Fight the Times; Keep Artistic Integrity

June 6, 2011

In his article, author Garth Risk Hallberg discusses the process of creating and releasing his “exuberantly book-y book…replete with color photography and typographic mayhem”, a mere two weeks before Amazon released the first generation Kindle, then promptly sold out of them within a day’s time.  Unfortunately for Hallberg, the book he and his publisher had spent time and money producing was not at all compatible with this new and popular device. Hallberg, with the help of his therapist and to the chagrin of his accountant, was able to see the silver lining of his otherwise disappointing situation. With a self-declared nostalgia for print he has, albeit unintentionally, avoided the growing pressure on publishers and authors alike to go the route of e-publishing. He adds to his personal experience with a short list of clever and amusing ways in which fellow writers can avoid having their work turn digital. The suggestions range from the practical- play with type, add colour and illustrations, to the more avant-garde- designing the book to be read nonlinear, having the reader take scissors to the pages to create a “Mobius Strip.”

Hallberg’s suggestions are quite clever, but I have to wonder how likely it is that a publisher could be convinced to intentionally go ahead and produce a book in a format that has no chance of becoming an e-pub (at least for the present, who knows what the future of this technology will be able to do?).  It is appealing to imagine some old-school writers and their publishers taking a stance against newfangled technologies, defending the physical book with a charming, literary martyrdom. However, if this already difficult industry is to survive, it is crucial for authors and their publishers to ride the technology tide instead of fight against it; if the music industry has taught us anything, it’s that technology is the likely winner in this situation.

When I first heard of e-books and e-readers, I was pretty skeptical. Who doesn’t love curling up with a good book? The way it looks, feels, and even smells is something that is both familiar and exciting, and is a big part of the experience for me. I’ve since realized something though; I firmly believe that there is a place for both the physical and the e-book. Just because a reader uses a Kobo or a Kindle does not mean that they will abandon their physical book collection, I think the more likely result is using both to fulfill different roles. When I am on my busy commute to and from school, I would much rather have my light as air and totally portable device; but at the end of the day as I crawl into bed, I will still reach for my beautifully designed, familiar smelling print book.

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