Me 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.
I love bookstores. And libraries.
I suspect all writers do, because we all started out as readers. My mom would take me to the library every Wednesday afternoon where I was allowed to check out five books at a time. (My mother’s rule, not the library’s.) I would have to make those five books last all week. Wednesdays became my favorite day of the week.
Then I started getting an allowance and was old enough to go to the mall by myself and I discovered bookstores. When you could buy the book and keep it forever and read it as often as liked, at least until it fell into tatters. Not that I didn’t have lots of books, but now I could have the ones I picked out for myself.
Even better, the bookstore people were as smart as the librarians, but they could talk without whispering and could show you new authors you’d never heard of!
Everywhere I visited or lived, I would check out the local bookstore. It was part of the character of a place for me. I liked talking to bookstore people. When I began to write, and my own book was published, the independent bookstore people were the ones I turned to. My favorite local store sponsored my book launch party.
All of this is on my mind because Neil Gaiman referred to this blog post of his via Twitter.
Now, if you’re like me, you’ll want me to just tell you what it says so you don’t have to go read it. Though it’s an interesting read.
Basically an independent bookseller is castigating Gaiman for a free Harper-Collins download and accuses Gaiman of not caring about the survival of booksellers. Which Gaiman refutes. He also says, and this is what’s interesting to me:
My local bookshop (now deceased) was physically arranged so that finding a book and then buying it was harder than walking around around the shop and going back out again; the bookseller mostly sat at the cash register in the middle of the shop playing online chess, and he tended to be unhelpful, vaguely grumpy and to treat people who wanted to buy things as nuisances (he was nice to me, because I was me, but still); he didn’t stock paperback bestsellers because “people could always go to Wal-Mart for those” and when the she shop closed its doors the final time they put up a note on the door saying that it was Amazon.com that had driven them out of business, when it manifestly wasn’t — it seemed to me that they didn’t work to entice people into the bookshop (which is what those paperback bestsellers were for), and didn’t give them a pleasant experience when they were there…
I knew exactly what Gaiman’s referring to. David and I even spent time helping a young, enthusiastic manager of a local store rearrange the shelves to prevent this exact situation. The owner for time out of mind, put the shelves back the way they had always been.
The young, enthusiastic manager was terrific at selling books. She learned me and what I liked. She became like my crack dealer, luring me to the shop with books I couldn’t resist. She would call or email me and say “Such and so author has a new book out next week — I knew you’d want it, so I put it on order.” And, of course, I couldn’t resist. She passed me review copies of new books to read and give my opinion on. She asked customers who were fans of particular genres to set up recommended reads tables. When I did my taxes, I noticed that a huge chuck of my book purchases went to that store.
Of course she didn’t last. And now the owner has everything back the way it always was, the recommended reads are only “literary” ones and I stopped buying books there. Amazon was faster, easier and more fun.
What I’m thinking happened is this: back when I discovered bookstores, those were the only places to buy books. I was happy to get whatever they threw my way. Then came the BIG bookstores and they were like the candyland paradise in Charlie and Chocolate Factory — everywhere you stepped, you could simply pluck a wonderful book off the shelf. Then came Amazon, where you could access paradise without leaving your house.
I love bookstores. Always will. But the bookstores no longer always give me what I want. I don’t think the solution is for them to try to change me.