Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Reshaping Reading

STATUS: Contemplative.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? UNDER THE MILKY WAY by The Church

Today as I have spotty internet from my home connection (curses Qwest DSL and the fact that I can’t have cable broadband at my home), I can’t help but do a rant on digital technology and how that is reshaping the reading experience.

Today, in Deal Lunch, I read about two new eReaders—the Ditto Book E Ink Reader and a new reader by Vodafone Germany. (For those of you who might not have been to Europe lately, Vodafone is a big mobile phone provider across the pond.)

Lower price points and mobile phone eReader technology.

Then I read about Cory Doctorow’s serialization of MAKERS that’s going to be posted on Then I read about the Hachette Book Group’s initiative to offer free Open Access to a variety of books in their entirety via their website. And to top it off, Chris Anderson’s book FREE viewed by 17,000 people, well, for free via Scribd.

And here’s what I want to say about this. It’s not okay to cling to your Luddite ways. Even if you love the feel of a physical book in your hands and hate the idea of reading digitally, you need to branch out and give it a try.

From the start of my agency, I’ve always read electronically on my computer (tablet PC). Then I got the Kindle the year before last and now I’m reading both on my kindle and my iPhone. In fact, lately, it’s been rare that I’ve read an actual physical book.

And for me, the medium doesn’t matter. Only the story does. Now I know that’s not true necessarily for other people but this is where we are moving and you if you are a writer, you need to experience reading in these other mediums. Why? Because the next generation, I guarantee it, will not be as attached to the physical medium of a book. They are already more used to reading digitally in all kinds of ways—blogs, twitter, texts, books, instant chat, etc.

Books are transforming. They might be multimedia in the future—interactive in the digital form—which would shift how writers think about writing a novel or a memoir or a work of nonfiction. You can’t afford to ignore this.

You can already see the shifts happening.

37 Responses

  1. Angela Corbett said:

    Hi Kristin,

    Will publishing some of my work in an ebook format help or hinder when I try to get published traditionally?

    What does the new digital technology mean for agents and authors? Do you think agents will start offering services to help writers who aren’t getting published traditionally but want assistance with digital rights?

  2. Gilbert J. Avila said:

    The problem I have with digital technology is that people are forgetting the usual rules of grammar and spelling. I see a bunch of text messages and I feel like I’m reading Orwellian Newspeak. If writers tailor their writings to blog-and twitterspeak I dread what will happen to plotting, nuance, and characterization. As an aging relic of an elder time I derive great satisfaction when I look at the books on my library shelves. I love the tactile sensations of holding a book, flipping it open, the scent of paper and ink, of feeling the “bite” of the typeface of the older books that were actually printed, rather than the photo-offset ( I think it’s called) that’s used today. An electronic pad will never–in my mind–take the place of the aesthetically pleasing feel of a real library while curling up in an over-stuffed chair with mug of cocoa and being surrounded by old friends who I can see and pick up on impulse, like my recently acquired 108 year-old travel book. I like to think that books have souls; electronic pads, not so. Thank God for musty used bookstores and antique shops.

  3. BT said:

    It would be nice if ereaders were released worldwide. I’m tired of Australia being a backwater for the rest of the publishing industry.

    I understand it takes time to ship stuff out here, but that only holds true in the digital world for the readers themselves, once here, simultaneous worldwide releases of titles would become possible.

    Kindle and Sony still insist on deals including ‘x’ amount of dollars for content, which is useless for non-US based buyers. The cost of the units is still ridiculously high anyway.

    I think the digital revolution still has a way to go gain a global tag.

    You think you have a problem with your home Internet connection? Try having to pay exorbitant prices for an Internet connection and no ereaders worth a damn!

  4. Skrabs said:

    Hear, hear BT. It sucks to hear about all this great technology and not be able to access it! (Fellow Australian here).

    On the other hand I have to laugh… I’m 27 and my thirteen year old sister is telling me about all these latest gadgets and I feel so out of the loop. Time to get with the program… And the technology maybe.

  5. BuffySquirrel said:

    I read on my iPhone. The thing is, I only do that when I don’t have a physical book to hand. Somehow ebooks feel less important. I don’t think that’s going to change for me, but then I’m old and insignificant.


  6. Michelle said:

    I love the feel of a book as much as anyone, but living overseas without access to a decent English book selection means I rely heavily on ereader.

    I’m embracing it. If reading gadgets are destined to bring about the demise of paper books, it won’t happen in my lifetime!

    I’m with Gilbert, though- going high tech isn’t an excuse for not mastering the craft of writing. And while there are millions of blogs and “published” webwriting with embarrassing errors out there, most avid readers still recognize and demand high quality.

  7. Fiona said:

    I would like a Kindle, but there is nothing better then browsing a bookshop and taking a book off the shelves and smelling the paper, the print, feeling the paper… it’s so much of a physical experience. And having a library, books to look at and surround yourself with.

    I know we are moving to a more ‘electronic’ form of reading and I feel sad if that is all we will ever have. I’d like them for text books, for newspapers and maybe some fiction. When travelling/being on holiday for instance you do not want to carry around great big books.

    I’d like to have both. I like that you can download a lot of classics for free. I’d love a Kindle (type thing anyway) for that alone because I don’t see why I should have to pay over the odds to get a classic when you can get them for free, legally and easily. £8-10 for a classic not even bound very nicely, cheaply – way too much.

    I can see the merits, I like it but I do not want them replacing physical books. The physical ability to walk into a bookshop and browse, for me, can never be replaced by just looking at them online or in e-format. I certainly wouldn’t buy as many books that way.

  8. MeganRebekah said:

    I love my Kindle for many reasons, one of the big ones is that I can read my own novel on it (by emailing the document) and it feels like reading a real book.
    The biggest downside for me is that I’m a flipper. After I read a book I love to randomly flip it open to a passage and just start re-reading. You can’t really do that on a Kindle, or at least not so efficiently.

  9. Jannette Johnson said:

    I would love to be able to read something on an ereader, but I’m waiting to see if one version will rise above the others.

    Right now, Kindle doesn’t work outside of the United States, a serious problem for Amazon if they want to be competitive against all the others. Plus I’ve been told, their wireless option is only available on one carrier system, and only in certain parts of the country. Again, a strike against it.

    With the introduction of the European product, it makes me wonder if we’re going to have some sort of ’tech off’ between all the competing systems, much like the blue-ray/HD competition, and the ancient VHS/Beta of the eighties.

    Eventually there will have to be one model for the entire ebook industry, and as quickly as this new media is gaining in popularity, I have a feeling it won’t be world wide until the dust settles from the battle.

  10. Jeff said:

    I love the feel of an actual book in my hands. I love having bookcases full of them so I can always refer back to the notes I keep. Since my job requires lots of travel and it is impossible for me to bring the amount of books I will read along with me, I purchased a kindle.

    The kindle has been one of the best purchases I have ever made it allows me to keep up my reading pace without taking up space in my luggage.

    I don’t think the book is going to disappear completely but e-readers are the way of the future and authors would be smart to keep that in mind

  11. ryan field said:

    I think a lot of people are hesitating to buy e-readers because they are so expensive.

    But the people I know who have them, and have made the transition, don’t want to go back to print books.

  12. Matilda McCloud said:

    I grew up in my mother’s small charming bookstore, have worked in libraries and children’s book publishing, and now work for a book printer. I love books–real books–and will NEVER read a book on a iphone…how depressing to even contemplate.

  13. carla said:

    I woke up this morning to a real treat, Judy Garland in a pile of dishes singing “Look for the Silver Lining” in a musical called Ziegfeld Follies.

    Reading electronically is not bad. It is what I am doing right now. I would consider using this in the future.

  14. Ben said:

    For those concerned about the Web’s effect on grammar, I understand. However, you’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Yes, there are millions of blogs out there with terrible grammar. Yes, there will be self-published (perhaps even published) books with grammatical errors. There’s many books available online (as Kristin pointed out, Cory Doctorow is one example of a published author who puts his books online for free) that don’t fall into such categories, that are legitimate and enjoyable literature.

    Furthermore, language is going to change, whether we like it or not. That’s why Shakespeare’s English sounds weird to us (and why he spelled his name so many different ways). Maybe we want to try and avoid Newspeak–I’d agree with that sentiment–but we can’t arrest the evolution of our language; that would lead to creative and communicative stagnation. We can only direct it. And unless you embrace the media that are driving language’s evolution–i.e., the Web–you have power to direct that evolution.

    I think much of the animosity toward electronic forms of reading comes from a misguided perception that if electronic books become popular, paper books will disappear. This isn’t the case. We’re going to have paper books for a long, long time. They’re more reliable, more durable, and sometimes better.

    New technology often threatens old, or seems to threaten. But just as often it improves it. Look at the telephone industry. The Internet’s infrastructure is built on top of the telephone network, and people thought it threatened the telephone. This hasn’t been the case. In fact, telephone has benefitted from the Internet. Now we’ve got Voice-Over-IP, better microprocessors for cell phones, and phones themselves are more valuable to a consumer as data problem than a phone.

    The point its, books aren’t going to be smothered by a digital revolution: they’ll be improved. It may not seem that way at first, with Amazon and Sony’s rather limited forays into the world of digital reading. But we’re in new territory here, and companies are bound to be cautious for a little while.

    For those more interested in this subject, I direct you to an interview done by CBC radio with Hugh McGuire. It’s totally worth your while.

  15. Joseph L. Selby said:

    I don’t like the Kindle’s build (I don’t need a keyboard). I don’t like Amazon’s DRM structure. And most importantly, I don’t like their price structure. Following your link, I found that the price of ebooks for the Cool-ER is much more equitable, the cost of a mass paperback rather than a trade paperback. Perhaps I’ve finally found an ereader worth buying (neither Sony nor Amazon has produced a product that I find worth purchasing).

  16. Daniel Tricarico said:

    I still love my collection of old record albums, but I embraced the advent of compact discs for their excellent sound quality, durability, and ease of storage. My iPod, however, is the machine I’ve waited my whole life for. I can download every CD I own and literally carry them around in my pocket. As a bonus, I get to say that I have music in my pants 🙂
    Even now, though, I still love putting my old vinyl on my BRAND NEW turntable.

    I use this musical analogy to make this point: Why can’t we have it all? I own a library full of books AND a Kindle. Love them all!

  17. Bill Greer said:

    Kindles and e-book readers aside, what does this mean for an author? Is there something we should be doing differently because our books might be read on digital media?

  18. Jamie D. said:

    Regarding Qwest DSL – I feel your pain. Every day. Ugh.

    As for reading, while I still love print books (paperbacks – I’m not a hardback reader), I read extensively on my PDA now. I was extremely resistant to reading electronically, but once I started, I got hooked. It’s unbelievable that I can carry around an entire library with me *all the time* in a device the size of a pack of cards! Very, very cool.

  19. Mechelle Fogelsong said:

    I teach English, and I don’t even use a textbook. For my daily grammar lessons, I use a projector to put the lessons on the smartboard, and then my students copy from the board onto their notebook paper.

    When do my students ever see a grammar textbook? Whenever there’s a substitute teacher.

    If I want to read a story to my students out loud, I scan its graphics and create a Powerpoint. Then I flip through the Powerpoint slides as I read to them.

    In my early days as a teacher, I used a textbook and found my students bored, yawning, and unresponsive. With a Powerpoint presentation, they remain riveted. In this computer age, kids expect interactive entertainment. You may not like it, but that’s the truth. And it’s most likely a reflection of what’s to come.

  20. Dennis said:

    Interesting…and, I must admit, inspiring. Will there come a time when a publisher will view e-mail — as in, several pages of a book delivered daily to my inbox via subscription — as a viable format for a particular book? Is that time now?

    If an author has a project that works within this format, should the project be pitched as such?



  21. Dara said:

    I’m all for the digital transition but I’d be more inclined to read books digitally if the devices that one reads them on were not so expensive.

    When an eReader drops below $200, perhaps I’ll consider it. It looks close with the Ditto Book reader but it’s still too much for me, especially since I don’t buy more than a dozen books (if that) a year.

    Also, do these eReaders support “rented” books from the library? That would be a huge plus for me. I get most of my books through library loan and rarely buy them unless it’s something I’m certain I’ll love and want to re-read again.

  22. Rebecca Knight said:

    I’m a book collector right now, but I’d still love a Kindle or e-reader :). The only thing that’s preventing me from getting one is the price, and also the fact that the majority of e-books are $9.99.

    I barely spend $9.99 per book now… for paper books, that I feel provide more for their cost.

    When e-books are $3.99-$4.99 and the readers drop to about $100, I’m all over it.

    And I will still collect paper books. It will all be okay :).

  23. Aimee K. Maher said:

    I’ll dust the cobwebs off my old-fashioned a$$, but only because I have to.


    I love my gadgets, but I love my books on the shelf, too.

  24. Sierra said:

    There is no question that we have to let go of our Luddite ways. Ebooks are the future–I have a Sony eReader that I have begun to favor without even thinking about it, after saying long and hard how much I love the feel, smell, and look of real books. However, here’s some free user market research for publishers and purveyors of the medium:

    1. I still want a color cover. Book covers still attract me, and yes, I still judge books by them. (Sony ereader does not have this feature.)

    2. I might want to share a book with my sister or cousin, like I would with a paperback. How do I do that with an electronic copy?

    3. I want the makers of ereaders to continue to improve screen quality. Computer screens have extremely poor reading resolution. But Kindle and ereader have come a long way towards improving the quality of paper-like screens. That improvement MUST be a priority. Anyone who edits their own writing knows that you catch way more on paper than you do on screen. I have begun using my eReader to edit my novel — it takes way less paper to print out multiple copies; it allows me to catch mistakes that I miss onscreen.

    4. I want a digital book structure that is kind to authors, maintains strict editorial quality, and continues to play within the publishing industry. That’s right. I want QUALITY CONTROL. I want to know agents and editors and others vetted the copy of the book I’m reading, no matter what format it’s in. There’s a perception that ebooks could be crappier because they’re so easily produces and distributed. The publishing industry should fight right now to market ebooks with that sense of quality built in.

  25. Anonymous said:

    I love, like a lot of people, love the feel, smell and just the overall contentment a physical book brings. However, I’m not against the new technology. My thoughts are actually a little more practical (and boring). what about our eyes? I mean after a long day at work, mostly staring at a computer screen, do I really have to do more of that just to enjoy a new novel? I hardly use my home computer because I’m just tired of the screen glare, etc. by the time I’m home. I mean, come on, could you really snuggle up in bed with a monitor (no matter how small) or does the allure of snuggling with a good real page turning book just overwhelm you? I hope you are wrong and the printing press will not be put to rest any time soon.

  26. Anonymous said:

    Yep. Time to begin thinking about putting away the literary ‘buggy whips’ for that new fangled device trundling down the media highway. Books as we know them? One day they will be purchased by those who appreciate the ‘old’ way of reading. Sort of like keeping horses as pets.

  27. DeadlyAccurate said:

    I have no problem with the idea of eReaders, but I do have a problem with situations like this. The short version is that a guy was having problems getting one of his Kindle downloads onto his phone, and the reason was a limitation on the number of downloads that particular book allowed. (Not number of machines at one time, but number of downloads allowed in toto). There was another story where someone had their Amazon account suspended (for excessive electronics returns) which also cut him off of his Kindle books.

    I also have a problem with nonstandard formats like Kindle’s proprietary AZW format. What happens when you buy a different, non-Kindle reader? Will you be able to convert those purchased books to another format?

    Until these situations are resolved and customer rights are protected, I’ll have to stick with print books.

  28. BleeBonn said:

    I’ve hesitated because my day job is writing and reading tech docs all day on the computer. Then I go home at night and I’m writing on my laptop. So I just don’t want to have to read anything digital for leisure. I know someday I’ll have to though. 🙁

  29. Pär said:

    I love books, the feel of the pages, the crack of the binding, the heft in my hands. But they are expensive to make, ship, and print.

    ebooks are the future. And a good future that will be. Easier access, lower production costs, everyone wins.

    Except the display bookshelf.

  30. Belynda Cianci said:

    Amen! I just wrote an entire research paper on the digital pub phenomenon. Actually I wish you had published this post two weeks ago, I would have used you as a source!

    The romanticism of the printed word is a lovely thing and will probably continue for the time being, but just as the printing press replaced the oral tradition, or the digital camera replaced the fragile roll of film, so will readers replace print and make literature more accessible and portable. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a new thing. I’m pretty attatched to my Kindle already. I take that thing EVERYWHERE. I feel the same way about it that I feel about my iPod. I’m not afraid to admit I named it Kin-caid. :::blush:::

    Kudos for backing the march of technology. I think there’s a lot of opportunity in digital format for the adventurous!

  31. karen wester newton said:

    Well, I have to put myself squarely in the eReader camp. I own a Kindle 1, and just ordered a Kindle 2, now that the price has dropped to $299 (+$30 for the cover). The digital age has dawned. Print books still offer a lot and will be around for a long time, but as more and more folks have digital reading devices– not just dedicated eReaders Kindle, Sony, but iPhones and PDAs with ebook apps– digital reading is no longer an oddity. I no longer have to explain what my Kindle is when I pull it out of my purse at the dentist’s office.

    Long term, digital devices may well change book content, certainly nonfiction content, where people may want to link out to other sources. Short term, they may have an impact on length requirements.

    In discussing digital publishing, it’s important to distinguish between self-publishing in digital form and traditional publishers adopting digital as a viable output. The content determines what sells, not the medium. But digital is important, because it makes reading more convenient, and that’s got to be a good thing.

  32. Anonymous said:

    I don’t own a kindle, still think they’re too expensive. When they come down to $99 I’ll get one.

    But in the meantime, the Kindle app for my iPhone is FREE! I didn’t think I’d like reading books on a phone, but I love it. I feel like the biggest geek now at the gym, listening to my iPod on the iPhone and reading at the same time. I have a half dozen books on the iPhone right now and love it.

  33. Anonymous said:

    >It’s not okay to cling to your
    >Luddite ways… you need to branch
    >out and give it a try.

    Actually, as a consumer, I get to read the books I buy the way I want to. There is nothing wrong with that. I don’t need to do anything I don’t want to. I’m sorry that you don’t think that’s ‘okay.’

  34. Gilbert J. Avila said:

    I prefer books simply because they’re handy for research—I can just reach across the table and immediately access what I need. You can’t mark a page on a kindle with a post-it note.

  35. Gilbert J. Avila said:

    Ack! I can’t believe this. There’s this advert in the Daily Mail for a cartridge that goes into your Nintendo DS that has 100 classic novels in it. It even looks and sounds like it’s turning pages!

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