Recently I viewed a documentary on the history of Western movies. I was struck by the challenge these movies faced with the advent of television. The Western B movie almost died then and there. But it didn’t, and isolated salvage efforts resulted in another surge in popularity that continues even today. It turns out there was a place for TV and there was a place for movies.
People prefer to remain home after a tough day at work and enjoy the entertainment that TV provides in the comfort of their living rooms (and snacks are free). But occasionally we all love to see a movie in the theatre, on the large screen, with amazing sound, uninterrupted. The impact of a movie viewed in such an environment far exceeds that of a television set.
The point is, after much wailing and cries of doom and gloom it turned out that both viewing forms were viable. That got me thinking about books.
There are those who are convinced that eBooks can never replace physical books, to have and to hold, to smell and to touch, to store on shelves. There are others who have discovered the liberating simplicity of owning just a tablet, easy to hold while reading in bed, , adjustable print size, with limitless books in its reach. What a dream to pack only a tablet for entertainment on a long trip.
So where are we going? As a student of history, I think we can expect this issue to resolve itself the same way as movies and TV. Physical books and eBooks will survive together. But how will this work?
I suggest that there will come to be unique benefits from coexistence. Consider the freedom to self publish. Anyone can publish what they want so long as the document is properly formatted for the on-line publisher. It means that quality is no longer determined by publishing house editors. And for the reader, it means that the quality of a book is unknown. We must rely heavily on the reviews of other readers and rating stars and professional reviews to determine the quality of a book. This is the reader’s dilemma.
But on the other hand many eBooks are free, and those that are not can usually be purchased for the cost of a large candy bar. Yes, we need the evaluation of other readers, but there are a zillion readers out there ready to perform that task.
But there is another step evolving in the evaluation of books . Publishing houses are paying close attention to the successes of eBooks, hoping to find a financial bonanza like Shades Of Gray. I predict that the publishing houses will become the sixth star in the on-line rating system. Their agents will seek out the best of the best self-published books and try to obtain them for publication under their labels as eBooks and paperbacks (I fear for the future of expensive hard-cover books).
And thus the issue of book quality will take care of itself: anybody who desires to publish, whatever their reasons, will publish, and reviews and rating stars will direct reader’s choices, and publishing houses will produce the works of superior quality or greatest popularity.
To summarize, we benefit from this partnership in these five ways:
1. Anyone can publish for any reason, from memoir to novel
2. There will be a greater volume of books, many of which will be free, and most of them inexpensive
3. The reader can evaluate and select books from reviews, ratings, and the choices made by publishers
4. Royalties for writers will be larger and the cost to readers less
5. The ability to have and to hold a physical book will remain with us