No one likes to say "I've changed my mind about that." It goes against human nature, although politicians do it all the time. They get around it mostly by using language like "misspoke" and "taken out of context." That's fine for politicians, but what about the rest of us?
Two years ago I wrote a blog about the vanishing book publishing business ("An Industry in Jeopardy"). In it I derided the rise of e-books that threatened the very existence of the small, independent publishers of "real" books. Publishers like my friend and colleague Lynn Michell of the Linen Press in Scotland, for one. At the time I quoted her as saying, "The e-book industry is a huge explosion in the midst of those of us who publish real, beautiful books." I agreed with her, adding, "I confess that I have no use for e-books. I like to sit in a comfortable chair, of an evening, holding a book on my lap with one hand and turning the pages with the other."
Well, that was then. Now is now. My two newest books, published at the end of 2011, have just come out in Kindle Editions, so I guess it's time to eat my words. Although I have not seen them myself (I don't own an e-reader, and probably never will) I am told that the photographs are clear and sharp, which had been a worry beforehand. Grudgingly, I have to admit that there might even be certain advantages to the electronic version. I understand that you can change the color of the background, as well as the size and even the style of the print, not to mention taking your "library" along on trips without lugging heavy books around.
Even my Scottish publisher friend at the Linen Press has gone digital. (Et tu, Brute?) Today she says, "I don't think I'll ever read a book on a screen. The habit of snuggling down in bed with a real book and turning the pages is too inbred. But if others want to read on screen, so be it." (Hear! Hear! )
What was it that made us so reluctant to join the revolution and embrace the e-book concept even as recently as two years ago? In my case, I think it was simply an opposition to change. People "of a certain age" typically revere the past and fear the future. It was less than a decade ago, after all, that I had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into a computer store. What, me? Buy a computer? Don't be ridiculous. Shakespeare wrote with a quill pen, and he didn't do so badly!
Now I don't know what I would do without my companionable laptop. It goes everywhere with me.
And maybe that's the point. It just takes us older folks a little longer to get used to different ways of doing things. We close our minds against new ideas and gadgets we find hard to understand, much less accept. I still don't know an iPod from an iPad. And what's a Smartphone? Apparently mine is a Dumbphone. It doesn't even take pictures. Its only function is making telephone calls. I don't know how to "text," either, and don't want to learn. It amazes me to see young people lining up days in advance to snap up the latest Apple product.
But speaking of Apple, there's yet another chapter in the e-book saga. A nasty suspicion of price-fixing has surfaced, along with an anti-trust case brought recently by the Justice Department against Apple and a group of major book publishers. It alleges that Steve Jobs, CEO before his death six months ago, urged publishers to "throw in with Apple" to fix the price of e-books, supposedly in reaction to Amazon.com's highly successful marketing strategy of selling them world-wide for a low price of $9.99. Jobs allegedly hatched the idea to create a mainstream e-books market at $12.99 and $14.99. "Even though the customer would pay more," he is quoted as saying to publishers, "but that's what you want anyway."
Who am I to disagree with a giant of industry like Steve Jobs? But in this case, I must. As a writer of books, now selling world-wide on Amazon in Kindle Editions for $9.99, I have to believe that the principle of making books, in any form, more accessible to the average reader easily trumps making more profit.
It seems that I have come full circle on the question of e-books. That munching sound you hear is probably me, eating my words.