The Times They Are A Changin’

As you might already know, yesterday our very own Sarah Odedina was featured in The Telegraph commenting on the Publishers Association’s news that sales of children’s e-books were nearly triple what they were this time last year. Sarah (and the rest of us) think this is “marvellous” and (as we’ve said before) it’s not HOW children read that’s important – just the fact that they’re reading is.

However, not everyone is so sure. In the same article, Joan Brady said that she felt: “There is a certain amount of gravitas to a page that you don’t get on a screen” and I stumbled upon this article yesterday too, in which author David Gaughran ponders whether e-books are killing the ‘literary’ novel.

David actually concludes that no, e-books are not doing literary titles any harm – their lack of popularity in the charts is mainly due to fans of literary books being a bit more reluctant to buy downloads (but they’re getting there), and that publishers are unsure about how to market literary e-book titles.

I can definitely see where he’s coming from – I was recently desperate to read Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue, but rather than simply download it and access it immediately, I waited to get hold of one of the new special-edition hardbacks Virago has just released. I suppose that was because I wanted to have the book on my shelf (it is exceptionally pretty) and I felt willing to wait – and pay more – for what I was fairly certain would be a classic book.

But that said, digital publishing is becoming more and more exciting, and recently I actually seriously considered buying an iPad just so I could download the multi-touch edition of Maggot Moon (if you have an iPad, DO IT, YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED). I wish I was exaggerating. Sorry bank manager.

So maybe it is a case of how we publishers go about producing and marketing our more literary titles in digital format. Luckily here at Hot Key towers ALL of our books will be available in e-book format (this was one of David’s complaints – many publishers don’t convert titles into digital format, especially back-list ones) and our multi-touch editions are actually focusing on our more literary titles.

So, we hope as ever that we can be considered to be leading the way in how digital books are produced, marketed and consumed… but let us know!


8 responses to “The Times They Are A Changin’

  1. We recently bought a kindle. Strange beast – and not one I feel comfortable with yet. However a brush with the kindle prompted me to wonder about the modern world and sensory deprivation. The ebook, it seems, removes all texture – it’s there visually, you may even be able to hear it, but you can’t touch it, or smell it – it’s a bit like the ready meal – pastry without gooey fingers is not really pastry, just white stuff you stick in the oven.
    I notice that people have bought my book on ebook – great! wonderful! But I worry. Are the children reading it themselves? Or is it part of the bedtime story, read aloud by Mum or Dad? Either way, the ebook separates the child from the sensual experiences that we had as children, – this modern chiild is removed from the smell of paper, she can’t colour in the drawings, she can’t put it on her shelf as a prompt for good dreams, she probably can’t hug the book as she falls asleep The story is just words.
    It struck me, that every sense we are born with for survival, is now under seige. No child lives in radio silence anymore – they’re bombarded with TV, computer, ipod; there are so many moving images in the world that the brain doesn’t even bother to remember them all; the airfreshener is universal – (apparently we can no longer smell bedbugs which used to be how to spot them coming); most of the time, we feel plastic under our fingers; and have you tasted an apple recently?
    It seems that everything is becoming virtual.
    Sorry – but give me real things any day – otherwise, what’s the point?

  2. It’s such a fascinating debate isn’t it? I know what you mean though Fleur – although I have actually long been a digital convert, since getting a Kindle around 18 months ago. I originally had a love affair with it, reading everything on it, all the time. But when I took it on holiday, I missed the feeling of holding a real book on the plane, or around the pool, or the way those books you read on the beach get a bit sandy and smell of suncream, so when you get back instantly evoke that sensual memory…it wasn’t the quite same. This year, I vowed only to take paper books on holiday, and I got that feeling back.

    For me, digital reading is convenience based, great for immediacy and commuting. But it’s made me also value the feeling of the paper book, like Naomi says – there are some books I just want to own and feel and look at on my book shelf. But digital reading has definitely meant that I buy more books, as I now have two spaces to put them, a real bookshelf which is piled high and a virtual one – and that can only be a good thing, right? For me, it’s all about choice.

    P.s. I’m about to eat an apple right now 😉

  3. I think you’re completely right about convenience – my husband reads huge scandinavian crime novels on the Kindle – and I’d rather he did – they’re enormous. But I’m still not sure about the child and the ebook. I just think there may be future consequences to their development that we just can’t foresee. My children already spend hours of their day in a Minecraft virtual world – then – they clamour for TV – more screen time – NO WAY!

  4. There are a lot of debated issues regarding e-books and what they bring and what they lack.

    Fleur, I really like your argument for sensory deprivation, as I haven’t really heard that much before, and it’s a good point and quite true.


    “My children already spend hours of their day in a Minecraft virtual world-then-they clamour for TV–more screen time- NO WAY!”

    I agree. But to me, getting them to read period, instead of playing video games or watching TV or doing whatever, is a marvelous thing, whether it’s on a screen or on a physical copy.

    It’s easy for people who grew up with certain things and not with others to bash on the new technology. There’s nothing wrong with being a Luddite. I happen to be one to a certain degree.

    Take this quote for example:

    “Do you know what a Luddite is? That’s a person who doesn’t like newfangled contraptions. Contraptions like nuclear submarines armed with Poseidon missiles that have H-bombs in their warheads, and like computers that cheat you out of becoming. Bill Gates says, ‘Wait till you can see what your computer can become.’ But it’s you who should be doing the becoming. What you can become is the miracle you were born to work—not the damn fool computer.”
    – Kurt Vonnegut

    However, kids these days have far more to do than most adults did when they were children. Not only do they have the old mainstays (go outside, read a book, hang out with a friends etc etc), but they also have hundreds of things everywhere.

    Just picking up a book period seems miraculous for children unless their own parents read a ton, and then at times it becomes second nature, at least until they get bombarded and distracted by all the other things.

    “My daughter is seven, and some of the other second-grade parents complain that their children don’t read for pleasure. When I visit their homes, the children’s rooms are crammed with expensive books, but the parent’s rooms are empty. Those children do not see their parents reading, as I did every day of my childhood. By contrast, when I walk into an apartment with books on the shelves, books on the bedside tables, books on the floor, and books on the toilet tank, then I know what I would see if I opened the door that says ‘PRIVATE–GROWNUPS KEEP OUT’: a child sprawled on the bed, reading.”
    ― Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

    But I also realize two things. One, is that, well, what Naomi says is refreshing. It’s not about how you read, necessarily, but the fact that you are reading. And two, well, that you don’t have to do one thing or another. They don’t have to fight to the death. They can co-exist.

    I have a Kindle. I also go to the library and check out titles frequently. I also buy books I want to own and read in physical form. I love my Kindle for the ease of access and how more difficult literary titles, heavier titles, become easier to grapple using it. And I also love the feel and smell and heaviness of a real book. I mean, you can feel the weight of it, right? Almost like knowledge and information and imagination has a heftiness to it?

    It’s wonderful.

    (As an aside I would love if I could both buy a physical copy AND get a code for the e-book, even if I had to pay a bit more for the physical copy. For larger books, I may just want to own it, feel it, have it, but I may want to READ it on my Kindle.)

    But i’d rather kids never experience that whatsoever if it means they would be willing to read because it’s attached to a Kindle or an Ipad.

    I feel like as long as publishers are willing to evolve and fill a niche for what’s needed in this new future (some aren’t, some like HotKeyBooks are), then paper books will never go away. It is possible for them both to exist hand in hand.

  5. Funny what you say about switching over to physical books for a holiday. I’ve owned an eReader for about three years now (go you Sony dinosaur! Keep on plodding!) but I find that I go through phases of reading solely off my eReader and solely from physical books. I’ve rebought one book already because I can’t read it on my Sony – it’s China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station and if you haven’t seen it it’s a whopper. I want to be able to see how far through the book I’m getting, to see how much more tension I’m building up to. I like to feel the book fall open in my hands and the cover flop backwards and the corners gets scuffed from my bag. None of that happens with my Good Ol’ Sony. On the other hand, I read a LOT of bits and pieces online, so I often put them into word documents or download the PDF’sand transfer those over onto my Sony. Those would be really WEIRD to read on paper, because that would just be complicating how to read them, if you see what I mean, you;d be making extra effort by printing them off to read. So yeah, swings and roundabouts really, I guess it depends how you’d normally read the book!

    I can’t wait to find out what’ll happen to kids books once we get colour eInk screens – . Does anyone see any application for eBooks in schools? Say, William Shakespeare or Aliens Love Underpants on an Interactive WhiteBoard? A part of me rebels against the idea of storytime for Year 1 being done with an IWB, but equally, if it means all children can see and more engagement with the books can be had…?

    • Personally I might see schools eventually utilizing Kindles to save money on text books, and also to save space. Obviously that’s a long way away, but I can see it happening. Imagine, if you will, being able to go to all your classes with a backpack that just has a kindle and notebook or binder or whatever, instead of 50 pounds worth of textbooks for the day.

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