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“First fiction reading off an iPad” kicks off enthusiastic discussion of e-books

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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ebook readerIf a discussion Monday at a Manhattan bookstore is any indication, book publishers and sellers find e-books threatening, but writers, feeling generally abused for decades by publishers, are gleeful over their newfound digital access to readers—be that via the Web, iPads, e-book readers, podcasts or cell phones.

The event at McNally Jackson bookstore started with two authors reading some of their short fiction, including Jim Hanas who used his iPad to read from some of his work for the Significant Objects Project.

"First fiction reading off an iPad ever?" tweeted Brian Joseph Davis, managing editor and co-founder of Joyland Fiction, a site that publishes short fiction. Davis also presented material from his book Ronald Reagan: My Father at the event.

In fact, Hanas’s iPad drew some attention as the audience gathered. I held out my Kindle for a weight comparison. A McNally Jackson employee teased, "You openly wave that thing around here?" I guiltily purchased a book before leaving.

Today, an e-book is considered a "deprecated version" of a print book, said Hanas, author of Cassingle, an e-book collection of short stories that originally appeared in McSweeney’s, Fence and Twelve Stories. But soon, the e-book will be the "first version," too, and "having it first" is the value that book buyers have always prioritized over the material a book is made out of. "Things that are really good, those will be sold in a store like this," he said, referring to print books at McNally Jackson.

Short fiction in particular is "native to the Internet," Davis said.

For any length of work, digital formats are being embraced by many writers, who weren’t getting paid much for their printed work anyhow and were fools if they were in it for the money. Hanas, who has been published in several respected journals, says he has been paid a total of $250 in 10 years for this body of work. Besides, he said, if you give a writer a choice between $10,000 and 10,000 readers, the writer will always choose the latter.

So if you’re talking about a new business model for publishing the written word, from the perspective of many writers, that would be lovely.

During the discussion, Richard Nash, former editorial director of Soft Skull Press from 2001 to 2007, heralded the e-book for its potential to "end the endless shitification of the book." He said Soft Skull’s first books were printed on 55-pound paper. By 2004, they were printed on 50-pound paper. And in 2009, they were printed on 45-pound paper, which turns yellow within weeks if exposed to excessive sunlight.

"You cannot tell me that that is better than a pdf," Nash said. Digital formats free books from the burden of being a mass-market product, he pointed out, and restores them to a pre-industrial state, that of a "tribal fetish."

Publishing houses today do far too little to connect writers with readers, Nash said, something that digital formats can enable.

"Telling stories creates value and has created value for an enormous amount of human history," he said. "How do we unlock that value?" Degree and non-degree training programs for writers are one way, he suggested.

Publishing books is a "tiny industry perched atop a massive hobby," he said, referring to writing and reading. It’s still a hobby today because people at the top of the publishing industry are "obsessed with controlling access to the hobby," he said. "How do we come up with a new business model for the hobby? Maybe the hobby is part of that business model."

Image: iStockPhoto

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  1. 1. jeckert 12:44 am 04/7/2010

    Please don’t confuse the printing industry, a respected craft, with publishers. Also, the weight of paper is not as important as the grade.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Robin Lloyd 12:07 pm 04/7/2010

    Good point, jeckert. I’ve changed that in the 1st paragraph.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Spiff 3:05 pm 04/7/2010

    And are all these tree-saving electronic books going to be free with every i-Pad? Not a very informative article.
    Spiff

    Link to this
  4. 4. Quinn the Eskimo 2:02 am 04/8/2010

    Like Apple love Jobs / Hate Jobs. Can’t stand Apple? IT DOESN’T MATTER!!!

    iPad, a success or not, will change this paradigm too. Like the iPod irrevocably alter our use of music; as the iPhone entered into a mature and saturated smart phone market, we learned we needed more of them. Lots more.

    We even hate the exclusive iPhone carrier; at&t (the lesser).

    iPad will have 50 competitors by the end of the year. Yet, we will wonder, as we do with Androids, Zunes, and even Dells, why don’t the copiers "get it?"

    When you look at an iPad, if you don’t want to touch it, if you don’t want to pick one up, and having picked one up, you still don’t want to buy one–CHECK YOUR PULSE. You may well be dead.

    Publishing on paper is dying. Check the news! 1/3 of all reporters have been laid off in the past 5 years. Column inches are an endangered species–everywhere in the world.

    It’s the single device, iPad, that will lead the way to saving Publishing.

    Will content be FREE? Not all of it. But you won’t be FORCED to buy anything you don’t want.

    Me? I’ll have an iPad.

    Oh, the HP Slate? One word: Windows. Another? Okay; DUH.

    Link to this
  5. 5. JesseJ 12:03 pm 04/8/2010

    The Horse and Buggy has been replaced, except for Amish, etc., with the Auto. Whether you like that one or not, it is the way of the world, and the outcome is inevitable.

    JesseJ.

    Link to this
  6. 6. steveonedoor 9:46 am 05/2/2010

    SPIFF: A worker is worthy of his wages, and even an ox is allowed to graze on the fallen grain as he moves the grindstone. Why should writers be required to give away their materials? BUT when I can make $2 selling a bok for $20 thru a paper press, or $3 selling a book for $4 on ePub, I’ll choose the ePub and both writer and reader win big.

    Link to this
  7. 7. steveonedoor 9:47 am 05/2/2010

    SPIFF: A worker is worthy of his wages, and even an ox is allowed to graze on the fallen grain as he moves the grindstone. Why should writers be required to give away their materials? BUT when I can make $2 selling a bok for $20 thru a paper press, or $3 selling a book for $4 on ePub, I’ll choose the ePub and both writer and reader win big.

    Link to this
  8. 8. hello 9:10 am 09/15/2010

    hi, good stuff to share about <a href="http://www.ipad-books-download.com/">ipad books</a>. :)

    Link to this

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