Three years ago, when the Amazon Kindle was little more than a gleam in Jeff Bezos’s eye, I wrote an article for The Walrus called “Apocalypse Soon: The future of reading.” In it, I lamented how my book publishers had prevented me from releasing my debut novel online, and predicted an e-book revolution, the rise of e-readers, widespread e-piracy, the demise of many publishers and booksellers, and, ultimately, a world in which readers would decide whether to pay for books after reading them.
Now seems like a good time to follow up. Not least because my predictions appear to be coming true. E-readers like the Kindle, the Nook, and the iPad (with its associated iBooks app) are spreading everywhere; the market share of e-books has already eclipsed audiobooks, and continues to grow like bamboo; local bookstores are vanishing by the hundred, Amazon has gone to war against publishers over e-book prices, and Borders is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the publishing industry has been sufficiently shaken that hardly a day goes by without one of its dinosaurs penning another tedious navel-gazing essay about this terrifying brave new world. (Most such claim that piracy won’t be a significant factor, from which I conclude that the essayists in question are either smoking crack or in deep denial.)
But the important question isn’t What does this all mean for the book business? What matters is What does it mean for books? (Though authors, and aspiring authors — a group which, so far as I can tell, includes approximately half the human population — tend to also tack on What does it mean for us?) Answers are hard to come by. My friend Jo Walton recently wrote a blog post about her personal experience with online publication entitled “Some actual information about ebooks”; it ends with, “I’m posting this because it’s not handwaving or airy speculation, it’s actual data, of which there seems to be something of a shortage.”
She’s quite right. And so, in a similar vein, I’d like to tell you about my squirrel. (more…)