04 February 2010

Kindling a new inequality

A TTMF post sent me to a Santa Fe Reporter article which is interesting to a European reader for the unusually European (as opposed to USAmerican) cast of its analysis. That's not why I mention it, however. What made be stop and think was the following interesting and thought provoking para in relation to a textbook:

Should she get it from Amazon or download the Kindle version? Bowles quickly rules out the Kindle because it makes the text impossible to share. Reading between the lines, Bowles’ choice reveals the hidden symbolism of each medium: If the paperback is Karl Marx, the Kindle is Ayn Rand.

I've always made my book format selections on personal and/or practical bases. I generally prefer paperbacks to hardbacks because they are lighter, more compact, easier to use on the fly. I æsthetially enjoy reading paper books more than electronic ones, which is important to me. Electronic text offers mass portability, instant access, powerful searching, so has the edge for reference. Though I have a Kindle, I never use it; other electronic platforms work better for me.

I've not considered, before, the impact of electronic texts on inequality of access to literacy (I use the word literacy, rather than literature, deliberately). I shall, in future, do so. The advantages of electronic access remain and, in the case of (for example) Gutenberg Project texts, sharing is in many important ways enhanced; but the restrictive downside will from now on be a factor on the other side of the scales.


Matthew Revell said...

When it comes to DRM-encumbered e-books, I think you raise a very important point.

This is the primary reason I haven't yet bought an e-book reader. I don't want to rent the right to read a piece of text. I want to be able to pass interesting books to my children, lend them to friends or re-read them whenever I choose. With DRM, you're perpetually at the mercy of the DRM-controller's ability to remain in business.

I might feel different if the cost of e-books weren't so high. When we know that average authors' royalties are in the region of 45p per copy, the physical production and distribution of a paper book feels like justification for the higher price.

Now, I know publishers need to be recompensed for marketing, editing, backing the wrong horse, and so on. But I'm getting so much less from an e-book, in terms of what I can do with it and expect from it, so I would expect to pay far less. And I've already paid for the "paper" by buying the reader.

If they offered a monthly flat fee model, like Spotify or similar, I could see it being appealing but then I'm still reluctant to stump up the money for the reader in the first place.

The beauty of a book is, I believe, that I just need a little light and my specs to enjoy it. It's not like listening to music, where you do need some kind of equipment whether you're listening to an Ogg file or a vinyl record.

With an e-book, I need a whole load of electricity, equipment and various layers of business to enable me to enjoy the book.

Dr. C said...

I sort of despise using the words "print media" (as opposed to eMedia) to refer to my favorite thing, books. I would suggest that in addition to the pleasure of reading a real book, there is the pleasure of being surrounded by books. It is almost as if one were a postulant in a cathedral of the initiated to be in a room full of books. I realize libraries are on the way out (c.f. Verner Vinge's "Rainbow's End", the Google project, etc), but many hours in the stacks of various libraries (including the Library of Congress in the '60's when it was easy access) are all pleasurable memories. Being able to do searching by a click of the mouse may be quicker and more exhaustive (maybe too exhaustive in many cases) but nothing warms the cackles like picking up an old dusty tome and burrowing in.