Welcome all dreamers, fantasists, bibliophiles, and romantics. Join me Mondays and Fridays for speculation about other worlds, exploration of the human heart and soul in fiction and fact, sojourns in history and science, advice and tidbits in the realms of story, and thoughts on everything in between...

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Future of eBooks

Over the past year, I’ve heard a lot of arguments over the impact of eBooks on the fiction market. Some embrace them as a path to greater opportunity while others seem to resist their existence with every ounce of effort they can muster. The question has risen again and again, what impact will eBooks have on the market? Will they destroy literature as we know it?

My husband, who’s currently taking a class on the evolution of books, recently mentioned a curious fact that might shed some light on this quandary. Apparently, when the printing press came into popularity, scholars and the literate public decried it as the death of manuscript culture and production. It would destroy literature! The attitude was much as it is today regarding the emergence of eBooks. And to me, this is a very encouraging fact.

From the presence of books in our own lives, we know that the printing press did not destroy literature. We know it expanded the field and accomplished fantastic feats by allowing books into corners of life that would never have accessed them otherwise. I think that electronic books will ultimately develop in much the same way. Yes, they allow some books that are of poor quality to enter the market unchecked. But already many readers know this and so choose their purchases carefully. Yes, eBooks have resulted in an explosion of stories now available to a huge audience with few, if any, boundaries. But given a little time for the market to settle and find its equilibrium, I think we’ll find eBooks will follow much the same path that print books followed centuries before. They will expand literature and will find gatekeepers and markers to indicate their relative quality. They will not destroy fiction as much as grow and alter it, and while, like the manuscript, we may think back fondly on the time when print dominated the world, we will learn to fully appreciate the advantages of eBooks as our ancestors learned to appreciate print.

What are your thoughts regarding the eBook revolution?

1 comment:

  1. I recently read a book called Steven Pinker called "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined." It's about the history of violence, and one very interesting factoid is that one of the biggest drops in violence happened during the Age of the Enlightenment, which was right about the time the printing press had made novels available to the masses. He theorizes that it was reading that helped people to understand the plights of people unlike themselves, expanding their circle of empathy, and call for humanitarian reforms.

    I think the birth of the internet is an event of similar significance, because it facilitates very quick communication and rapid mobilization of the common people against abuses by those in power. I've seen it in action several times just this year.

    I don't think the ebook revolution will be quite as big a deal as those two, but it's significant as well, because it breaks the control the "big 6" once had on the market. Now stories that couldn't be published because they weren't sufficiently mass market can find their niche audiences, and we may see a greater variety of ideas expressed in modern fiction. I think that's a good thing.