In the past I’ve been quite dismissive of e-readers. Theoretically, I should have been exited from the start – an infinite library packed into a device the size of a slim volume of poetry. But where was the rustle of turning pages, the smell of yellowing paper, the battered cardboard covers? What about bookshelves? You can’t nose through somebody else’s Kindle without looking downright rude. You can’t line a wall with all your favourite ebooks. What about the familiar weight of your favourite novel as you take it down from the shelf for another go? And I can’t help but feel like reaching the end or warandpiece.doc or ulysess.txt won’t be as satisfying as finding that last half page of text in a heavy tome. Somehow, the paper adds to the poetry.
I still think all of this is true. But here I am, trying to decide whether I can afford to shell out for an e-reader from my next payslip (actually, I’m secretly hoping I might have won one, but that’s another story). Why? Because the rise of e-publishing represents what is probably the biggest change in the way books are produced since the printing press; as a wannabe writer, I can’t afford to let get left behind because of my own Luddite tendencies.
And it really has opened up a great number of exciting possibilities in the publishing world. The serialized novel has returned, awaiting the possibilities of our post-modern world. Almost anybody can make their work available to the entire world, free of charge (although they might later come to regret unleashing a poorly edited and proof read debut). A greater number of books are available to a greater number of people than ever before. And (most importantly), lower production costs mean that, in theory, writers could be paid more. I rub my hands together greedily in expectation of the great mounds of cash that will surely follow.
Obviously, e-publishing will work better for some things than for others. It’s perfect for magazines, as it keeps production costs down and helps prevent the mounds of paper which threatens to fill the living rooms of even the most casual reader, but for me at least, it will still never replace the physicality of a good perfect-bound novel. There are things about which I am sceptical. The wave of self-publishing is exciting, but it will make it more difficult to good work to get noticed, just as it could be more difficult for new novelists to find their feet without the support of a good editor. Perhaps the plethora of creative writing will start to fill that role. I am wary of the ‘multimedia novel’ which some are predicting; video clips and sound files just seem a little gimmicky for me. Still, these are exciting times to write in. I can no longer pretend that e-books are a passing phase – it’s time to jump in and see what happens.
Watch this space.