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Are books dead? An interesting debate

Michelle
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Joined: May 10 2001

Arrrrr!


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Michelle
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Joined: May 10 2001

This is a really interesting debate.

This guy says books are dead, and so is making a living from writing:

Quote:
Will books, as we know them, come to an end? Yes, absolutely, within 25 years the digital revolution will bring about the end of paper books. But more importantly, ebooks and e-publishing will mean the end of "the writer" as a profession. Ebooks, in the future, will be written by first-timers, by teams, by speciality subject enthusiasts and by those who were already established in the era of the paper book. The digital revolution will not emancipate writers or open up a new era of creativity, it will mean that writers offer up their work for next to nothing or for free. Writing, as a profession, will cease to exist.

This guy says that, yes, printed books are dead, but that the death of writing as a profession is baloney:

Quote:
Disregarding his flat-out wrong assumption that most artists earn living wages in the first place, the digital revolution has no doubt hurt industries unprepared for it. That can be proven.

It is also proven that those prepared for it (Apple, Microsoft) have found the profits that the old guard lost. But has digital really hurt artists? Morrison points to other industries. Let's see if he makes any sense.

First of all, I'm not going to comment when Morrison brings up the piracy meme, which he does many times, except to say that:

THERE HAS NOT BEEN A SINGLE REPUTABLE STUDY SHOWING PIRACY HURTS THE ARTIST.

Repeating the fairy-tale that piracy hurts writers is lazy researching.

Quote:
By abandoning publishers, many authors are reaching more fans and making more money than ever before. Many authors are getting readers for the very first time, because they were excluded from the legacy industry. The pie is getting bigger, soon to be worldwide, and we can all get a slice.

I like free content. Some of my writing is available for free, by my choice. I'm also widely pirated in both ebook and audio. Free exists right now, and it hasn't hurt me, or the artists who are working to understand this digital revolution rather than fear it.

Quote:
"As we grow increasingly disillusioned with quick-fix consumerism, we may want to consider an option which exists in many non-digital industries: quite simply, demanding that writers get paid a living wage for their work."

What does this even fucking mean? Do I write my state senator? Do I get an online petition going? Do I contact every person who ever sent me fanmail and demand more money from them?

I think not. Instead, I'll just keep writing ebooks, selling them for cheap, and getting rich.

Read both articles fully - they'll take you maybe 10-15 minutes and it's a very interesting debate.


radiorahim
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Joined: Jun 17 2002

Science fiction writer and internet freedom activist Cory Doctorow makes the text of all of his books freely downloadable.   In fact he encourages his fans to create versions in various formats (saves him from having to do it) and he hosts them on his site.  He just won't host files created using formats that impose Digital Restrictions Managment (DRM).

Here's a sample


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

Yes I have heard that before.

I also heard that computers would mean a saving in paper, and that CDs would kill vinyl.

While it remains to be seen, I'll wait until a new trend becomes more widespred - that  of companies shutting off their service, leaving kindle users high and dry without the text they paid for.

http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/17/some-e-books-are-more-equal-th...

There is a growing list of stories like that if you start searching. As well, there several large publishers want to make the digital text they sell to libraries self-destruct after a few loans:

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/this_library_e-book_will_self-destr...

Never mind that my eyes much prefer the printed page, and some times I like to dog-ear, mark-up and take books camping. Something tells me this technology is more of an improvement for the publishers than for the readers.

 


Unionist
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Joined: Dec 11 2005

Is Doctorow a proponent of open-source rather than free? I think I'll read him anyway... Wink

Thanks for the tip, RR.

 


Michelle
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Joined: May 10 2001

Smith, I have a mental block around going digital with my books too, for similar reasons.  I resent DRM, and the fact that publishers and booksellers charge as much for digital books as print books burns me up.

Reading these two articles are making me question some of the stands I have taken on this issue, however.  I'm not convinced anymore that Amazon (or services like it) are the devil after reading the blog by the indie author (and the many who have commented after it) about how they have actually made more money by self-publishing and selling for way cheap on Amazon than they would have by going through a publishing house.  Some of them just hire editors directly and pay them to edit their work, and then create e-books and sell them, and people pay for them because it's easier to just pay a buck for something than to figure out how to pirate it.

And they're fine with people "pirating" it too because that's just advertising for them.  Not to mention that the more people who read their work, the more popular they'll be.  And people WILL pay for stuff, if the price doesn't feel too outrageous to them.  I would be happy to pay a buck or two for an e-book if I knew the money was going directly to the author (minus whatever small percentage they might have to pay Amazon for hosting it).  That's way more than they would have gotten going the traditional route.

And speaking of that...that goes for music, too.  I remember when I was in my tweens and early teens in the early 80's - I hardly ever bought music albums because they were too expensive.  So I bought "singles" instead, in 45 record format.  And you know what I paid?  In the 80's?  $2 to $2.50 per single.  Think about that - iTunes sells single songs for a buck.  25-30 years later.  $2.50 in the 80's was an investment - it was half my allowance as a young teen! 

And then when records went the way of the do-do, so did the single, and you had to buy $20 CDs instead.  Which, of course, I never did.  I was thrilled when Napster and Limewire came along - I mostly downloaded music I had already bought in two other formats previously.  The blog indie author is right - the recording industry has killed themselves because they charged us outrageous prices and refused to let us buy singles.  So, they got what they deserved - piracy of the stuff they've already made a killing on, and a whole crop of new musicians bypassing them completely and selling their music direct to their fans, and making more money per sale than they would have had they been signed.

I wonder whether the model will change to people self-publishing e-books, and then, if demand warrants it, either self-publishing or being offered publishing by publishing houses in paper format for those who want them that way.

Maybe it's time for me to get an e-reader after all, if only to be able to read some of the e-books written by indie authors who are embracing the new technologies and bypassing traditional publishers altogether.  I don't know.


radiorahim
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Joined: Jun 17 2002

Unionist wrote:

Is Doctorow a proponent of open-source rather than free? I think I'll read him anyway... Wink

Thanks for the tip, RR.

 

Hey, the fact that people are starting to understand the difference between the two ideas is good enough for me Cool

Kinda like the difference between social democracy and socialism Wink...social democrats are not necessarily evil, just that it's a much weaker idea.

 


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

(sorry for the delay , and cross-posting. I was writing this in two parts)

 

As for the predictions, I wouldn't be so hasty.

For one thing, it speaks only to people who have computers, internet and electricity.

Secondly, it ignores that our modern conception of an author is a pretty recent thing. I don't think Shakspeare made a living selling books - but producing plays. Dickens was a serial writer, and also a performer.And many artists survivved through patronage - manly private - and many still do - through private and public.  And even the golden age of such genres as science fiction was not in hardcover, but in the pulp press. Just like early TV, which had an even more openly dependent relationship with advertisers than a lot of TV is now.

And the biggerst unknown is that the whole system of distribution, production and copyright is in a state of flux - or more accurately in a state of war.

Given how we seem to be running through technologies I wouldn't assume this new change is static.

Both articles are very interesting. Where they stop, I think, is in foreseeing the relationship between the public and the artist. Sure, art can be produced in a sweatshop. Musak was supposed to kill creative music too, and I remember when bars stopped booking live bands and brought in canned music in the age of disco. But does that mean art is dead? Because ultimately that is where that equation leads.

All I would say is that we are heading into unknown territory. But I wouldn't  say it ever was easy for artists to make a living. There are plenty enough of them who spent their lives in poverty, or created works despite great financial and technical difficulty - or weren't published until after their death The notion that anything will automatically spell the end of art is, I think more based on our idea of instant gratification than the real world.

.

 


radiorahim
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Joined: Jun 17 2002

"And they're fine with people "pirating" it too because that's just advertising for them"

I love when Stallman talks about so-called "piracy".   He'll say "pirates sink ships...and that's a very bad thing to do"...and go on to say "people don't sink ships with software..." (or books, music, movies etc.) and will explain how we shouldn't think of copying as "piracy" or "theft" as infotainment industry types would like us to.

 


Unionist
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Joined: Dec 11 2005

radiorahim wrote:

... we shouldn't think of copying as "piracy" or "theft" as infotainment industry types would like us to.

 

Right. We should think of it as people volunteering unpaid time to popularize products.

 


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

radiorahim wrote:

"And they're fine with people "pirating" it too because that's just advertising for them"

I love when Stallman talks about so-called "piracy".   He'll say "pirates sink ships...and that's a very bad thing to do"...and go on to say "people don't sink ships with software..." (or books, music, movies etc.) and will explain how we shouldn't think of copying as "piracy" or "theft" as infotainment industry types would like us to.

 

Plus they are on the offensive with this - trying to push law and technology so that you don't actually own a copy of music or writing  that you buy. You aren't allowed to make a copy, you aren't allowed to change format, although CDs don't last as long as books or records do.The piracy argument? They created a lot of that situation by refusing to deal with the new technology and accomodate the market and artists.

And as has been said, not all artists are opposed to free distribution.Most of the real hard attacks in this war have not been made by artists, but by labels and publishers - people who have little to do with the actual creation of the work. I have no problem with artists determining the restrictions that can be placed on their work. That is not the whole picture of what is going on here.

Look at artists having to sue the labels after they held onto the money they won in the Napster settlement.

 


radiorahim
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Joined: Jun 17 2002

Quote:
And as has been said, not all artists are opposed to free distribution.Most of the real hard attacks in this war have not been made by artists, but by labels and publishers - people who have little to do with the actual creation of the work. I have no problem with artists determining the restrictions that can be placed on their work. That is not the whole picture of what is going on here.

There are some artists who have thrown their lot in with the infotainment industry...the old-fashioned "what's good for General Motors is good for America" line of argument...but yes...artists are breaking from this idea...and it's good for artists and good for fans.


6079_Smith_W
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radiorahim wrote:

Quote:
And as has been said, not all artists are opposed to free distribution.Most of the real hard attacks in this war have not been made by artists, but by labels and publishers - people who have little to do with the actual creation of the work. I have no problem with artists determining the restrictions that can be placed on their work. That is not the whole picture of what is going on here.

There are some artists who have thrown their lot in with the infotainment industry...the old-fashioned "what's good for General Motors is good for America" line of argument...but yes...artists are breaking from this idea...and it's good for artists and good for fans.

Absolutely.

Just look at Prince as an example of someone who has gone way overboard with it. All I mean is that artists at least has some grounds for control over what is done with their work. Much of what is being done now is by organizations that have made a living ripping off and controlling artists, and making money off the work of people who are now dead.

And in many cases these organizations established themselves by using public domain and pirated work - like Disney.

 


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

On the question of killing art, the OP reminds me that we tend to think of art as a finished product in isolation (which when it comes to posterity, is true) .

But in many cases the story behind a work - from Caravaggio to Orson Welles -  is as interesting than the piece itself.

And while I appreciate the question raised - that artists deserve to be able to sustain themselves through their art - ultimately the question is whether money is more powerful than art.

(edit)

And really the only difference here is that we are talking about established artists in established economies.

How is this any different than the discrepancy between financing an distribution for black artists, and the white artists who used and were inspired by their work, or to use another example, the differences between artists from other cultures and the "world music" fusion artists who used their art. 

The only difference is that in this case, we see this as something caused by a new technology which threatens us and what our idea of an artist is. But it has been going on forever in one form or another.

 


radiorahim
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Doctorow wrote this interesting piece in the Guardian on December 12th about infotainment industry types going to the powers that be at Youtube and alleging "copyright infringement" over the posting of public domain videos produced by the U.S. federal government and financed by the U.S. taxpayer.

 


6079_Smith_W
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And there was that artist (trying to remember his name) who found himself in infringement of his own work. He did not copyright it on principle, but the Hurrington Post did so. So when he posted it on youtube at one point they issued a takedown order.

 


Michelle
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Joined: May 10 2001

Penguin tries to get in on the self-publishing action - by charging an outrageous sum to put your book into epub format and upload them to bookselling websites (no editing included).  Apparently uploading them to bookselling websites is the actually the EASIEST part of the process, something you shouldn't need any assistance at all in doing.

And that's not all!  No, for the amazing service of no editing or marketing or cover art or anything except formatting and uploading, they keep THIRTY PERCENT of all your sales.  Yes, that's 30%.

Wow.  Avoid "Book Country", apparently!

This blogger is great - I love his stuff.  Anyhow, he has links to editors and cover artists and formatters who will do that work for a fair, flat rate.  Then YOU as the author get the profit for your work, not a "publisher" who gatekeeps (and usually, unless you know someone who knows someone, gatekeeps YOU out), takes ownership over your work, and a huge cut of the profits that they don't deserve.  Apparently the blogger also self-publishes the print versions of his work as well, although I think he focuses on e-books.


Slumberjack
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Joined: Aug 8 2005

Michelle wrote:
This is a really interesting debate.

This guy says books are dead, and so is making a living from writing:

Quote:
Will books, as we know them, come to an end? Yes, absolutely, within 25 years the digital revolution will bring about the end of paper books. But more importantly, ebooks and e-publishing will mean the end of "the writer" as a profession. Ebooks, in the future, will be written by first-timers, by teams, by speciality subject enthusiasts and by those who were already established in the era of the paper book. The digital revolution will not emancipate writers or open up a new era of creativity, it will mean that writers offer up their work for next to nothing or for free. Writing, as a profession, will cease to exist.

This guy says that, yes, printed books are dead, but that the death of writing as a profession is baloney:

Disregarding his flat-out wrong assumption that most artists earn living wages in the first place, the digital revolution has no doubt hurt industries unprepared for it. That can be proven.

After browsing through a 'Coles' outlet recently, I'm not at all convinced that the peddling of hard copy nonsense is anywhere near on the wane. I think e-writing as a medium though will likely undergo significant adjustments in the years ahead.

There already exists an electronic market for the same old and new titles being churned out on paper. Quite a significant market of people however; have taken up with the sort of online and electronic writing that has had a rather difficult time to say the least in gaining widespread exposure, or any exposure at all beyond smalls circles...stuff that doesn't exactly correspond to what is being shown on the evening news, or in the morning paper, at the bookstore chains, or the stuff they'll sell in kindle format. We're already witnessing a saturation of so called 'dissident' websites, which are essentially and in nearly every instance becoming for-profit clearinghouses displaying an assortment of writing talents, all with something to gripe about. We've already seen the placements here and there for awhile.

And if we're not already completely stupefied by the sheer repetition, we're should also have experienced by now an intensified migration of hacks from the traditional media...the ones put out to pasture by downsizing, by the redundancy created by consolidations and mergers, or by drifting along with the speculation that the corporate world has already learned to embrace - that this is a frontier of growth....it'll be cheap to produce and market in mass quantities. Another corporate heaven in other words.

Soon we'll be left wondering where the truth went, like trying to follow a particular stripe in a herd of zebras, if we can still recognize it at all.  But paper will be around for some time to come.  Coke didn't disappear when they invented Pepsi...and likewise with cheap Big 8 cola.


Michelle
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Well, this guy also prints paper copies of his book.  But he self-publishes them, and from what I can tell, he focuses on the e-versions instead.

From what I'm reading, traditional publishing houses focus completely on print editions of books, and many refuse to release e-books until the print book has been out for as long as a year beforehand.  It frustrates authors, because the publisher often sets the price so high that it kills sales, and because the publisher owns all the publishing rights, the author can't upload the book in e-format and price it to sell even if they want to.

I'm thinking that the way of the future will be that books will be published electronically first and, if they become popular, then an investment will be made in the paper format, while letting the ebooks sell right alongside.  It makes a lot more sense to me than what publishers are doing now.

The stupid thing is, publishers would probably make money hand over fist if they adopted the model that this blogger seems to be championing - charge flat rates for editing, formatting, and publicity generating.  Then publishers would actually have to, you know, provide those services.  Because right now, even relatively big-name authors don't get much, if any, support from publishers when it comes to book touring and publicity.  But they take 52% of the profits from your books, which they sell at over-inflated prices that many people either can't, or won't, afford.  And you, as the author, get 17.5%.  How is that fair again?

It's an unsustainable model that rips off authors, and publishers are either going to have to change, or die.


Gaian
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Joined: Aug 5 2011
What's in store for the poorer kids, one wonders? Perhaps if teachers' salaries (and perks) can be held at the current level, school libraries can again be stocked with a grand assortment? The e-book/public library association isn't turning out worth a damn.

Slumberjack
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Joined: Aug 8 2005

Michelle wrote:
Because right now, even relatively big-name authors don't get much, if any, support from publishers when it comes to book touring and publicity. 

The business model never ceases to evolve toward the most effective cost savings.  Nowadays an appearance on someone's talk show, a book signing afterwards with the studio audience, and Amazon; have together perfected to this point at least a marketing stream taking us from the inception and production of jibberish by approved authors, to the cash register to the online checkout.  It's cheaper than sending someone around the country.  Even in this there's still an executive level consisting of the most prolific and profitable authors, with loyal followings who expect to be able to offer their tribute in person.


6079_Smith_W
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@ Michelle

I agree. I think publishing houses are just trying to cash in on the self-publishing market, which already exists, and they aren't doing anyone a favour.

There is an important distinction between book and periodical publishing, and that it advertising, which I think is the main thing that will keep print alive, because to some degree it is necessary. And I think print advertising always will be necessary. 

Unfortunately right now it  seems to be devolving into ad rags, at least in our area, but in some ways it is turning back into a healthier form of media that existed before the rise of big publishers.

And I'd say many books already do have a pre-release. It is not uncommon for an abridged version to be published in a newspaper or magazine, and nowadays that is usually online as well as in print. As well, we now have writers' festivals, and media - particularly on radio - devoted specifically to literature.

Whether it will turn into what you suggest - a vetting process - is hard to say. But we alredy have that with movies. So why not? But again, that would be the side of the business that is geared  more to making money and pleasing the public than it is to creating art (though really, most things are realistically a balance of all three).

I posted not too long ago that the fellow who bankrolled the first of three parts of the "Atlas Shrugged" movie might not make the last two parts because it was a bomb and he doesn't want to lose money. One instance in which I don't mind money trumping art.

One thing I don' tthink was mentioned in either article was the role of grants and patronage in literature nowadays. I know it is not enough, but it is significant in a conversation of whether or not writing will survive.

 


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

Jonathan Franzen: ebooks destorying the world

Quote:
Jonathan Franzen has spoken of his fear that ebooks will have a detrimental effect on the world – and his belief that serious readers will always prefer print editions.

 

The acclaimed and bestselling novelist, who denies himself access to the internet when writing, was talking at the Hay festival in Cartagena, Colombia. "Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I'm handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that's reassuring," said Franzen, according to
the Telegraph
.

 

"Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it's just not permanent enough."

 

For serious readers, Franzen said, "a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience". "Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn't change," he continued. "Will there still be readers 50 years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable? I don't have a crystal ball. But I do fear that it's going to be very hard to make the world work if there's no permanence like that. That kind of radical contingency is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government."

Permanance? I guess someone should tell Franzen about the Victorian penny pulp presses.


Caissa
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Joined: Jun 14 2006

I have read 12 books so far in 2012 and will be finishing another this evening. Ms. C and I read over 100 books each per year. They are far from dead in our household.


Slumberjack
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Joined: Aug 8 2005

I think of all the shelves of useless books at a Coles or Chapters, not to mention boxes full of the same in the back waiting for space out in the display areas, and think maybe those infernal reading machines aren't such a bad ideal after all.  Instead of signing out a book from the library, eventually one might be able to sign out an infernal ebook and download the selections from the library's website...with IP protections and such considered.


Fidel
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Joined: Apr 29 2004

Yeah there's nothing like the feel of freshly killed old growth tree in my hands. There is no substitute for the smell of old downtown book store to keep me alert while reading Shakespeare and Nietzche in morning. Thinkin' on knocking out the bay window in my living room and putting another bookshelf there to add R factor to my wall, I love the aromatic scent of shredded tree flesh, book glue, and old cigar smoke that much, acshully.


ventureforth
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Slumberjack wrote:

 Instead of signing out a book from the library, eventually one might be able to sign out an infernal ebook and download the selections from the library's website...with IP protections and such considered.

You can do that now at the Toronto Public Library. You download the ebook and the file is good for two weeks (unless you renew). I must say that I had trouble mastering the process so ended up taking the paper cover.


Unionist
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Joined: Dec 11 2005

Jonathan Franzen wrote:
"Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it's just not permanent enough."

He's a lucky man to have had good editors (or to be one himself).

A friend of mine once asked me to proofread a non-fiction manuscript of his in advance of a second printing. He just wanted another pair of eyes, as he didn't trust the publisher's editors. It was full (I mean full) of errors of all kinds that the original editors had not caught - besides stylistic clumsiness which a decent editor would have recommended improving.

Someone was "so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper." And yet it changed. So all the early adopters were stuck with their flawed edition. Wouldn't it have been cool to be able to send them a url where they could download the updated firmware for their tome?

Paper is humanity's arrogant declaration of supremacy over trees. Let us coexist, I say. We have nothing to prove.

 


Gaian
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Joined: Aug 5 2011
A very sensible,functional, adult attitude toward reading and discovery.

6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

I thought the bullshit  predictions of computer technology  ending the waste of paper were disproven as false (and then some) long ago. THis argument is sooooo 1980s.

Sorry. I like books. Real books, If for no other reason, they keep my walls warm, no one can issue a takedown order against them, I can dog-ear, mark up and lend them, or take them on a canoe trip,  and they still work when the power goes off.

An d when I am really done with them I can give them to the thrift store or use them for kindling.

 

 

 


Unionist
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Joined: Dec 11 2005

6079_Smith_W wrote:

 

Sorry. I like books. Real books, If for no other reason, they keep my walls warm, no one can issue a takedown order against them, I can dog-ear, mark up and lend them, or take them on a canoe trip,  and they still work when the power goes off.

An d when I am really done with them I can give them to the thrift store or use them for kindling.

I used to like love books. So much so that my place is full of them. Not just on shelves - in boxes. Even after giving away tonnes of them.

Now it's not necessary to buy books any more. Or even borrow them from the library. You can read ebooks. You can search, you can bookmark, you can bring them all with you... It's amazing. And it's all electrons. It's earth-friendly.

But I still know what you mean about warming the walls...

Books. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.

 

 

 

 

 


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