On Not Treating Bookstores as Temples to False Gods

001Me at the Lori Foster Reader and Author Get Together with Stephanie Collins of Book-A-Holic Anon. She won my Ruby basket in the raffle, so this is the triumphant celebration.

So, I’m going to go a bit eBook ranty today. Those of you sick of hearing about this from me may be excused. It’s Friday, after all, and the middle of June. Go frolic!

What triggered me this time is Stephen King. (Yet again, really. Something about this guy and his attitudes gets under my skin. I know this isn’t a popular position, since everyone seems to regard him as a demi-god who can do no wrong.) He announced in May (yeah, I’ve been brooding about this for a couple of weeks) that his new novel will be available in hardback only.** He retained the digital rights and so there will not be an eBook version soon, if ever. At least, not a legal one.

**UPDATE: I’ve been corrected on this. I read the article wrong and it’s “hard copy” only, not hardback. Apologies!

He said “let people stir their sticks and go to an actual bookstore rather than a digital one.”

Because, you know, those of us reading eBooks do so from sheer laziness. And you can’t buy hardback books online. Oh wait…

So, his ostensible reason is to support Independent Bookstores. I’m sure the fact that he and his publisher and his agent make the most money off a hardback is irrelevant. No, this is about sacred principle people. In fact, one of the bookstore folks quoted in the article said that unfortunately, many people would rather purchase books from their computer or mobile phone, than browse a bookstore. He went on to say, “I’d just as soon not have people buy their books while typing a thank-you note.”

Because buying a book is such a Special Thing that it’s rude to multi-task? Should we perform ritual cleansings first? Perhaps sacrifice a small mammal?

See, what irritates me about this is the underlying assumption that paper is what makes a book valuable and that bookstores should be treated like temples of the book. In fact, when I tweeted about this, someone replied that they had practically worshiped their hometown bookstore.

I get that. I really do. I loved loved loved my hometown bookstores – and my hometown libraries. They were places of refuge and they gave me what I desired most: books.

The thing is, however, that worship was never about the STORE. It was about the STORIES. It makes me think of the whole concept of false gods. There are many parables in religions all over the world of people focusing their prayers on golden idols, instead of on the concept of god. That’s always been the danger of the temple or the church – that the physical housing outstrips the reason for going there in the first place.

I like bookstores and I like paper books, but what’s important to me is the story. The medium of delivery is unimportant to me. I prefer eBooks because I can keep them without my home looking like it should be on Hoarders. I resent the implication that I somehow owe it to The Great Book God to “stir my sticks” and go to a store and buy a story on paper, because that’s somehow holier and more reverent.

I call B.S.

And what this reminds me of is that cray cray interview with Prince in Billboard. (I would have linked to the original article, not Gawker’s summary, but Billboard has it so buried there’s no evidence of the actual article on the direct link. At any rate, Prince spend a lot of time ranting about how his music will never be available digitally and that digital music is a fad that will die away.

I also have a friend from Texas who won’t get a website for her business because she thinks the internet is a fad and will disappear soon.

People don’t like change. I get that.

But let’s be realistic here. It’s not about the stores. It’s not about the paper.

Beware the false idols.

17 Replies to “On Not Treating Bookstores as Temples to False Gods”

  1. So, I really don’t know much about the whole publishing world, but strictly as a reader who lives in a small town with a small library I have learned about so many books that are only available to me digitally. It is rare that I have found any books at my physical library other than big names like Nora Roberts, Danielle Steele, etc, so if I had not bought an e-reader and checked out what was available to me online, how would I ever have learned all about Carina Press books? I read so many of those. Now I can borrow books online via my library and the larger system they are now apart of, but not near as many are available from the authors I have learned about and want to read. Or, how about those that want to try their hand at self-publishing and therefore many times go digital-first? Yes, I do have a Barnes & Noble 15 minutes away from me but I don’t usually go there to just browse for new authors. I do that online and then I can instantly get their books. To me the whole digital world opens up so many opportunities for new writers, too. As you said, it is all about the story. I tend to go for e-books because as someone who is on a budget I like the more inexpensive books and *most* of the time they are. I don’t read SK’s books but if I was going to, I would go to my library first because they are so expensive in the store. Cost of a book has nothing to do with the quality of the story either in my opinion. Just like shoes. It is all how they fit.

    1. Thanks for that eloquent response, Amy! So many readers have discovered my books – all over the world – that I feel like would not have discovered me in a bookstore, even if the books were available on paper. And a lot of us feel that way about the “big box” bookstores like B&N and Borders. Remember how we used to vilify them for not being anywhere as good as the independent booksellers? Many of those bookstores don’t offer the very things we first loved.

      And love the shoe analogy!

  2. First off, Stephen King is only offering this in a paperback, not hardback. I just felt that had to be said, because his reasoning is due to how those types of books were read in the past.

    But I don’t really see how this is any different than someone only putting their book out on Amazon for Kindles. I don’t own a Kindle (don’t want one, either), making that book useless to me. At least on paper, I don’t need a special reader to read it. Only my eyes.

    I get what you’re saying and I understand what Stephen King is doing, too. Doesn’t make it right. I think books should be available in ALL formats, but they aren’t and they probably never will be.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out, Stacy. I checked and you’re right – it is a mass-market paperback. I saw “hard copy” and my brain read “hardback.” My mistake.

      But, while I agree that the ideal is for all books to be available in all formats, I don’t see this as the same as limiting to Kindle Select. (I think that’s what you’re referring to.) To me – and maybe it’s just me – this kind of maneuver contains a certain level of snobbery. That there’s a “right” way to buy and read books. It’s probably fed by my old irritation with bookstore workers who sneered at my interest in romance novels and told me they wouldn’t carry that kind of trash. Maybe it’s not all King, but the comments from the bookstore buyer communicated that attitude, I thought.

      You say at least you don’t need a special reader to read a paper book, but you DO need the actual book. As Amy points out, obtaining paper books isn’t an easy thing for everyone.

      Really you’re right: all books should be available in all formats. Eventually they will be. This nonsense will have to come to an end.

  3. King’s view is so annoying — like you, I ran out of space to store my print books long ago, so ebooks are very handy. I love the ability to be able to search an ebook for a specific passage, and how I can read them at night without a light that will keep my husband away. I am also at that point in my life where I love the ability to increase the font size on my ebooks.

    Ebooks was absolutely essential to my mom who has macular degeneration. Her ipad and ebooks were the only way she could continue to read for years longer than print books would let her. (Now she’s legally blind she’s going to audio books but she misses the experience of reading herself instead of being forced to listen to the narrative’s spin.)

    Don’t get me started on how the used book stores won’t take hardbacks as trade ins anymore, or how hard hardbacks are to hold. Or the extra price, as you mentioned. It makes Mr. King come off as a money grubber…

    1. LOL on the typos, Leah – no biggie. (Though they’d irritate me, too.) But, oh yes, bless those adjustable fonts! I remember scouring the bookstores (the ONLY venue) for large print books for my grandmother. They only printed some books that way and she wanted to read romance novels (of course), which were even more scarce. I do NOT miss those bad old days!

  4. Oh and did I mention that my Canadian bookstore doesn’t stock a lot of American paperbacks? That many times the only way I can buy them is as a digital?

    (and just noticed several typos in the above–“away” should be awake … and “ebooks was absolutely” of course should be “were”)

  5. I still like brick-and-mortar bookstores and libraries for the browsing experience. Sites like Amazon are great when you’re looking for something similar to what you typically read, but are a bit harder if you want to browse across multiple genres and discover something that you wouldn’t normally click on. In a traditional bookstore, I’m more likely to pick up a random book with an interesting cover. Most of the books that I purchase are from local independent bookstores.

    Oh, and I like to read in the bathtub, and electronics and water don’t mix particularly well. A paper book will dry if I accidentally drop it, an e-reader not so much.

    At the same time, I love my Kindle, and I do discover a lot of great authors through it. I enjoy the portability and the knowledge that when I read a great book that’s a part of the series, I can start the sequels immediately. I wish that King would have allowed a digital version of his book, because e-books vs. print books doesn’t have to be a zero sum kind of deal. I see the two being complementary.

    1. I miss that about the b&m stores, too, Grace. Though it very much depended on the store, whether I found books that interested me. I’ve been in a new town for several years and haven’t really “clicked” with any of the stores here, alas. Maybe I need to try again. I’ll have paper books next year, so I should probably invest.

      I read my Kindle in the bathtub – I just don’t drop it. 😉

      LOVE being able to start sequels immediately! It’s the best thing for a book-lover, ever! But yes, I agree, it does not have to be a zero sum deal. If you’re having to manipulate people into a particular course of action, then there’s something wrong.

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