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Paper or Digital?

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From James O’Hearn…

I still buy paper books…indeed I find myself drawn to the enormous Kinokuniya Book World in the Dubai Mall every time I pass by, and the new cherry wood writing desk I got for myself when we moved to a new flat is already a bit overfull with paperbacks.

This summer I’ve been thumbing through Aarvind Adiga, Stephen King, Joe Abercrombie, Diana Gabaldon, and a few more, and while I still enjoy the tactile sensation provided by these books, the rolling from side to side on the bed, trying to get the light to hit the page just right, and all the other rituals associated with paper books, when I finish the last page, my mood changes. Why? Because when I am done, I have this book, this now useless lump of paper and glue, which no longer holds any wonder and surprise for me, and has become merely another object always getting in my way.

I could lend these books to colleagues or friends, but too few of them read, and only one (that I know of) will read fiction from time to time. So that’s not an option. I also can’t throw them away. I’m physically able to, but can’t bring myself to, can’t overcome a lifetime of conditioning where books were sacred objects, to be treated with respect. So that’s out. I could sell then to the used book store, but in these economic times, I’m lucky to get 5 cents on the dollar on the deal, and end up losing money on the deal when I factor in the cost of gas. So forget that.

What to do?

I have donated books to the library from time to time, but when I learned that not one donation I’d given had ever been read or even checked out a single time, it felt really depressing. I’ll still keep donating my books when I am done, because I just don’t want them cluttering up my place for no good reason. But it is hardly the ideal.

With my e-books, I can delete them when I am done, with no compunction whatsoever. When I am done, and I’ve gotten my money’s worth, I can trash the file and go on to the next file with no fuss, and no muss.

The only thing that really keeps my from going fully into e-books is that I can’t get a lot of my favorite authors easily. I can’t buy Kindle books from out here, so I am left with either MobiPocket books for my Nokia (or titles from Fictionwise or Gutenberg), or buying from Kobobooks or iBooks for my iPod Touch. They have a good sized list of authors, but it is nowhere near comprehensive, and backlists are really wanting.

Worse… the prices are still way too high for new release fiction. I understand that hardcovers cost a lot to produce, which factored into that original pricing, but I can go see a movie for $10, a movie that cost $100 Million to make, yet a novel that only really cost the publisher pocket change and the time it took for the writer to hide from the world and pound it out does not seem like it is worth $27 to $40 when the cost of distribution and publishing is essentially zero.

Perhaps we’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.

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