Friday, December 16, 2011

Go Completely Digital?

Here's an email I recently received. Perhaps those visiting here would like to address some of his points? I do have some answers, but let's see what others have got to say....

You should put a section on your blog so people can raise questions without resorting to emailing.

This is a question that's been annoying me for a while. I grew up with books and with tapes, then CD's then crappy windows media player and now all my music's on a 300Gb hard drive as well as every important (and unimportant) photo from my life.

I feel good that all my music's accessible this way and I've binned, or sold all my old CD's. That was easy.

I also threw all my books prior to 5 years ago away, which at the time seemed good but now is a niggling regret. Mainly because my daughter has just started reading ravenously and a lot of the stuff I had she'd love (she got into fantasy via Harry Potter!)

Should we throw away books in favour of digital text? I'd love to think this is progress but most of the writing I've discovered is through browsing bookshops. I buy books from Amazon from time to time
but I don't ever discover anything via that. Discovery's are always made in bookshops, be it from a cover or a few first pages etc... I have never found that from a web based system.

I bought a beautifully bound and illustrated edition of "the secret garden" for my daughter as well as a new edition of Philip Pullman's "Northern lights" Which I know she'll enjoy (she's 7 I can't subject
her to the wonders of masada yet)

A year ago I had this conversation with my partner while considering buying an e-reader. She was horrified that I'd consider sending our books the way of our CD's and at the time I thought that was
ridiculous however now I'm wondering how people will find new fiction without bookshops? I'm happy that I can access medical journals for work instantly and without wasting tons of paper a year plus emissions related to moving articles to me only 5% of which I want to keep and I don't know how I'd work without Zotero to catalogue my articles now but I just can't get comfortable with the loss of bookshops.

Sci-fi never really touches this, writers always just seem to accept that all information is always permanently available at minimal cost to anyone who want's it but never get into how people might access fiction or even look for it? The only time I've heard mention of libraries properly is Ian Banks in "The Algebraist" where the dwellers keep vast uncatalogued libraries stretching back millennia and

Is the future just a library of information where fiction is controlled only by corporations such as Apple and Amazon who "Recommend" the fiction they know you'd like (scary). Or is it vast
quantities of fiction churned out by anyone who feels they can be an author dumped into a huge repository where no one can discover anything of quality? Either way it looks pretty shit for my children or grandchildren.

Sci-fi seems to be comfortable with future tech but lacks depth in social problems. Do you think someone should try writing from that angle?

Kind regards



Thud said...

I have over 3000 books and finding anything is a nightmare plus several 750g hard drives...just how much stuff do I need? buggered if I know.

Dominic Myers said...

Check the recommendations on Amazon for things you might like. Living afloat as I do the lack of books/CDs is a major boon!

j purdie said...

The first post when I logged into Google reader today was Black Gate, 'Long Live the Physical Book–at least for now',and how book stores are having a good year. Digital will, like the other formats, only take a part of the market: we need to wait and see if that is a big part or a small part.

In the fifties wasn't there concern that the new upstart the paperback would destroy hardback sales? I just spent £50 for a revised biography of R E Howard to be published in January next year so hardbacks have survived nicely. There was also concern that TV would kill off the cinema and now films can gross billions.

A lot of my music is on computer but I also still buy cds. I'm just starting to get into digital books, but physical books are also going to be bought. Convenience is the key word I think. If it's a lot easier and cheaper for us to go digital we will, but the market for physical books, cds, etc will still be there.

LatvjuAvs said...

Little over a year ago, I decided that starting reading books in English will polish my English language a little.

Went into bookshop and as being fan of old Russian science fiction I had no idea what to pick up.

I saw one book of big centipede with lot of sharp knives and it was called Technician. I liked cover so I bought it and started to read casually.

Year later I have all Neal Asher's books and I am sad that I have read them all, That was a great ride :)

Still, great memories.

Bookshop, smell of book, something to read anywhere with or without electricity, something magical about books.

Have a nice day :)

Taylor Preston said...

There's just something wonderful about the physical artifact of the book, so I don't think that's ever going anywhere. However, digital publishing seems to be much better at marketing. Though it doesn't always get it right, Amazon Recommends has actually introduced me to tons of authors I most likely would never have found on my own. In fact, if it weren't for Amazon, I wouldn't have been able to read any of Neal's books other than Gridlinked (which is pretty much all they keep in stock here at the local bookstores in my side of the U.S.). I do think there'll be a boom in the print-on-demand side of things. Why print a thousand copies of a book you may or may not sell? That's one of the things I love about Kindle publishing. You can link your Kindle ebook to a CreateSpace account and if someone wants a physical copy they can order it. This is a fascinating issue, and I think we'll see more discussions like this as we move further into the digital age.

Babbage said...

Music and video require power, and always will. For this reason there was a market for a portable battery powered alternative to the turntable - so we got the compact cassette, the Walkman, the CD Walkman and then the MP3 player. Each provided greater utility - better sound, longer duration, more music. With books, they don't need power and are already totally portable. They don't go out of date, or need upgrading and you don't find yourself with a load of incompatible books you can't read with your brain any longer. It's also almost impossible to "rip" a book into an electronic format in any sensible way at home. For these reasons the eBook reader has a problem in replacing the book. It uses power, runs the risk of going out of date or breaking down, may not read some new book format that comes out. And unlike CDs, you can't rip your existing collection of books so if you want electronic ones you've got to buy them again. Yes, there's a future but it'll take much longer for eBooks to replace books than it took the CD to replace vinyl, or the MP3 to replace the CD.

Neal Asher said...

Of course it's always worth remembering that with one good solar flare you cuold find yourself without a library...

Marcus said...

I just don't think that "Amazon Recommends" is the future. We're giving over all the responsibility for discovering new fiction to this corporation. It's so hard to browse any other way than using "Amazon Recommends" That you give up where as in a bookshop you pick up read a page or two, like the cover etc... Do we really want Amazon deciding what we should or shouldn't read?

Olaf said...

I wasn't a great believer in electronic books until I was bought a Kindle as a present. It's one of those rare bits of tech that 'just works'. But I understand the desire to have a physical object to hold. Paper books are a great bit of technology that's why they're still around. Long batery life, work in direct sunlight, somewhat water resistant.
I took the Kindle on holiday loaded it up with about 30 books (mostly free classics admittedly) and with the built in free 3G not only could I read my book I could check the news too. And it never needed charged.

I think a good model for the future, which I doubt any greedy business will ever take up, is to do a similar marketing trick to BluRay disks. They were having a job flogging these disks. Most people are happy enough with DVD so could see no point in buying the same thing again. So now they bundle BluRay disks with a DVD and a digital copy. so the movie you buy is compatible with your cinema, your older DVDs and your mobile devices.

Books could do the same, buy a hardcopy and get a digital copy with it. If I by a hardcopy from amazon why can't they ship the digital copy to my Kindle. That'd be a winner for me.

Graeme said...

Solar flare... yes. All very good this electrickery stuff, but a fucka when it goes wrong.

troy said...

My daughter is three and as my reading shifts towards ebooks, I worry about her not catching the reading bug.

Would paper books set a better example? Otherwise, it may seem like any other piece of electronics.

Neal Asher said...

Thud, I guess the answer to your question is that you don't 'need' any of them. It's about how many you want!

Dominic, I look at the amazon recommendations in the same way as I look at books in a shop: cover then blurb, and if I can, a read of the first page. You get all the information you need that way, but nothing beyond that.

J Purdie, I imagine there's a 'correlation' between population and book sales. As for music in digital format, during its transformation to that state it's opened up whole new markets because of portability.

LatvjuAvs, Taylor and Babbage, long-time readers have books have gone through a process of positive reinforcement. The feel, smell and look of paper books is forever associated with reading pleasure. Books will only die when that link is broken, which I suspect will be a gradual process as more and more people grow up with e-readers.

Marcus, I'm against something like that being controlled by any monopoly. We've already seen how partisan some of these Internet giants can be - google being a prime example.

Olaf, I'm certainly considering a Kindle or some such filled with reference works. Still not so sure about it joining me in an armchair on a quiet evening. I drink wine out of an inconvenient stemmed wine glass, not a convenient plastic squeezy bottle...

Graeme, and of course a book can't really go wrong.

Troy, there certainly wouldn't be any harm (if you have the space) in having plenty of books available to her in the house. Especially, since she's a kid, some illustrated stuff. I remember as a kid being thoroughly in love with an old Daleks annual. Probably would set a better example as in 'this is an important item I am focusing my attention on' and, as you say, an e-reader she might not distinguish from any other electronic item.