John Allison to eBooks: Drop dead

John Allison (Scary Go Round and Bad Machinery) has some very cross words to say about ebooks:

Much ink has been wasted on whether music as a predominantly digital format has cost us something precious, and wonderful, and irreplaceable, and why can’t I stop crying &c. There have probably been losses and gains. No song ever need vanish from the catalogue, no treasure need be buried unheard, deleted. Physical formats become fun and worthwhile when produced, rather than drably essential. There need never be another CD released with a single page in the jewel case, another exercise in “why did we bother”.

Sure, there’s too much music to ever listen to it all, but that’s like having too much dinner and remembering with a warm glow the cold hard certainty of rationing. I miss the excitement of the record shop, but not the excitement of discovering something new.

But I don’t feel the same way about ebooks. I hate them. I genuinely hate them. With music, your relationship is predominantly with what is going in your ear. Yes, you may stare at the cover for Tales From Topographic Oceans by Yes for half an hour while going on a prog journey, but that really is making your own fun at its most innocent, deny that if you like.

The relationship with a book is very different. It’s a tactile object relatively unchanged since the Gutenberg press. You’ve got to hold that thing in front of your face. It’s your buddy until you’re done with it. A well-thumbed, much read book is like a vile, beloved, drooled on childhood bunny, but you wouldn’t buy one of those second-hand unless you had a lot of problems in your life.

He goes on to mention that he doesn’t hate digital works, but the current ways eBooks are set up, they’re far too beholden to the technology manufacturers.

(h/t Robot 6)


Posted on October 31, 2011, in The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. I’d say that sentimentality kind of kills the argument as it’s an object and not an object we tend to treat well. This whole you can’t cuddle with a computer thing worked alot better when computing wasn’t done in your bed. I’m against the proprietary formats (although Mr. Allison’s specific field is a lot nicer in that respect) because, well its just dumb.

  2. Man, I miss hand lettered books, these books off the printing press they make now are so soulless.

  3. just a matter of taste Im pretty sure that now kids read more blogs using the latest tablet at their beds than books.
    even in a few years they will feel weird reading from print book instead of normal books
    (only in USA) mexico only a few rich kids got tablets

  4. Makes about as much sense as that infamous series of Curtis strips in which a former Disney animator is reduced to making sandwiches because of mean ol’ Pixar.

  5. I don’t see why it has to be one or the other. I love books, but I certainly don’t need ALL my books to be printed and bound. In fact, 80% of what I read is non-fiction, and to have all that stuff as ebooks, easily searchable and not taking up any room, is a Godsend. I’ll always want to have the books and comics I specially love as physical objects I can hold and smell, but I don’t see why that should make it impossible to also love ebooks.

  6. I agree with Joumana; just because I love books, and love to read/hold/smell physical copies of my books/graphic novels doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be able to love ebooks as well. I think being able to having hundreds of your favorite books all on a single device to read at any time is a wonderful thing, and I don’t think you necessarily need to read a book in printed form in order to fully experience it.

  7. I hate paying money for something that does not exist physically >.< Mostly this is because practically everything I buy outside of my essentials I buy in order to share with people I know, something that is a lot simpler when you have an actual object you can hand off to them!

    I understand why people like ebooks though. Kindles are pretty handy and easier to pack on a long trip than a stack of paperbacks… but I perfer the paperbacks anyways.

    (Also I can usualy get mass markert paperbacks for cheaper than ebooks… I like being able to get all of Shakespear for 99 cents or whatever but new releases are still so expensive!)

    • (Also I can usualy get mass markert paperbacks for cheaper than ebooks… I like being able to get all of Shakespear for 99 cents or whatever but new releases are still so expensive!)

      This depends, actually. You can download “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” for free on Project Gutenburg. It’s even available in Kindle format.

      I downloaded a lot of free eBooks from Gutenburg myself, including Moby Dick, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Adventures of Huck Finn, and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

      But yeah… new releases are pretty expensive. And I’m finding the big limitation of Kindle is that you can’t really share. Over the last year I’ve passed along several books — from Agatha Christie to Lev Grossman to that one Masters of Doom book — to co-workers, and I don’t think I can do that with eBooks.

      • Even without the free “clasics” stuff, I’ve picked up more than a few $1-$3 books for my Kindle recently. Once I bought a couple using Amazon’s Kindle-book-of-the-day thing, they started showing up in my recomendation lists…

        • Reepicheep-chan

          That would be fine if they were things I wanted to read, but as long as I am hunting for a needle in a haystack I may as well go thrifting and get books for 50 cents a pop instead… Granted I only skimmed Amazon’s selection once, but there was nothing I could spot that I wanted to read for under 5 bucks. That is just me though. Like I said, I understand why ebooks are good for some people; they are just not for me, not right now anyway. Too much thrift in my blood.

          • It doesn’t have to be Amazon. I just started David Weber’s “Honor Harrington” series recently. And a large part of that was finding that Baen had the first two books up for free on their Baen Webscriptions store…

      • Reepicheep-chan

        Sharing is a bit of an issue. I think the Nook started out with a lending set-up of some sort and the Kindle is implimenting one. I do not know the details, but it is certainly more complicated than just handing someone a book. The entertainment industry is not big into the whole ‘second-hand’ thing as a general rule; publishers would just as soon make every person who partakes of a book, movie, game, or song (even once) pay them for the priviledge.

  8. My only problem with electrical books/ comics is that you seem to only be paying to read them and you don’t really own them. It’s worrying that people have been agreeing to the extended rental. It’s as if we’re agreeing to let marketers control our lives*.

    Otherwise the article is just a bunch of sentimentalist bloviating.

    * Says the iPhone owner…

  9. I also don’t see why books and ebooks can’t live together. Ebooks are there for convenience and books are there as a firm and ready backup. For commuting I read an ebook but when going long distance I prefer a proper book for reading in long periods of time.

    I also like writing in the margins (comic ideas, etc) which obviously I can’t do conveniently enough on an ebook.

  10. This reminds me of 1996 when the agency I was interning for was asking themselves, “should we get into the website business?” They determined that people will never want to use the internet that much because it was too limiting and not real enough.

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