opened our digital doors. We’d seen interviews with publishers who hold that a book is only the physical incarnation of an author’s work. Under this definition, those of us who buy e-books aren’t buying the book. Instead, we are only buying a license to read the author’s work in a certain digital format. DRM is their way of enforcing this by preventing us from doing with digital books what we can with physical ones — loan them, sell them, donate them. Even so, these same publishers who are so adamant about limiting our access to these e-books — and if you don’t believe me, buy an e-book using Adobe Digital Editions and try to read it on a machine that isn’t tied to that specific Adobe account — are more than willing to charge us as much or more for the digital version than we’d pay for the paperback copy of the book.

Still, not all publishers feel this way. There are some like Baen Books who believe that, once you buy an e-book, it’s yours. They don’t apply DRM and don’t limit the number of e-readers or computers you can view the e-book on. To them, and to me, a book is made up of the words an author writes. A book can take many forms — physical paper versions, electronic, audio, enhanced, etc. A book is something meant to be enjoyed by readers in whatever form they are most comfortable with.

This divide in thinking may be narrowing. The Nook, and now the Kindle, allow lending of e-books (with publisher approval). Mind you, it’s limited to only being able to lend a book one time, for a period of two weeks. During that two week period, the original purchaser of the e-book cannot access it. There is the option being offered through these sellers for authors and small publishers to bring out their books DRM-free. Guess what, most of them choose no DRM. Why? Because they are selling BOOKS, not licenses.

But publishers are still trying to throw kinks in the works when it comes to e-books. Not too long ago, Harper Collins announced it was going to limit the number of times an e-book can be checked out by a library. According to HC, the magic number is 26. After that time, the title will no longer be available unless the library buys it again. Of course, HC says that it will be at a discounted price, but I'm not holding my breath. Besides, I have a several problems with HC's reasoning here. First, they say they came up with this magic number because this is the average number of checkouts a physical book goes through before it is pulled from the shelves. This ignores the fact that, if this is true, the library simply cleans and repairs the book and then puts it back into circulation. It's not removed unless it is lost or destroyed or beyond repair. My next issue is that I can just imagine how ticked I'd be if I happened to be number 27 on the wait list for that e-book, only to be told I couldn't check it out. Finally, publishers don't put a limit on the number of times a physical book can be checked out. All they are doing by limited e-books in this manner is once more saying they don't look at e-books as real books. (For more on this, check out this post and this one.)

So, what is a book? To me, a book is the collection of words, written by an author for readers to read in whatever format they like: hard cover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, digital or enhanced. After all, why should it make a difference if the book is printed on paper or on your computer screen or smart phone? A book is a book is a book and it’s time the industry’s definition caught up with technology.

So, what is a book to you?


MataPam said...

A book is a substantial work meant to be read. As opposed to a movie or TV show that is watched--a visual and auditory experience. Or a game that is interactive.

By substantial, I'm trying to eliminate from the category written instruction on boxes, while including instruction manuals.

I consider magazines to be a specific type of book, a compliation of stories, articles, and advertisements, often illustrated or with accompanying photographs, but in the main, intended to be read.

I think that is the critical measure - it is meant to be read. It requires this specific skill in the user. Even audio books qualify, as they are audio recordings of the book being read, not acted out.

Modern electronics are bluring the edges, with added content and pictures for books and more reading in games, and manga and no doubt the edges will get blurrier with time.

But a straight out e-book has to be read to be "used" as as such qualifies as a book, without quibble.

Stephen Simmons said...

"I tell lies to strangers for money."

I say it in jest, but it's still essentially true. Pam is right on the money, to me. The stories that itinerant entertainers told in exchange for their supper a few centuries back were, in my estimation, "books" just as much as those on the shelves at B&N today are, with the exception that you couldn't re-read them. A story presented in a medium which requires the audience to use imagination to "see" what the author sees. A stylized form of telepathy, if you will.

Whether those words are spoken in a medieval wayside inn in exchange for enough coin to buy bed and board, or hand-inked onto papyrus, or imprinted on wood-pulp using moveable type, or displayed on a Kindle, or streamed directly into your consciousness by the cybernetic Babel fish that I intend to invent with the money from my first best-seller ... the words are what the artist is selling, and what the audience is buying.

(mini-squee -- your first citation is the "family business". My grandmother's uncle, Fred P. Murphy, was the original owner of Grolier Publishing, which is now part of Scholastic.)

Geoffrey Kidd said...

Re: Harry Potter versus Piracy

Book 4 was on the net a month after it was published. Book 5 took a week. Book 6, one day. Book 7, it depends on what you mean by "before it hit the shelves." The stores in England opened at Midnight, Greenwich Time. A non-PDF, well-proofread pirate copy was on the net before the stores opened in New York.

And the publisher's attitude toward the demand for electronic copies? "I should think they would understand that if we don't provide it, they can't have it." Every time I think of that remark, I visualize it being said with a superior attitude and a nose held firmly in the air in contempt for the readers.

If that's not an attitude that practically makes piracy mandatory...

As for me, MataPam had it right. If it's a "substantial work," which must be read, either with the eyes, the ears, or the fingertips (cf. braille), it's a book.

I went all-eBook all the time over ten years ago, and rather enjoy being able to carry ten or twenty *pounds* of books in a five-ounce Palm or, more recently, my smartphone.

Lucius said...

A datafile is no more a book than a screenplay is a movie.

A book is a certain kind of physical object.
A story or other information can be transmitted in any number of different ways, but only one of them is a book.
(Seriously. I've made a living telling stories. That does *not* make me a published author.)

Of course, I'd like to see publishers be consistent and allow digital rights to revert to the author as soon as they're no longer printing and selling the book. They also need to acknowledge that if they aren't printing and selling the book, then the book is no longer "in print".
(I'd also like to see flocks of flying pigs terrorizing the Middle East. And a pony.)

My POV is that self-publishing has become a heck of a lot more viable.
After all, you have a datafile before you can submit a manuscript. Changing the format is no big deal. To be published as a first-time author, your manuscript already must be darned close to marketable. As a neophyte/hobbyist, it looks like the best option is currently to self-publish an e-book on Amazon at a low price point. (Of course, I'm also not trying to make a living.)
I could see some publishers becoming primarily re-publishers of popular e-book content for a large percentage of the book sales. (Demand has already been established. A large percentage of readers are also bibliophiles, and I bet you could hang a pretty reliable number on the percentage willing to re-purchase in a less-ephemeral format--publishers of role-playing games are already pretty reliant on a similar business model. It's a low-risk way for a company to survive.) Not that this will happen without a major blood-letting in the industry. But that part looks pretty darn likely.

Kate Paulk said...

For my money, an ebook is a book. The important bit is not "e", the important bit is "book" - so yes, Lucius, not all data files are books, but some of them most certainly are.

If it's set up to be read as a book, whether it's a sheaf of loose paper, bound in a ring binder, hard cover, soft cover, pdf, doc, mobi, whatever, it's a book.

The "bookness" is in the content.

The movie example is different - a screenplay is a set of directions. The movie is one example of a PERFORMANCE of those directions. Different beast.

In the same way sheet music is the directions for a piece of music. The musician has to interact before you get the music.

For a book, there is no intermediary. Just the words on something that acts as a page. Joe Average doesn't need anything but the ability to read.

Ann Rodela said...

This is news to me. How will this affect first time novelist?

On a different note. Members of the same family unit don't usually have the same tastes in books. Although I feel that DRM's hurt the consumer.

So to answer the question. Are ebooks books? No. I think that they can be more or at least a different and new animal. I heard that some of these books come with videos and music. So this is a new creature and can't be compared to a book.

I think ebooks are suppose to evolve into a media rich content entity. I think writers might feel propelled to add book trailers, original music and interactive content to their ebooks. Today's authors face many changes on the horizon.

Brendan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brendan said...

Looks like me comment got eaten: Trying again:-(

I think the publisher's definition you mentioned is almost correct:

"that a book is only the physical incarnation of an author’s work."

This bit I think is right and then we just need a bit of deletes to turn the bit below into:

"we are buying a license to read the author’s work."

I think the problem is in an increasingly 'e' world the idea of copyright is going to have to change since as I wrote in a blog post in 2009:

"Since the user no longer has a physical copy what will their rights in relation to a text or piece of music or video mean? I think that it will be seen by many of the current generation that when they purchase the rights to something they are in fact buying the right to experience that purchase whenever, where ever and for as long as they want. If they don't have a book that they know they "own" on hand they will assume continuing ownership and re-download it."

MataPam said...

Book and story are not synonymous. Non-fiction, poetry, biographies, texts, instruction manuals. All books.

I think the determining factor is the "must be read to be experienced" part. The dividing lines are not clear, and will probably smear further. Multi-media packages may become more common, but what we're seeing right now is avid readers snapping up cheap reading material.

That's not something I expected. The flashier stuff may turn out to be expensive enough to have only limited appeal.

Lucius said...

Kate, using that type of definition, you might as well classify apricots as peaches.

I hold that the "bookness" is measured by comparing the object in question to an idealized book. Which to the best of my understanding, is a physical entity complete in itself.
(Yes, I'm invoking Plato's Theory of Forms. Given the topic of conversation, someone had to do it.)

..."Joe Average doesn't need anything but the ability to read."
[grin] I'm going to have to pick on you for this. In the case of an e-book, the reader obviously needs an e-reader.
(An interest in doing so, a memory longer than three seconds, and an ability to sympathize with fictional characters might also be useful.)

Just to clarify a point I didn't explicitly cover, I fully agree that most EULAs and DRM are a deliberate abuse of copyright law.
We badly need to reform the law to prevent this abuse. (But I shan't hold my breath.)

Kate Paulk said...


In the case of an e-book, the reader obviously needs an e-reader.

Really? I've read ebooks on my computer, my work computer (it was work-related), my antique PDA, and dedicated ebook readers. Other people read them on their phones.

I think you're actually defining your boundaries too tightly here: you're looking at "apricots" and "peaches", I'm looking at "stone fruit" or possibly even "fruit".

Even when you limit yourself to hardcopy, books come in a phenomenal variety. In addition to cover, thickness, paper type, size etc, you have books that are manuals, workbooks (which are still books), sketchbooks, (ditto), folio books, picture books, postcard books... All of them share the basic "bookness".

Ebooks inherit the bookness by taking the content that might be in a physical book, and formatting it in a book-like way. They use the same conceptual frameworks in a harness that's intended to be familiar enough to a reader of physical books that the transition from paper to pixels or eink cels is more or less invisible.

Don't get hung up on the differences - that's where the music industry went wrong and where the publishing industry followed them. They forgot that the basic unit of their industry isn't the packaging; it's the content. Just as a song on vinyl is equivalent to a song on CD is equivalent to a song in an audio file, a book in hardcover is equivalent to a book in softcover is equivalent to a book on a computer. The packaging is a lot cheaper for the computer version, but it's the same book.

Amanda Green said...

Pam, I like your definition of a book being a "substantial work meant to be read". This is exactly how most writers view their work.

The way I look at it, an e-book is simply another form of "packaging" for the book, another logical step in the development of what we've come to understand a book to be. We've come a long way since the monks poured over the ancient texts, carefully copying them out in longhand. As technology progresses, so will our understanding of what a book -- or a paper or magazine -- is.

Amanda Green said...

Stephen, you give the definition from a writer's viewpoint, not that of the merchant. Needless to say, I like your definition much better.

Most people write to entertain or educate and they really don't care what the medium is as long as their work is published. Once it is, as far as they are concerned, that work is a book. Not a license.

Amanda Green said...


The publishers seem to have forgotten the cardinal rule -- the customer is always right. If readers want an e-book, and a number of them approach a publisher asking for the same thing, then there is a demand and it should be up to the publisher to figure out a way to fulfill that demand. Doing so is giving their customers a book in a different form of packaging, but the contents are still the same and it is the contents that make up the book.

And you're right about how their attitude is like waving a flag and telling people to pirate the book in question. What I don't understand is why the publishers don't see this.

Amanda Green said...


"A datafile is no more a book than a screenplay is a movie."

Oh how many ways is this wrong. Content for the e-book is identical to that for the printed book. It still has to be written, proofed, copy edited, proofread, set up and packaged, ISBNs have to be registered and cover images made. Then the book is put on sale. The only difference between the printed book and the digital book is packaging.

Or are you telling that author who spent so many months, maybe years, that there is less value to their work because it is digitally published? That their work doesn't qualify as a book? Because, if you are, then you may as well say that to every book that has been published since the time of the monks who so carefully copied off the ancient texts by longhand.

I don't believe that just because technology has advanced that the product of an author's hard work is no longer a book. A book is what is between the covers, whether those covers are leather, cardboard, paper or digital.

Amanda Green said...

Kate, well put. Thanks for saying it much more eloquently than I did.

Amanda Green said...

Brendan, my concern with that sort of logic is it is also something a number of publishers would also like to apply to the printed book. All too many of them want to take away our rights to give away or sell a book we've already purchased. Exactly the same thing they are trying to prevent with e-books.

It is a slippery slope if we, as authors, stand by and let them put these limits on digital books, especially when they already are so reluctant to give back digital and print rights, even after a book is technically out of print. Too many also avoid having to pay an author for second printings by having micro, until there are better means of oversight for publishers, oversights that will protect the authors, I don't want to anything that will take away from an author's rights or their reader's enjoyment of their work.

Amanda Green said...

Ann, what you're describing could also have been used to describe how books evolved with the advent of the printing press, the linotype, computer typesetting, etc. As technology advances, so will the expectations for what a book will be. That doesn't make it any less of a book. It just makes it a different kind of book.

A book is still, in my opinion, the work of the author. It doesn't matter if it is a bunch of typewritten or handwritten pages, bundled together or bound at Kinkos or if it has a gold embossed leather cover or is in a digital format.

As for how all this will affect the first time writer, time will tell. Right now, with it getting harder and harder to break into traditional publishing, the digital market is open to new authors, just as it is open to letting established authors bring out their backlists.

Amanda Green said...

Pam, I think we will slowly see a swing where readers are more willing to pay higher prices for e-books. The issue right now is not only the relative newness of e-books but the fact that publishers are bringing the electronic version out at the same time as the hard cover and trying to charge the same price. That is too high a price point for most readers.

Amanda Green said...

Lucius, to use your own logic, if someone has to have an e-reader to read a digital book, they also have to have a physical copy of book to read it. Again, packaging. And whose idealized concept of a book are you using? If you asked my almost 80 year old mother, she'd agree with you. A book is that bunch of pages in between some form of a cover that she can hold in her hands. You ask my circle of friends, and you'll find a several different definitions. Some will say a book is that paperback they picked up at the airport. Others will say an ebook only because they want to save the environment. But most will say that a book is something you can read in whatever form or fashion you want. In other words, it's the words written by the author and not the fact it is hardcover, softcover or digital that makes the difference. As my son's group of friends and they won't hesitate but to show you what they are reading on their cell phone or lap top or tablet or ereader.

So, no, you don't need an e-reader to read an e-book. Yes, you do need some form of tech, but it doesn't have to be specialize.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Sigh. Why are you stretching a point till it snaps? "A datafile is no more a book than a screenplay is a movie." MIGHT be the stupidest thing I've heard recently, and trust me, given my job and the fact I have two teen sons, that's saying a lot.

OF COURSE that's not true. A screen play is lacking most of the subtext. I.e. a lot of the story is carried by the acting. If you don't believe me, compare a story meant to be read, and a screen play. There's vast amounts of information "missing" in the screen play. This is why acting is considered an art.

As for "datafile" that too is stretching a point. An ebook is NOT a data file. It's a book. It is paginated, formated, it has an index, and a lot of them are searchable by index. It is a story presented in a "print like" format and designed to be read. It's a book. The only thing lacking is some dead tree and ink. If that's all that makes a book for you, man have I GOT a deal for you. You can have all the pages my printer insists on spewing out with "error" messages. I have at least 300 a month and I'll sell them cheap. $1.50 plus shipping.

Don't squawk, my metaphor is no more outrageous than yours. Less, I'd say.

Now whether it should sell at the same price as a paper book -- that's something else. I could see a case being made for its being sold more expensively that the pulpy crappily-bound paperbacks, considerably less than a QUALITY hardcover. HOWEVER I also think given the feeling of "impermanence" to ebooks, justified or not, their price point will be lower than paperbooks for a while at least. (There's also the fact paperbacks have been overpriced for ten years at least, relative to ideal-price-point.) But THAT's something totally aside from essential "bookness".

Chris L said...

I can see this topic is hotly contested and somehow personal to many of you, however I have a different slant.

I love to read, write AND COLLECT books. If I read a book I really like, I want a nicely bound copy, possibly with a forward from the author, and even better - signed. I don't have a lot of these, but I'm getting close to a bookcase worth.

Books - to me - can be clean and new (with that new book smell), or old, yellow and a bit mouldy. I can pull them off the shelf and recall the shop from which I bought it and (sometimes) who I bought it from and how much it cost.

Okay, so I'm a bit of a romantic. But for me, that's half the point. I can't really see myself getting worked up over a datafile I bought from Amazon in quite the same way. Perhaps I could purchase a digital signature and only buy from a cosy little website cluttered with esoterica and unsecured links, but really...

Would I care?

Kelly said...

A book is meant to be read? So what is a book full of photos called? Saun Tan's book "The Arrival" (I think that's the title)-- a silent graphic novel basically-- is to be looked at, not read. So is it not a book?

So, I think dead tree books and e-books are different things but that is getting ahead of the argument, really.

The first thing we need to do in is use a new word for what the author is selling. I've never known an author who sold a book. They are really selling a story.

The publishers print the story so it can be sold. The story and the book aren't the same thing, they are just living in a symbiotic relationship. Now the story has another host is can live off-- a host that anybody can breed at home.

Anyways, not sure if I was completely clear so I will end with... I don't agree with DRM, I think ebooks should be sold, not licensed and I think publishers should wake up and smell the coffee because if they don't hurry up they'll be left holding an empty mug.

MataPam said...

Kate Paulk said...


A book of photos is a book. So is a graphic novel with no dialog. So is a comic book. You still read it - albeit without words - because we're so wired to attach words to everything we'll add the words ourselves. (Yes, there are comic ebooks. I haven't read any myself, although I do read a lot of web comics).

It's not just story - it's also information (non-fiction). That's why my position is that if you'd consider the same content a book in physical form, it's a book in electronic form.

Of course, I do lean to the broad categorization, not the slicing and dicing into increasingly narrower niches.

Amanda Green said...

Chris L, I, too, love to collect books. Many of them I've managed to get signed by the authors. But again, that's the packaging.

And, yes, the issue is personal to me. As an author, it it worrisome to think that my work is discounted by some simply because it isn't in printed format. Does the fact that my book came out in digital format first mean I worked any less hard on it than I would have had it come out in print first? No. I put the same effort into the book as I wrote it because, frankly, I didn't know the format it would be published in.

As an editor, I put the same effort into making sure an e-book is well edited and well formatted as I do for the print version. It doesn't matter what the format. What matters is that as an editor and as an author I am giving the best product available to the reader. And that product is a book. Just my opinion, of course.

Amanda Green said...

Kelly, completely agree with you about DRM. This is a lesson they should have learned from music publishers and haven't. I guess the old adage about history repeating itself is playing out in publishing right now.

As for what an author sells, by publishers' own standards, when an author submits their work, they have to classify it as flash fiction, short story, novelette, novella or novel -- or in the case of non-fiction -- book. So, yes, when we write and submit, we think of our work in those terms.

If an e-book isn't a book, then what about the newspapers and magazines that we read online. Are they any less of a newspaper or magazine simply because we aren't holding the physical copy in our hands?

I also think you are taking too narrow a definition on "read". I read comic books and picture books. My son reads manga. I read these both in dead tree versions and in digital.

These are all book, no matter what the packaging.

Amanda Green said...

Pam, I'd forgotten about that video. Thanks for posting the link.

Amanda Green said...

Sarah, I agree completely. As for the price point for e-books, it's going to be interesting over the next few years to see where this issue settles. I know from watching different e-book boards that most readers are all right with paying paperback prices for an e-book. They may not like it, but they will. But paying hard cover prices is something that will make them howl.

What I actually think will happen is that we'll see e-book prices break down much the same way physical book prices break down. An e-book that is exactly the same content as the physical book will be cheaper than the e-book with enhanced content. They will become the digital equivalents to mmpb and hard covers.

Amanda Green said...

Kate, I'll repeat my earlier comment to you -- thanks for saying it more eloquently than I did (especially this early in the morning).

Chris L said...


I certainly don't want to discount your work. I've had short stories published online (which is different but the same), and you're right, as a writer you can't always know where your story will finally appear.

But in the rush to digital publishing, something will be lost. And once the format takes on, will our concept of a book remain the same? Already we are seeing book trailers, some animated. What will we expect in future? Will there be mini-movies embedded within the text? If a scene is too hard to write, or would be better acted (or would be cooler with mad special effects), maybe we can just make that bit into a movie instead?

I'm just not fully there for ebooks I'm afraid.

Amanda Green said...

Chris L, we were already seeing trailers -- although they were called commercials and shown only on TV -- before e-books really took off. That said, I'm not a big one for "enhanced" e-books. At least not for fiction. I worry that the enhancements can take you out of the story. However, for non-fiction, I can see where the enhancements could really be of benefit. For example, if you're reading a book about tsunamis and their causes, being able to click an embedded link to see a computer generated sequence showing the "birth" of a tsunami could be of benefit.

I'm old school, really. I don't want physical books to go away. But I also don't want to see an author's work cheapened because people don't think of e-books as books. (Mind you, most people I've talked with do see them as books, just a different form of packaging. It's publishers who seem to have a problem with the concept.)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


To add to what Amanda said, there's another thing publishers (of book length work) call your work when it goes in "manuscript" -- from the Latin. Written by hand. Now, it's been...100? years or just about since these were written by hand. But they still call them manuscripts. UNTIL they're accepted and in the process of being published, when they get called "books". No matter how they're going to be published, they're "books."

Lucius said...

Sarah, it was definitely hyperbole on my part. ;) I was hoping someone would invoke Shakespeare without stopping to think through the implications. Obviously, nobody obliged.
[grin] I blame the medium. Kate successfully baited me with the "readers as passive recipients" bit, the rant just didn't survive long enough to be posted. (I must tip my cap to her. It was excellent trolling. I practically had to wipe spittle from my monitor.)

Amanda, you're taking an offense that isn't intended. Anybody who can successfully tell a story without cues from the audience has my respect. (I do think that this strength can also be a weakness, but that's the case with many things.)

That said, there are differences in the medium between book and e-book. They're much less for a linear story than for reference books or collections of short works, but they're still there, and they do result in a slightly different experience.
Let's try a much less inflammatory comparison.
Most people in this country can watch television shows on their computer. There's been an aggressive advertising campaign to promote this. The computer is equal or has an advantage in nearly every direct comparison. [shrug] But only a small percentage of the market prefers to watch television shows on their computer. The small (mostly unquantifiable) differences mean a different experience, despite the show being exactly the same.
E-books have been available for years, for free, to anyone with a computer and internet access. It didn't do much to make them popular. Who wants to read a novel on their computer?

Amanda Green said...

Lucius, first off, I'm going to call you on the "passive recipients" comment. First of all, you may be thinking you're paraphrasing something Kate said, but by placing it in quotes, you are attributing a comment to her that she did NOT make. For another, I'm sure you are aware of the definition of the word "troll" as it applies to internet postings. At no point was Kate acting as a troll. Now, I know you could be using the word in the fishing sense, but your next comment about wiping the spittle from your monitor sort of belies that, at least in my opinion.

It is obvious we aren't going to agree. You seem hung up on the method of delivery, not on content. Your example of watching TV on the computer is just one more apple to oranges comparison. Most people don't watch TV on their computers because 1) a lot of computers don't allow for live viewing. You need other software/hardware. 2) people are already paying for satellite or cable so why pay for Netflix or Hulu. But the most important is that most people don't have computers in their family rooms with large screens. No, they have their laptops or a desktop set. People simply don't want to give up their 52-inch plasma for a 20 inch screen.

As for e-books being around for years but not becoming popular because no one wanted to read them on their computers, sorry, but that doesn't wash either. To begin with, most new products don't take off at rocket speed. They are slow to build.

Second, if you really look at the history of e-books, you'll see that they have increased slowly but surely over the years as people were able to start reading them on their PDAs and then on their phones as well as on their computers. What was holding e-books back for so long was the fact that they weren't getting a lot of press and the fact that there were so many different formats out there. We are now down to two main formats.

As for no one wanting to read on their computers, sorry, that's wrong. People do read on their computers. Some even enjoy it. Others do it because they see it as a way to help save a few trees.

As for me taking offense, I'm not. Am I passionate about this issue? Yes. Because I know what it takes to create a book -- both as a writer and as an editor. And, as an editor, I know there would be no book -- fiction or non-fiction -- without the words written by the author. Those words ARE the book. How they are released to the public is packaging. It's that simple.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I'm completely puzzled as to why collections of short works are different from novels or what the heck you mean by "linear" unless your objective IS to throw out random words and needle people into being upset and nothing else (I presume this from your thinking Kate was "trolling" which is so bizarre as to only make sense as projection) in which case a)it's easier if you're more explicit. Muddled stuff doesn't upset me, it makes me shrug and get bored. b)Don't you have anything more satisfying to do with your life? Most adults get enough annoyance in the current economy. If you must engage in upsetting people or malicious behavior, surely there are some puppies you could be stomping?

If you're not just shooting stuff off to annoy us, then well... yeah, textbooks are different, like proofreading is different -- because people want to write in them as they read. (Mind you, the Irex Iliad allows that, but it's a bit pricey for my blood.) Not that it makes textbooks more or less "books" but because they are a specialized form of book that works worse in e-format.

Second on TV and computers -- I think the two main gating factors are as Amanda said, the size and the fact people already own TVs. In my household, when the TV died we bought a very large monitor for my art work AND to use as a TV, and we have yet to find an issue with this. I think ultimately it is the way of the future, at least given a need for a huge monitor.

And third -- none of this has ANYTHING to do with ebooks. I will confess that while I read miles and miles of austen fanfic on the monitor, I don't find it comfortable, mostly because I normally read while doing other things, like folding laundry or cooking. That's neither here or there. Yeah, yeah, ebooks have been around for fifteen years and yeah, I ignored them as everyone else did. I think part of the reason the publishers are in shock is exactly that -- "but there have been panels about ebooks for fifteen years at cons, and ebooks never amounted to more than two or three per quarter." You're misssing the HUGE game changer. I can't speak for the other e-readers. I had a nokia tablet PC before, and while reading on it was easier than on the screen, it was still much like reading on a screen. However, the KINDLE isn't. The experience is so close to reading a paper book, I'll forget I'm not, and look for a way to turn the page, or when I go back to paper I look for the "next page" button. This makes it a completely different animal. I'm now reading as much on the kindle as on paper (and buying more, since paper tends to be re-reads.) And I think that's what's driving the explosion. If you don't believe me, hie yourself to Best Buy and look at the kindle. You'll see.

Lucius said...

[shrug] It seemed a decent paraphrase to me, although I could have (and probably should have) given the full quote.

The term "troll" is highly subjective, and the internet usage is derived from the fishing term to begin with. I avoided using the word because of the negative connotations that have become attached to it, which I thought hardly appropriate when I was intending to offer praise.
She evoked an emotional response from me, and I came *this* close to dropping my point to go chasing after a completely tangential red herring. I believe it was deliberate, and I'm giving her full credit. She read me like a book. (Which doesn't, I must add, make me a book.) [grin] I was very interested in the story she has coming out, now I'm positively eager. After all, the point of a story is to evoke an emotional reaction from the person receiving the story.

If she'd like me to apologize, I'm certainly willing to do so. No insult was ever intended.

By linear I simply meant you start at the beginning, and finish at the end. A collection of short stories or poems isn't necessarily something that your read sequentially. (At least, I never do.)

I've known about e-books for a long time. I was an early booster of PG. But reading novels on a computer is something that I do not enjoy.

I still think there's a deliberate confusion of medium and message going on, but I'm going to drop it. At this point I'm pretty sure that the horse is dead, and beating it won't do anything but annoy the flies.
(I'm also going to try to minimize my posting for a couple of days to try and give everyone a chance to cool off.)

Kate Paulk said...


Trust me, you have not seen me trolling. You haven't even seen me playing "torment the trolls". The sarcasmometer hasn't even blipped, and after the last time I broke it I set the tolerances on that thing so high...

Seriously, I think you got yourself twisted sideways by my comment that "Joe Average doesn't need anything but the ability to read". I'm not sure how that translates to your "readers as passive recipients", but I guess in comparison with a music performance it could look that way if you'd missed my actual point: namely that once presented with words on a page-like object, a reader doesn't need any other intermediaries to access the "end product".

Joe Average can be as passive or as active as he wants about what he's reading.

So, with the combination of a misplaced quote where you were paraphrasing what you thought I meant and what I presume was intended as a less offensive use of the word trolling, you've managed to make yourself look kind of troll-ish yourself. (Not that I have an issue with that - I know what I see in the mirror first thing in the morning, and it's not a pretty sight).

As far as I can see, you're focusing on the packaging, where I'm focusing on the content. Sarah and Amanda have already covered analogy v2 (or is it v3? I'm not going back through the comments to count them all again), so I won't go there except to say is it any less a TV show or a movie if you're watching it from your computer? Or just one that's in a slightly less desirable (hence cheaper) packaging than a DVD.

Ebooks have been around for years. They've also been hampered by something like the VHS/Betamax or Blu-Ray/HD wars on steroids, with several ebook readers dying because they only supported a single format and it was proprietary to the maker's store (hello, Sony? Remember your eReader v1?). Also, backlit LCD screens cause eyestrain and chew battery life. The combination of eInk and Amazon introducing the kindle at a price that was deliberately low enough to encourage introduction really kicked things off. By kindle 2, formats had settled to 2 main contenders and a bunch of conversion utilities that mean that if it's not wrapped in DRM it's not hard to convert to something your ebook reader can open.

I admit I probably have a higher tolerance for that than most people: it comes with running a Linux operating system. You kind of have to tweak a lot of things, just because most software that's labeled as "multiple OS" is at best Windows and Mac. There are some who think multiple OS means "2 or more Windows versions". Anyway...

The combination of eInk, ebook readers that only cost a finger or two instead of an arm and a leg, and Amazon building the kindle book store (which inspired most of the other large players to get in on the game for fear they'd get shut out) brought ebooks into maturity. Given a few years, I think ebook readers will be below $100, and ebooks will be the default form of book buying. Because the current models all, with the addition of a protective cover, feel like books. And nothing, but nothing, beats the convenience of carrying several months worth of reading material in one nice, lightweight package that runs forever on a single battery charge.