Monday, May 06, 2013

Digital

Here's one I made earlier:

Neil Gaiman's talk about books and the future of writing and publishing - that's the catalyst. I link it because it is great food for thought.

I talked about it with the Spouse, and then with my Honourable Colleague, and between all of those an interesting conversation developed. I will pen this (ha! not literally) and then invite feedback from Said Colleague, because dialogue is what makes life worth living. You may or may not hear from her.

I love books. I love honest-to-goodness hardcopy books. I love their bookness in my hands. This is reading. I have discarded books before for being ugly or having the wrong font. Digital books? All ugly books, aren't they? I own no Kindle, or Nook, or any such thing.

I am no laudator temporis acti (praiser of things past; a classical debating position). Digital books are the future. I don't hate them. They're just not good at being print to me, even the prettiest formats. I might argue for a reasonable debate on the topic but why? It is reading. Emotion is part of the picture. Here's how I see it: Gaiman is right that flexibility is what makes digital books great. The Kindle, by the way, isn't it. You think this is about fonts? It isn't, of course. It is about getting a book any which way. You want print, because you're off to hike the 100 Mile Wilderness, or because you're not on a (reliable) power grid? Here you go. Print on demand in your chosen size? Can do. You want a signed first edition with gold leaf for your bookcase? You can have that. Want it in audio? Human read read for entertainment, text to speech for your textbooks? All of this exists. I think (and hope) that all of these will continue to exist, perhaps in greater abundance, side by side.

Great flexibility is not the problem. Change is not the problem. It is a lack of flexibility that really holds us up, and bothers me. That book you buy on your Kindle, is that really yours? My wonderful stacks of Audible audiobooks, are they mine? What happens if I close my account, or they do?

This deserves a ponderous silence.

Because if this is a long-term loan, if I can't give it to a friend or bequeath it to my children, then they've no business taking so much of my money. If access is at the sellers behest, then I don't truly own any of it. Publishers and content distributors rightly get into hot water for not being flexible enough, for having DRM (which doesn't work, and does not deter piracy) and for moderating access (Kindle just a day or two ago finally made their iOS app accessible to blind and sort of to deaf-blind users; how many years did those folks wait for it?).

Access without gate keepers? I wish I could be as sure as Gaiman is. I wonder if we're not just swapping out the old gate keepers for new ones, and stricter ones.

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