Digital evangelism and the death of print

bible-600There is a good article on ebooks by Molly Flatt in today’s edition of The Memo. Titled “The ebook is dead, long live the ebook.” the article uses an interview with Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn to solidly make the point that ebooks are alive and well. It is a fascinating read.

As I sat down to do a write-up on the article, I was distracted by the following paragraph:

What’s more, he refuses to toe the digital evangelist’s line about the death of print. What we’re seeing, he believes, is the healthy recalibration of a truly hybrid industry.

I have to admit, I was a little taken aback. The death of print? Who asked for that?

As someone who passionately advocates for ebooks and digital access, I certainly consider myself a digital evangelist, but advocating for the death of print is another thing altogether. That sounds like more of a digital militant thing, IMHO. If that’s what it means, I evidently missed an important memo.

Most early adopters are pretty passionate (and evangelical to a degree) about e-reading. In the early days of the Kindle, most people that many early adopters encountered had never seen an e-reader. Yes, they existed, but they certainly were not widespread or mainstream. Most of us got very good at explaining both the mechanics of e-readers and the benefits of reading ebooks. For many of us, the introduction of ebooks was a life-altering experience and the analogy to a religious experience is probably not far off. I have  written here about how getting a Kindle changed my life.

But many of us also found that there was a dark side to having an e-reader. You didn’t own the books you purchased. You only had a license to use them and that license could be taken away (Google Amazon and 1984 to see what I mean). You can’t convert them to other formats or use them on other devices. You can’t sell your ebooks, many of them can not even be loaned.

Many titles were not available as ebooks at all. The ebook for a new release might not be released for months after the print version (a practice called windowing). And good luck trying to get all the titles in a series or the complete backlist from an author – it probably wouldn’t happen. And the quality?  Many of the first ebooks were horribly formated and filled with OCR scanning errors.  Publishers threw an OCR file together, called it an ebook and told customers that we were stealing them at the $9.99 price tag that they thought was too cheap.

Now, I could go on and on about agency pricing, price fixing, terms like “paperback ebook pricing” and “hardcover ebook pricing” and so on…. But I think you get my drift. If you read this blog, you’ve heard me say it all before. It all boils down to availability, accessibility, quality and a price that in commensurate with the rights included with the ebooks we purchase.

Are digital evangelists vocal about what they want? Sure they are, in the same way that any other group of passionate hobbyists are vocal about what they are trying to change. It is pretty galling to be asked to pay more for an ebook than a physical copy would cost and not even have the same usage rights.

But do notice that the death of print is not even on the list. Please don’t confuse publishers’ fears with what customers want.

First and foremost, at least as people who read ebooks are concerned, we are readers. Really dedicated readers. That means we love books. I still have a houseful, even though I haven’t read a paper one in years. No body wants to kill off print, even if we don’t want to read it. And some people do read both.

But, ultimately, we just want the option to read what we want, in the format of our choice, when we want it,and at a fair price. We don’t want to be told that we are miserly or cheap because we don’t think that the convenience of the ebook format is worth the premium price that publishers want to charge.

But a truly hybrid industry that offers fair, healthy pricing for both ebooks and print? Yeah, I could get on board with that.

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