Thursday, September 09, 2010

What book publishers can learn from music, among other things.

What book publishers can learn from music, among other things.

It has been taking me forever to get through Roberto Bolaño's 2666. I bought the hardcover quite a while back and I've been reading it in fits and starts. Recently I decided the time had come to just focus on finishing it so I've been reading it at home and bringing it to work with me so I can read it during the commute.

I've discovered one reason I've probably been dragging with this particular book is because it is huge. And I don't mean too long, I mean the hardcover version I bought is just not the easiest thing to tote around. That's when I began to think, wouldn't it be awesome if with every hardcover (or physical copy) of a book you got a digital version as well? That was I can still buy my beloved hardcovers and read them at home (or in a nearby park or, obviously, at the beach) but I don't have to lug them to and from work (or on business trips or to a party so I have something to read on the bus) all the time!

I griped about this to some friends and most were of the opinion the publishing industry doesn't do this because it would only spur rampant pirating. Now this is bullshit. First of all, there already IS rampant pirating of digital books from what I can tell. Second, publishers could actually learn from the music industry (?!) through the rising sales of vinyl LPs. I know one factor that has been fattening my vinyl collection is the fact that almost all records also come with digital copies of the album so I can enjoy the album at home or on the go. THIS is how you draw in longtime consumers like myself AND entice a generation that doesn't have the same need/love of physical media to consume your wares. Third, by depriving honest physical books buyers the chance to also obtain a digital copy of their purchase, publishers are placing consumers in an ethical quandary; one, it appears, the publishers are on the losing side of, as was opined in a recent NYT column:

An illegal download is — to use an ugly word — illegal. But in this case, it is not unethical. Author and publisher are entitled to be paid for their work, and by purchasing the hardcover, you did so. Your subsequent downloading is akin to buying a CD, then copying it to your iPod.

Buying a book or a piece of music should be regarded as a license to enjoy it on any platform. Sadly, the anachronistic conventions of bookselling and copyright law lag the technology. Thus you’ve violated the publishing company’s legal right to control the distribution of its intellectual property, but you’ve done no harm or so little as to meet my threshold of acceptability.
Finally, as I found in the case of the current Bolaño tome when I finally decided to cave and just BUY a fucking eBook version for the commute no matter how much it vexed me to buy the same thing twice, some popular books simply don't exist in digital form ... because the publishers fear they will be pirated.*

So, dear publishers, do what's right and realize if folks like me are still going to plonk down hard earned cash for physical copies of your wares you're going to heave to get with the times. What's sad is that "getting with the times" means learning something from vinyl records and an industry that's in even worse shape than you are!

*Which reminds me, anyone know where I can safely download a digital copy of the book?


Mich said...

I'd be down with this. I think toting around that hardcover copy of Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest is what's been killing my lower back!

Copper Sky Development said...

That's a really good idea. I know that some of the best books I have are also relegated to home reading since I'm rarely willing to cart it around like an unused steam iron for the 10 minutes I might be able to read it.

rachelle said...

Mich - A couple months ago my trainer was having me do some weight training and I had to stop.. a few weeks in a row.. because for some reason my left thumb and thumb palm (i dont know what that area is called) was so sore! I had no idea what from. My trainer thought maybe it was something ergo at work that wasn't right. One day it dawned on me that on the train I was often holding onto something with my right hand and holding the hardcover version of Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest in my left hand with my hand behind the book and my thumb around the front. Yeh, that's why my hand hurt! I had a book injury that limited my workout at the gym! What a nerdy way to hurt yourself. It was worth it, though. That was a great series.