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We're interested in ways to help more people (especially kids) like books.
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's Next?

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?

6 comments:

Hai said...

As a means of distribution, electronic is the fastest and most cost effective way of reaching the widest audience possible.

I think it's a very good idea that you released Flu Fighter for free online. It's a timely topic and I'm sure people will appreciate how you disseminate such valuable information in a child-friendly package.

One thing I learned as a webcomic creator and a children's book author is that even if the book is made available in its entirety online, people will still spend money on something they perceived as having value. People who don't feel like buying the book after they read your story are people who won't buy the book either way.

Shauna said...

I too have been thinking about purchasing digital books, but there is just something about holding a wonderfully bound book, turning the pages and being fully engrossed in the sensation of reading. Not just the words, but the texture of the pages, the smell, and that oh-so wonderful feeling of waking up to see that you've fallen asleep with your fingers between the pages.

I do think that these digital books have a place in our society, we are a "get it now" generation, however reading on a computer screen, still feels like screen time or work, and to me just isn't as relaxing, and somehow isn't as fulfilling.

That being said I always have been a bit of a nerd, I prefer libraries to clubs and bookshelves over technology any day.

Sharon Mayhew said...

I love the touch of a book, the turning of pages, the placing of a special bookmark where I left off are all things I love about books. I can see advantages of the kindle, but I'd rather hold my books and keep them on a shelf.

michaeljasper said...

With an opening line like yours at the start of this blog (ha! nice one!), I couldn't help but comment. I agree with the other commenters about loving the feel of an actual book to read and enjoy, then put on our own shelf.

For people of a certain age, probably folks born before 1999, let's say, books will always be valuable items to be treasured.

What I'm VERY curious about is the reading habits of kids growing up with the Internet -- the Net is kind of a grade-schooler right now, if you think about it, age-wise. For the current 8-12 year olds who are comfy with reading onscreen, I think books might become obsolete. I hope not. It's something I'll be watching, especially as my 5 year old and 2 year old age and read more and more.

Right now, I think a free electronic version of a book is a great promotional tool. Many people will check out the PDF, skim it, maybe even read it all (I skimmed it), and if they're hooked, buy a copy.

I don't have a Kindle or Nook, and am not all that interested in getting one. But I'm 39 and set in my ways. Also, I sit in front of a computer all day for my work, so I don't wanna relax in front of one to read a book or story.

These are interesting times, and it's hard to keep up!

Beth Brezenoff, Senior Editor said...

These are all such interesting comments. I think first of all we have to acknowledge that since we are reading a publishing company blog, we MIGHT be biased (especially those of us who work here...). I personally don't want an e-reader. I love real books. What does appeal to me, though, is the immediate delivery, and the reduced waste (and in some cases, reduced price). It's a very interesting time to be involved in publishing, and like Michael Jasper says, it's going to be VERY interesting to see how our kids--the future consumers of the written word--choose to read.

Keith Schoch said...

The Flu Fighter download is awesome! I shared it around my school and plan to share it on one of my blogs next!

Keep up the great work!