June 15, 2012

“A worn, well-loved book” — by any other name


bookbook bookstore on Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village

Two weeks ago Stephen King announced that he would publish a new book, Joyland, with publisher Hard Case Crime. Hard Case covers are, at first glance, indistinguishable from their hardboiled, pulpy, midcentury predecessors. Because the retro paperback packaging has much to do with the Hard Case appeal, it makes one kind of sense that King and Hard Case have decided not to publish Joyland as an e-book. King writes,

“[I] loved the paperbacks I grew up with as a kid, and for that reason, we’re going to hold off on e-publishing this one for the time being.”

If that non sequitur invites several tangential questions (e.g., on what date did we enter the era of announcing that we will not be publishing an ebook?), it was King’s second sentence that served as the donnée of this attenuated blog post:

Joyland will be coming out in paperback, and folks who want to read it will have to buy the actual book.”

The “actual book.” I’m going to ignore one question this locution raises — is an ebook less actual? — to ask another. I still call examples of recorded music, or collections of music, “records” even though the “record album” has long since been superceded by more popular formats and has indeed presaged the book’s immateriality. But I’ve noticed, as you have, that we are still groping for consensus when it comes to denominating the object formerly known as the book. What should we call “books” to distinguish them from “ebooks”? I’ve surveyed the internet — so that you don’t have to — to discover the answers.

I’ve uncovered no surprises; most of us have already encountered these jerry-rigged stopgaps. None of them are satisfying.  (I look forward to not typing a stupid phrase like “physical book” ever again.) The trial and error aggregated below evince a context of transition, as adopters work to adapt, and one partisan of the dying technology offers a holdout’s ineffectual  tribute. I’ve saved my favorite for last:

“And, despite today’s mechanized way of reading via a Kindle or other digital gadget, I still believe there is nothing like sitting quietly in a wing chair with an actual book.” — Tampa Bay Times

“All the proceeds from the book fair will go to Henryville schools.  The event encompasses both physical and online sales….The physical book fair runs June 4 – June 8, 2012″ —WDRB

“A friend of mine who has a “real” book from a traditional publisher experimented recently with placing $1,000 in Facebook ads targeted to people in “cold” states (his book is called the History of the Snowman and it does very well around Christmas).” —The Passive Voice

“Why do online retailers pay attention to your address and credit card when assessing your eligibility to buy an e-book, while being willing to ship any edition of any print book anywhere?” —Patrick Nielsen Hayden via Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing

“Students may bring their own device and receive free access to a digital textbook for the duration of the course. Those without a device can utilize one from the district at no cost. Classes do not have a device requirement, so students may also use a traditional book.” —Chicago Tribune

“We have experience creating all of the following—typically in some combination: A traditional print book aimed at marketing your practice by demonstrating your expertise in a particular area.” — Immigration Lawyers on the Web

“The fact of the matter is that, when it comes to traditional printed books, neither the retail booksellers nor their customers (that’s you) are party to the contracts between John and his various publishers.” —Patrick Nielsen Hayden via Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing

“To date, the company offers but a handful of products. The BookBook family is the best-selling, according to Green, and has expanded from serving MacBooks to iPads and iPhones. For those unaware, it’s a rigid case for each of the aforesaid products, but on the outside, it looks like a worn, well-loved book. Assuming it doesn’t become huge, it also serves as a lovely anti-theft measure — it’s about as unassuming as they come, and while iBooks may entice thieves, standard books… don’t.” —engadget

“I LOVE my Kindle!! Since getting the Kindle, I haven’t picked up a ‘book-book.'” —Girls Write Out (comments)


Dan O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Melville House.