The Phenomenon

Lately I’ve been occupied with e-books, primarily how to create them. It’s one of those things that’s easy for those who do it. For those who don’t, it’s hard to get on the right track. But I’m making it – seeking advice, following guides, running Google searches when confused by the guides, downloading software I’d had no notion existed, copying my milk-run e-book onto my Kindle and happily discovering that it looks pretty much like the e-books that cost money.

I’m still absorbing the phenomenon of e-books. About six months ago I officially joined it, getting a Kindle. E-books lack the real, physical presence of paper-and-ink books. You can’t fill your shelves with e-books, or hold one in your hand with the sense that it is all right there, right at that moment. In a way, e-books only exist one page at a time.

Ah, but there are advantages. The highlight and notes feature is nice – especially for those genetically indisposed to write on their books with a pen. (There’s this faint sense of vandalism …) Just as nice, it’s all stored away in one place. Select the right option, and you can see all your highlights, notes, and bookmarks. And if you’ve ever spent half an hour paging through a book for the passage you know is there, you will see the usefulness of Kindle’s search function.

An e-reader can contain a whole personal library – in its own time an efficient compression. Best of all, thousands of books in the free domain can be downloaded for nothing. My own collection has thrived on this.

All this notwithstanding, I still prefer the old books. I like the solid physical reality, the freestanding individuality of each book. I have seen books where the Kindle edition was cheaper than the print by cents. I would never, under a choice like that, buy the e-book.

But I know that some people would. How this will affect the publishing industry, or how far e-books will carry their triumph, I will not venture to guess. It may be that e-books will overtake print until we end in the sci-fi vision of paper books being rarities, luxuries, antiques.

In another sci-fi vision, maybe World War III will throw us back to the Middle Ages, and then paper books will be rare for a different reason. However it will be, for the time print and e-books alike are prospering, and it’s new enough that everybody – publishers, readers, writers – is trying to figure out what, exactly, the possibilities are.

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