Not since Gutenberg has literacy and the written word gotten so much press. An academy in Massachusetts is throwing out 200,000 books, and replacing them with a coffee shop. A church in North Carolina is burning books, most of them Bibles. The country’s two largest retail chains are waged in a price war over hardcovers. Not electronics, not Tickle-me-Elmo, but books! More digital readers are suddenly on the market. Rupert Murdoch is proposing setting up paywalls to keep Google from “ripping off” his news agency’s content. And Brett Favre is quarterbacking for the Vikings! I know, that last one has nothing to do with publishing, but it’s too cool not to mention. And what’s with all the apocalyptic movies lately? Is this one mass, subconscious metaphor for the revolution that’s taking place in front of our Lasik-reengineered eyeballs? The old world is making way for the new? Burn the Library of Alexandria so we can implant a microchip in your head and thereby save all that real estate for more important things like football stadiums! The point is that the media, like a ship caught in a whirlpool, is circling around the future of print. What will become of books? What will we be reading? Who will be reading?
We are all caught up in the conversation. Here at Stone Arch Books the digital challenge stuck us like a thunderbolt. Which is a good thing. What if -- we wondered -- we put a brand new book, focused on a timely topic, on the web, free of charge? Would this help it get to our readers faster? Beth mentioned yesterday our new Finn Reader, Flu Fighter, a hilarious story told in journal format about a teenager swept up in the H1N1 epidemic. We know kids would love this story. And we know they are curious about H1N1. Running this book through the usual printing channels would take time. Kids want to know now!
What do you think? As lovers of literature, as experts in children’s books, as librarians and media specialists, do you think this is a good method for reaching readers quickly? Have you ever downloaded a free book off the web? Did it give you the same reading experience as reading a bound manuscript? Did it matter? Did you love the story so much that you went back and purchased a hardcopy version to put on your shelves?
As an omnivorous bibliophile myself, I would love to hear what people think. A few times a week I gaze longingly at Amazon’s ads for Kindle, but I still haven’t hit the Buy Now button. My finger is itching. I can’t help it. I love to read, and anything that gets a story into my hands faster can’t be a bad thing. Can it?