The Lady Tasting Tea will continue Sunday; posting anything meaty on the weekend produces low readership.
According to Julie Bosman, many publishers are now only renting ebooks to libraries. In the olden days, libraries would buy physical books and keep them forever, or re-purchase them when they became worn, or sell them to raise money.
Now, publishers like HarperCollins (in the modern way, the company removed the space to be cool) have created a model where books can “be checked out only 26 times before they expire” after which the library has to re-“buy” the book. Of course, if the book automatically self destructs, the library never bought it, the library merely rented it. Upon learning of this, one librarian felt “gobsmacked.” As well she might, because (see below) ebook licensing prices are now comparable to physical book prices—and you get to keep real books.
Bosman is the only other person (besides yours truly) who has pointed out that ebooks destroy the used book market. Publishers, now corporations concerned strongly with the next quarterly report, fail to recognize that used books are what creates readers, a.k.a. customers. Ban used books, remove readers. Reading long-form texts will soon be an activity of only the very few.
And what need of a physical library if you don’t even have to go there to retrieve your ebook? Why not just rent the ebook from the publisher for a small fee? Libraries may soon join bookstores in sentences like, “Remember when we…”
Be careful what you write in the margins of your iPad ebook: Steve Jobs might not like it and have you banned as a counterrevolutionary. Jeff Bezos, traditionally more tolerant of apostasy, might only hand your notes over to our benevolent government.
You were aware, I hope, that the Kindle has a feature which lets you view the marginal highlights other readers have made. And if they let you read these highlights, they must perforce have them stored in the “cloud.” And, to complete our chain, if Amazon (or Apple) is storing these highlights, they must be taking them from your device as you make them. Isn’t that a comforting thought? Now, not only do the all-caring forces that govern us have a way to see which books we
buy license, they will know exactly what we thought important in them.
It is still easier to write notes in the margins of a real book; it is more spontaneous and there is greater freedom in how you mark up the text. The corresponding lack of facility with ebooks has historians nervous. As Kevin Redmon relates in the Atlantic, “margins are a trove of insight for scholars and biographers.” And they are fretting that they will disappear; which, of course, they will. Charles Hill relates in Grand Strategy that when Henry Kissenger met that greatest of mass murders Chairman Mao, he noted Mao’s study was filled with thousands of books (all forbidden to his people), many of which were loaded with scrawlings. “If you don’t put your pen in action, it cannot really be considered reading,” said Mao. Which shows that even a madman can say true things.
It wasn’t until recently that the Kindle allowed you to turn off the highlighting of others, a tremendous annoyance, akin to buying a used book filled with yellow-through lines from some semi-literate college freshman. Quoting Redmon: “Inciting [Romanian-American poet Andrei] Codrescu’s ire was the ‘popular highlights’ feature on Kindle: the faint dotted underlining that, as Codrescu put it, ‘will tell you how many morons have underlined before so that not only you do not own the new book you paid for, the entire experience of reading is shattered by the presence of a mob that agitates inside your text like strangers in a train station.'”
This week M. Anonymous donated to me the book Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia. Amazon’s price for the physical book is $20.00, while it’s $19.99 for the Kindle. I weighed the convenience of having the book immediately—only possible with the Kindle or with those now defunct places called “bookstores”—against the pleasure of waiting and owning it in physical form. I chose the latter. It’s difficult to be certain of the accounting, but here either Amazon or the publisher or both must be taking less.
Anyway, as I have pointed out before, any book which will be used as research (to include book reviews) is much easier read on real paper. Marginal notes we discussed; switching pages to and fro (e.g. looking up footnotes) just cannot be done easily with an ebook; switching back and forth between books (as I did while writing his post) is too great a burden with ebooks.