Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Latest E-Book Rant...I Know You Were Waiting.

Those of you that are regular reader here no doubt have noticed that I have issues with e-books. Not any particular e-book, not even with the specific issues of any one software, but with the entire idea.
Yes, I am a dinosaur.
Yes, I am fighting the inevitable.
Perhaps. But I am not alone in my concerns.

Two articles, in the 2/22/2010 Shelf Awareness, focused perhaps my biggest concern. The first, in the New York Review of Books by Jason Epstein, while detailing many of the positives of the digitization of books, his ultimate conclusion is that
“Digital content is fragile. The secure retention, therefore, of physical books safe from electronic meddlers, predators, and the hazards of electronic storage is essential. Amazon's recent arbitrary deletion of Orwell's 1984 at its publisher's request from Kindle users who had downloaded it suggests the ease with which files can be deleted without warning or permission, an inescapable hazard of electronic distribution.”
While he admit his own bias toward printed books...and I have to say I started to fall in love with Mr. Epstein when he talked about his floor to ceiling books...he feels confident that no matter what the positive factors of e-books, the importance of the printed word will remain strong.
“The huge, worldwide market for digital content, however, is not a fantasy. It will be very large, very diverse, and very surprising: its cultural impact cannot be imagined. E-books will be a significant factor in this uncertain future, but actual books printed and bound will continue to be the irreplaceable repository of our collective wisdom.”
From your mouth to God's ear Mr. Epstein, because it is that fragile, changeable aspect of e-books that concerns me the most.

We all are aware of the Amazon event he references, when a book was removed by the company from the e-readers of people, without their permission or knowledge. There was an uproar. The company promised not to do it again. Not that they can't, but that they won't. And certainly we can all trust Amazon...right?
But what of books being changed, sections deleted or certain alterations made, by hackers, cyber-trouble makers...or say, in certain countries, by people in power, as acts of censorship?

The second article, referenced right below Mr. Epsteins, is from the NY Times, and is entitled Textbooks That Professors Can Rewrite Digitally
“Macmillan, one of the five largest publishers of trade books and textbooks, is introducing software called DynamicBooks, which will allow college instructors to edit digital editions of textbooks and customize them for their individual classes.
Professors will be able to reorganize or delete chapters; upload course syllabuses, notes, videos, pictures and graphs; and perhaps most notably, rewrite or delete individual paragraphs, equations or illustrations.”
Ok, so I, the author, write a textbook and it is published...and then any professor out there can make whatever change she or he wants, so that it agrees with what the professor or the school or whoever thinks? Oh my, am I the only one to find this unbelievable and a totally terrible idea. So, how far is it from a little rearranging of a textbook to some teacher or school board removing certain words from Huck Finn that they find offensive or any other sort of censorship. Will there be thousands of 'versions' of "Of Mice and Men" floating around some day? Oh, that will never happen, you might say. Well I say, first we will make it possible and then someone, somewhere in the world, will do it. And perhaps worst, if there are no more books, real books to compare it to, how will be ever know?

Oh don't worry, I have heard people say, 'There will always be printed books'. Really? Well, I too am biased and I sincerely hope so. But I also know publishing is a business and it is cheaper, in so many ways, to 'publish' an e-book. And cheaper means they make more profit. So their motivation would be....what? No, it will not happen tomorrow. Books that exist today will continue to be out there in circulation for many years. But what will the future of books, for future generations, be?


  1. Truly a scary thought. I share your concerns.

  2. If you are a dinosaur, then I'm one too. When it comes to textbooks, that's where I am the most frightened for my future grandchildren, those not yet born. It may be happening with college texts now, but how long before it reaches elementary schoolexts? The NY Times (2/14) carried an article about how the Texas Board of Education, loaded with far right conservatives, is influencing textbooks around the country. They have a strong passion to accomplish their goal. E-textbooks would be an answer to their prayers. I don't think we are worrying for nothing.

    Here's the link for the article I mentioned: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/magazine/14texbooks-t.html?pagewanted=1&th&emc=th

  3. Do I need to send you another "Kindle My Heart" video???

  4. Sandy, love can make you blind to the truth. The truth of the Evil Kindle...

  5. I'm not surprised Amazon would delete a book from the Kindle without notice because Amazon itself is a conservative enterprise. Back in the day when I submitted reviews to them, they would massively edit out words like "homosexuality" and anything that carries a sexual innuendo and replacing them by ". . ."

    I am aware of the software that allows us to change the textbook. I'm still all for a reader that compiles with all the short stories, essays, novellas that I want the students to read.

  6. good points on both sides

    I'm sure glad we live in the day and age when we can have both types of media.

  7. "...the author, write[s] a textbook and it is published...and then any professor out there can make whatever change she or he wants, so that it agrees with what the professor or the school or whoever thinks?"

    This bothers me because the author's name will still be on the cover, but it is no longer the author's work. What if the edits change the meaning or intent of the piece? What if it changes it so much that it completely ignores the research behind the work? Is the revised work then attributed to the original author (who deserves credit for the research they did, but should not be held accountable for a faulty conclusion interjected by the professor), or the professor (who merely picked the book and added a few lines)? I don't like this at all. If a textbook doesn't fit what you want to teach, then don't use it. Pick a different one.

    Also, I'm resisting the eBook craze, too. My mother recently was given a Kindle for a gift, and she loves it, but I prefer the smell and feel of paper between my fingers, and the permanence of the printed word.

  8. i found it funny that the professor they interviewed for the article said he would be very upset if his work were edited to take one particular point of view..but seemed not that concerned with the whole idea.

  9. I was just thinking to myself: "Caite sure hasn't had a rant about ebooks in a while" and then voila! Here it is!! : )

  10. ah well. I love ebooks--why? Because it was Amazon who opened the door to publish my books. Without their effort, the door would still be closed to me.

    Can changes be made to my text? Possibly. But I spend a lot less time worrying about that and more time being happy that I'm finally able to get my work out there.

    I don't belittle your concerns, but I'm thrilled to be living my dream. So despite all the growing pains with ebooks, for me it spelled opportunity.

    I still read paperbooks, but I also read ebooks now (I generally use Amazon's free Kindle for PC application.) I don't begrudge you your...what did you call it? Dinosaur state?

    I hope there is room for both.



  11. that textbook thing is insane! Surely they can pass some sort of law the same way they did so you couldn't clean up movies. ;)

  12. Amy, I can see the lawyers rubbing their hands together in glee over all this.

    Maria, no doubt it will benefit any writers that want to get their books published...but it doesn't get them read or purchased. doubtless the publishing business is undergoing a huge change ahead..I just don't want the readers..or writers to suffer.


please speak up, I LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!!