E-books and graphic novels (which, at least at this point in time seem perfectly incompatible) are two of the fastest growing segments of a pretty slumpy book market. Beyond this rapid growth—and of course it’s rapid, it’s gone from zero to something in a mere year-and-a-half—there’s something about e-books that captures the imagination and out-strips any of the advantages or flaws found in the Kindle or Sony eReader or iPhone. In every other medium, digital has proven to be the future, and as books move in this direction, everyone is collectively freaking out.
And I mean that in the most polarizing of ways. E-books and the future of reading tends to be a very divisive topic, with bibliophiles lamenting the loss of that book smell, with geeks panting over the possibility of an iBook reader, with bookstores watching their ever shrinking margins continue to erode, with publishers and the Authors Guild locking into an outdated DRM-model and fretting over the quickly-becoming-standard $9.99 retail price, and with authors nervously trolling Scribd to see if anyone is illegally stealing their work. (Although it may be worse if no one is thieving your work—we all want to write something worthy of piracy, no?)
As you’ll see below, I’m internally divided as to whether or not the e-book revolution will good for book culture or not. (The first time I saw an ad for Kindle accessories in the NYC subway, I had visions of the apocalypse. And yes, I am one of those weirdos who’s annoyed by the fact that I can’t see what book people are reading on their Kindles. I love having the opportunity to make snap judgments about people based on what they read in public. And, to be honest, my dream is to see someone reading an Open Letter book on the subway—a dream that will go unfulfilled if the Kindle takes over the world.) But there are at least a couple of distinct advantages offered by e-books that are worth looking at—especially in relation to distribution.
Before getting into all this though, I do want to state upfront that I’m going to indulge in a bit of science fiction in this speech and imagine a more ideal e-book market with different e-readers than exist today. (…)