Thursday, May 26, 2011

Democracy, Irrational Angst, or What?

c2011 (S)

In a recent story, I read about how e-books have resulted in some irrational angst.

There is a problem of lack of ‘democratization’ in the sense that there are readers who don’t have access to reading devices. Some devices are upwards of $250 or $300, although I have seen a simple, $25 e-reader with only the most basic features. The obvious trend is towards increasing complexity.

In the major western markets, the low-cost readers are hardly a market factor, and I’ve seen little promotion of them. I don’t even promote them myself. But in emerging and developing markets, these readers, and the free and low-cost e-books available in a host of titles and languages really are a game-changer.

Just as the printing press destroyed the Church’s monopoly on learning and knowledge, it has also destroyed the typical authoritarian dictator’s monopoly on teaching. And he who controls the flow of information controls the high ground of the game-space, and therefore the battle.

There will be those who question the destruction of this monopoly, but then they have a great deal to lose. While librarians herald a new demand for books, and see the benefits, they also speak reverently of an older publishing model. This is understandable enough.

There is a great deal of information and misinformation out there on the subject of e-books in particular and publishing in general. There is also a fair amount of disinformation and just plain self-serving bullshit from interested parties.

Even Mighty Joe Konrath is looking backwards in anger rather than forwards in gratitude and eagerness. Much has been written about ‘anger’ amongst indie publishers. This is another kind of propaganda. But if, like me, you have never had a ‘legacy’ publisher, have never had a ‘real’ book published, then comparing yourself to Mr. Konrath and his coterie of disgruntled mid-list authors, all of whom are being ‘ripped off’ by their former publishers, then you may wonder what the fuss is all about. I have no reason for anger! I’ve had contracts offered to me. I didn’t sign them because I wasn’t sure I could fulfill my side of the bargain in a totally professional way.

If you are not sure you can live up to the terms of a contract, one of which would involve promotion, public appearances, and yes, Virginia, ‘being nice to everyone,’ then maybe you shouldn’t sign it. But I don’t know if I can handle that sort of a life, and I don’t want to try and be something or someone that I am not.


Librarians have a lot of power in their own way—they prefer silence, they can revoke your library card, and they get to decide what books people can borrow for free. They dispose of a rather large budget when it comes to book-buying season.

Traditional publishers have invested a lot of time and effort in the relationships they have with librarians, just as they have with booksellers, reviewers, and the readers as well.

Will e-books change all of that? I say yes, because in the long run no one can justify paying ten or twenty times too much for a whole bunch of books, year in and year out.

Want to kill the library? Tell the government that mostly poor people use it, in the rather forlorn hopes of building better lives for themselves and their children.

They’ll kill it, rather than learn how to run it efficiently.

At some point, the justification starts to run a little thin. I can put every book my library has on my hard drive. They will all fit there.

At some point, people will try and stop us from doing it or even talking about it, in the name of ‘the curation of knowledge and the free dissemination of ideas,’ because we are ‘killing the book,’ which in their eyes is somehow ‘sacred.’

Not all books are sacred. I can assure the reader that mine aren’t. Mine are just a lot of fun.

The library of the future will look a lot like any website where books are sold in electronic form. The reader will log on to ‘’ or whatever. They will have a ‘username,’ and a ‘pin number,’ and it will be just like Amazon, Lulu, Smashwords or a thousand other e-book sites. Only it will be free and run for the benefit of the public. At some point, ‘legitimate stake-holders,’ i.e., the rapidly-converting traditional publishers will have their $18.99 e-books all set to go and then we can get on with the ‘revolution,’ which they have led right from the beginning, due to their love of literature, the arts, baseball, mom, God and apple pie.

This is not anger, it is the voice of experience, earned after years of observing cradle to the grave corporate welfare in this country, and yours, too.


In elementary school, when we aced the standardized English tests, another boy called Phillip and I were excused English classes. We were sort of consigned to the library, where we played with rolls of tape and rulers in a primitive kind of air-hockey. In college, the library was a wonderful place to study and do research. For many years, I went to the city library on a weekly basis and borrowed armloads of books. For many years, our local library had the civic art collection in a room upstairs, and I did in fact go there once or twice and look at the works.

Gwyn Dyer came to the library. He spoke in the auditorium and I wrote a story on it for the college paper, The Lambton Leader. I attend Genrecon every spring, and Mr. Jeffrey Beeler, my friend and colleague on Facebook, sits right there every day behind the resource counter. For a few years, I used to go there and get the writer’s guides, and sit at a table, and write with a pen in a steno pad. I wrote down the names, addresses, etc, of places to submit stories and books to.

I borrowed a hundred and fifty books while doing research for ‘Heaven Is Too Far Away,’ available as an e-book from…here:

Please don’t think I don’t appreciate my local library and all that it has done for me.

At its best, a library performs an important social function. It is the opinion of this writer that if libraries are to survive in useful or even merely a recognizable form, they need to become a nexus, a hub of some kind of larger, local information network. An electronic network. Rather than being out of the loop by choice.

Incidentally, the local paper published a story, the gist of which was, ‘E-Books the next big thing,’ but that may have just been wire-copy from the national bureau.

They have ignored my press releases! They're engaged in big cost savings measures—they pulled the presses and all local papers are done in another town. I’m sorry, did the self-published electronic papers, ‘kill the family newspaper?’

That’s too bad, but you’re a big corporation. What does that have to do with you?

Self-publishing authors are not ‘destroying the library’ any more than they are 'killing the book.' It is the cost of one that is ‘killing the book.’ I was going to publish with a local printer, but then I got interested in e-books. E-Books represent a far more efficient business model than a hundred paperbacks from a local printer, who would have admittedly done a beautiful job on them. I’ve seen the work.

With a hundred paperbacks, I would have had zero chance of success. Explain it any different if you can. With e-books, my chances of success are infinitely better than that.

This is democratization, because I simply could not afford to spend $1,000 on printing books when I’m on a very small fixed income.

If ‘bad books’ are being published in profusion, then they will fail in profusion.

This is true of POD, local printing, traditional big box publishing, or self-published e-books. When you consider exactly how many people are in a library at any given time, it is actually an inefficient building—the space is taken up by all of those books and shelves. That will all be gone in just a few years, and no one is going to thank me for saying it first.

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