Monday, April 18, 2011

Will Technology De-value Our Books?

As I was thumbing through my usual blog quest and twitter scan today, dystopian visions of a Brave New World sort began to cloud my writerly fantasies of what the future will hold not only for me and my books, but for books in general.  Several cyber acquaintances are exploring the ramifications of the electronic world of publishing.  I'm not pronouncing the end of literary days or anything, but I do wonder.  No matter what lay ahead in technology, story telling and books will endure, but will they hold the same value? Or will it simply become our dose of soma, minus the euphoria?  Something to maintain the status quo, fill a void but only with white noise?

Nathan Bransford's post looks at the economic philosophies that drive market evolution and applies them to the publishing world, namely to the bargain ebook phenomenon.  While his post is hopeful, it does leave me wondering if books will be as valuable to our grandchildren as they are to us.  I won't rehash the whole doomsday prediction of the end of paper books, but as technology takes us in a new direction, will books become no more than a disposable blip on the kindle/ipad/computer screen?  I tend to agree with Nathan that quality will always find its way out and the everyman march to mediocre is a myth. (I pray!)

I admit—I'm a book junky.  I hoard them, spend money I don't have on them, stockpile more than I can possibly read, and lie there and inhale the sent of paper and ink and glue as if it were crack.  I pet their tattered bindings and talk to them when we're alone.  Kind of pathetic, I know.  But to me, books are not only my drug, they are my religion, my family, my consolation.

Okay, so ebooks are going to take over the world and relegate print matter to back room "read-easies" or the Antiques Road Show or the antiquities section of the Smithsonian along with the mummies and the salvaged remains of the Titannic.  Let's say that ebooks do balance the market out and maintain the integrity of good reading.  What happens to those oh-so-precious-and-valuable signed editions?

Someone has thought of that.  Autography will allow an author to sign her ebook for a fan and digitize that personal touch for posterity. (Pardon the ironic smile)  So...what will a signed electronic edition of J.K. Rowling's next book be worth in 50 years?  Will electronic signatures be pirated and distributed en masse with a single click?  What would an e-signature be worth, then?  How is it authenticated?  Or does that point simply become moot because that sense of iconic wonder, of religious fervor, of hero-worshipping awe has simply faded away into the everyday blip of silicon-induced complacency?

I wonder...


  1. Great post! I don't worry too much about signed books or the value of my literature in terms of money. Anything that I've cared enough to have signed are things I'm not likely to sell anyway. To me, it wouldn't be the value of the signature, but rather the value of the experience.

    Having said that, somehow having an ebook signed feels ridiculous to me, yet I can't exactly say what the difference is! I love ebooks, but an e-signature? Feels about as fulfilling as an e-sandwich to me.

  2. I'm with you Craig. One of the best things about going to a book signing is that experience of meeting the author and making a personal connection, even if it's only for a moment.

    From the author's perspective, I wouldn't miss an opportunity to meet my readers face to face and share that time with them. That's the value in it, truly.


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