Yeah, I know I promised a debrief on the SCBWI LA conference, but this does sort of relate. While at the conference my friend Su brought her kindle and I got to check it out. Pretty cool. I especially liked how one can change the font size – for someone like me who can’t read small print without a magnification device, it is awesome.
While she was showing it to me and our friend, Libby, the three of us talked about how the kindle may change publishing forever. You can download a book for less than $10 versus an average of $17 for a new hardcover. It’s lightweight – no breaking your back carrying a bunch of books with you.
But what about the illustrations of a picture book? The cover art? The smell of the paper? The feel of that book in your hands? There is something intimate about a book – curling up with it, just you and the characters, falling into the author’s world – can you feel that way with the generic look and cold feel of a Kindle? I haven’t tried it, so I can’t answer that, but I do know that I hate reading books on my computer. I read it differently, more mechanically or something, than I do when I am holding the paper in my hands.
Video didn’t kill the radio star; audio didn’t kill the book when it became popular- nor did the penny press kill literary works as predicted when it brought literature to the masses. But, yeah, Kindle could kill the profits. Publishers may resort to only printing the classics, the proven sellers. Why spend the money to print a new release in hardcover when you can spend less and wait to see if it will be a seller on Amazon? And perhaps this will cause a re-kindling (pun intended) of the picture book industry when money once spent on hardcovers is freed up. (I mean, I don’t care how cheap it is to publish work on the internet, no parent is going to let their baby drool all over a Kindle while reading a picture book, right?)
Let’s look into the future for a moment though. Imagine the world of books has been diminished to the ‘classics’ and mass quantities of books downloaded onto mass quantities of Kindles.
Now imagine a mega virus has wiped out all that is Internet, machines have been trashed and discarded, life as we live it now has been destroyed.
Okay, now fast forward a century or two later, when someone like Tally from Scott Westerfield’s Uglies is wandering the abandoned city streets of Old America. What will she find? An abundance of books like Moby Dick, The Odyssey, and The Scarlet Letter, perhaps The Outsiders and Good Night Moon – but none representing our time right now or our tomorrow. Whole generations of books will be gone forever. How sad that Tally won’t be able to read the brilliance of today’s and tomorrow’s authors because their work is trapped inside a broken piece of plastic, accessible no more.
So, will the Kindle kill the publishing house? For the sake of our dystopian future, let’s not let it. Let it be an industry tool, an industry advancement, but not an industry end.