Saturday, August 15, 2009
At the time I'm writing this, the hottest topic in the horror fiction community is the rise of digital books. A prominent small press publisher has announced that it will discontinue its line of trade paperbacks in favor of digital books. In addition to that, the same publisher's line of limited edition hardcovers will rise to the unreasonable price of $80.00 each.
As always there are supporters and detractors to this decision. Many love the convenience and the progressive use of electronic fiction. Others despise the medium and love real books.
Guess which camp I'm in?
I was always in love with books. Even before I could read. My older brothers were science fiction fans and they had lots of books. I used to wistfully gaze at the exotic covers and long for the day I could actually read them. I wasted no time in doing so and I was already reading simple books before I was even in school.
For me the love of books is greater than the contents of them. Of course the words are first and foremost, but I love the look, the feel of them. I love to arrange them on my shelves and I've spent many an hour lovingly looking at them. Fondly looking through the titles, picking one or another out at random. Remembering the joy it gave me or perhaps anticipating the joy I would take from them when In would read them in the future.
I always felt that a book was more than just a collection of words. They take on lives of their own. Books have been some of the best friends of my life.
I like nice books. Love them. I enjoy sturdy hardcovers, for their aesthetic value as well as the actual practice of reading them. I've always preferred the feel of a hardcover in my hands than a paperback. Yet I never really got the whole thing about books being valuable works of art. That's almost definitely because I cannot afford lettered editions and what is sometimes called the 'extra crunchy' publications. Undoubtedly if I was rich I'd own an entire library of lettered books.
I don't mind that I can't afford them. I'm perfectly happy with trade hardcovers. Or the reasonably priced limiteds that I can obtain from places like Cemetery Dance Publications. If you subscribe to CD's email newsletter, you will receive regular news of sales and promotions where you can get beautifully crafted signed and limited editions cheaper than you can get the spit-and-toilet paper typical American mass market hardcover.
I don't mind paperbacks either. I enjoy the venerable digest-sized editions that have been the norm in publishing for decades. My least favorite is the oversize trade paperback, but I read a lot of them.
Mostly I like to read. Books. Real books.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, the message boards have seen quite a bit of debate in the digital vs. hardcopy question. Some passionately defend the printed word. Others are ready to leap into the future. Some of the ones that are on the digital side of things seem proud that they are embracing a bold (relatively) new technology. As if it's something superior.
Well, it's definitely not the first time I was unwilling to jump on a trendy bandwagon and it's just as definte that it won't be the last time.
Is it always better to reject the old in favor of the new? Would it be a good thing for me and others my age to start acting like the members of the igneration, who seem incomplete unless they have an electronic pacifier in their faces at all times? I say hell NO.
Despite what many would dupe you into believing, many things were better in the past. I'll take a drive-in theater over the most sophisticated home theater system on the planet. I think gaming was much, much better when kids actually left their homes and went to arcades. It was as much a social situation as it was about the games. Now so many live their lives in isolation. And I'll take the drive-in restaurants and family-run food stands over any of the phlegmburger fast food joints that despoil the roadsides.
Read or reread Harlan Ellison's masterpiece, Jefty is Five, and maybe you'll begin to see what I'm talking about.
The given argument is that it is inevitable. And I suppose that it is. The very nature of distribution is changing. Rapidly. Who knows where it all will end? I could see bookstores and even publishers becoming completely obsolete, as much as I would despise that. One day potential readers might browse various review sites and blogs instead of bookstores and even online markets. Choose the ones that they want and have them instantly downloaded to their palm devices. Directly from the homepage of the author. No middlemen whatsoever.
The United States Postal Service could conceivably crumble and it currently looks like that is happening. Bills, movies, books, music, legal documents all delivered direct to individual gadgets. Possibly have privatized courier services to deliver clothes and other sundry items from place to place.
All of this sounds pretty dystopian to me. And it's not like I'm some kind of Luddite. I've been heavily involved in the Internet for well over a decade. I wouldn't be writing these words in this magazine if it weren't for my activities on the web. It has improved our lives in countless ways.
I also took to electronic money like a fish to water. I no longer carry cash nor do I stroke out checks. I'm addicted to my debit card.
But damn it, some things of the past need to be preserved. And most importantly to readers of Cemetery Dance, books must not be allowed to become extinct.
Publishers do not set the state of the industry. Nor do writers. The power is in our hands. Or in our bank accounts. What the consumer chooses to purchase will set the tone for the future. The good things don't have to die. Not if we don't let them. Sure, we can apathetically roll over and allow the soul-deadening wheels of progress level what we love. If we were cowards.
Outside of my family, books are my greatest passion. They always have been, ever since I can remember.
So please, if you share with me the love, the joy, the rewarding experience of reading genuine books. If you reject the idea that holding a plastic device is exactly the same as holding a real tome, please, please support the publishers that continue to bring them to us. Buy your books from them direct.
Maybe, probably, hell, almost definitely I'll lose this war. But every year that I can help keep real books coming out, I'll fight. Please join me.