FINDING NEW VOICES
DEFINING NEW GENRES
As a publisher and an avid reader I continue my internal debate on ebooks. As a publisher I recognise their importance to the industry, creating growth, developing new markets, encouraging new readers. But as a reader, as a lover of books, I still find my e-reader cold, uninvolved and purely functional, a practical way to combat the commute.
Earlier this year Jonathan Franzen spoke of his fear that ebooks will have a detrimental effect on the world – and his belief that serious readers will always prefer print editions:
“Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that’s reassuring,” said Franzen.
“Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough. For serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience”.
I have some empathy with this view. Since buying my kindle in the first month of release I’ve read approximately 500 books on it, virtually all novels. Of those very few have struck an emotional chord with me – they’ve been read, filed, and in many cases forgotten. And it’s not like they’re bad books, but it’s almost as if all the words have blended into one huge piece of fiction – once you open them on the kindle they lose a lot of their identity.
Every day I see my favourite books. They’re on various shelves around my home. My copy of Golding’s The Spire is battered, bruised and chock full of my scribbles from when I first read it 30 years ago as a teenager – and I’d be distraught if I ever lost it. I come back to the book time and again, not even to read it, just to reconnect. And that’s very hard to do with an ebook – the words can be extraordinary but the work loses some of its completeness for me.
Maybe I’m just an old romantic – or find myself subconsciously and very passively bucking a little against the ebook trend. But don’t get me wrong, ebooks are astonishing, and the growth of ebooks has led me to try not only new authors but also whole new genres. It’s made publishing a more competitive, innovative and opportunistic industry, and the world of words has opened to a whole new group of authors and readers – and that’s got to be applauded.
And of course as a publisher the books I publish will appear as ebooks and in as many channels as possible – I’ll always want to give readers the content they want in the format they want it. The emphasis though will still be on the hard copies, on getting it into readers hands and luxuriating in that thrill of launching a brand new book into the market. And while the anonymous e-readers are here to stay, there will never be a better sight for author and publisher than seeing someone reading their latest book.