How Evil are E-Books? An Opinion Piece


As with all opinion pieces published on Writer's Edit, the work below reflects those opinions of the author alone, not Writer's Edit.

 

‘I cannot live without books,’ Thomas Jefferson once said, and why should of he? More than just words on a page, books possess the tangibility to curl around as you read yourself to sleep, they create suspense as you read to the bottom of your page and listen to the satisfying sound of another page turning, but most of all they are so often a family heirloom passed down through generations.

A book is nothing more than a mere object, yet it offers so much. So, why is it that we continue to allow the ever-growing technological world to destroy our sentimentality? An eBook is an electronic version of a book and it is read digitally on your laptop, computer, iPhone, IPad or specially designed eBook-reading device and in the way that iPods killed video and the radio star, eBooks are now killing our tangible books, authors and publishers.

The battle between print and e-books continues...
The battle between print and e-books continues...

Who would have ever deemed that a seemingly innocent, ebook could be the route of a dramatic domino effect extending as far as the publishing company? The digital revolution that has introduced the eBook has a significant economic impact on the text publishing industry. Consequently, many companies, book stores and writers are at the point of financial struggle. An average print book sells for $28 and returns $14 to the publishing company, compared to the $12.99 eBook average, returning only $9.09[1]. If the lessened revenue, alone, is not a severe enough set back to such companies, consumers who can digitally access texts much cheaper do so, and thus cause a serious decline in book sales. If the statistics do not speak loudly enough themselves, the sudden absence of book stores across the nation definitely does. Angus  & Robertson’s was once a much-loved book store in all corners of the country,  unfortunately today there are only few stores remaining, which are all externally operated. From a more local perspective, the once flourishing chain of Mary Martin bookstores in South Australia has diminished to one single store that is currently for sale.[2]

It is not only the publishing companies at jeopardy, but it is the writers and authors who are being equally, if not more severely, impacted by this technological advance. As the electronic books struggle to create sufficient revenue for publishing companies, even the most well-known of authors are being denied advances. Once upon a time, in a not-so-distant past, stable publishing companies could comfortably offer up to $100,000 in an advance to debut authors.[3] Today, said companies are averaging advance offers somewhere between $1000 and $5000 to the same authors.[4] The diminishing figures not only compel contemporary authors to find a second source of income, but discourage up-and-coming authors to break into the industry. This could mean that our next Shakespeare or William Golding is spending their time making a living, scanning groceries at the local check-out instead of publishing timeless texts for the next generation to enjoy.

As the domino effect continues from publishers, to authors, it continues to cascade onto the readers as well. Although it appears that eBooks are a harmless, more affordable equivalent to print, the credit card statements and phone bills of ‘eReaders’ suggest otherwise. Technologies required to access and purchase the electronic books often inflict an unexpected financial burden on readers. A kindle, being specifically designed and produced to read and purchase eBooks can impose a minimum financial setback of $99, iPads sit at approximately $500 depending on the model, and a 16 GB iPhone is a minimum of $799.[5] Based on the figures, at the price of a kindle alone a consumer could purchase up to four print-text, tangible books. On top of set up costs and purchasing the eBooks, consumers must consider the internet connection and download charges that are inflicted on their telecommunication bills as a result.

The eBook movement is not only a threat to our bank accounts, but has also been proven to have a detrimental effect on our vision. Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) is an eye strain caused by the stress on our eyes after reading from a digital screen[6].  As it is more difficult for our eyes to focus on the pixels that create letters and image on screen, it causes stress to our eyes. Reading printed text however, eyes have little to no difficulty focusing on the defined, opaque letters and images. While some may argue that there are glasses on the market to prevent the syndrome, it is objectified, as glasses are only another unnecessary cost in addition to the ever growing list. Most significantly, as technology and eBook resources expand and begin to replace lined paper and textbooks in schools, it is the eyes belonging to the youth of today that are at grave risk. As is everything else in a child’s body, the eyes are still developing. Exposing them to such danger as CVS so early on could more than likely have severe, permanent ramifications on a child’s vision.

So is it really worth it? Is our society so lazy to prioritise convenience above finance, above sentimental value, above the crisp sound of turning pages and above the health and wellbeing of not only ourselves, but of our youth? At this current rate, it will not be long before publishing companies and bookstores dwindle down to nothing more than a webpage and an online e-store. It will be the young children without glasses that stand out, and we will buy our groceries from, or have our cars washed by those who should have been today’s Shakespeare. Perhaps, in the not so distant future, the tangible books that Thomas Jefferson could not live without, that were handed to our generation by our grandparents, will become nothing more than a story themselves, that our own grandchildren will read about through their CVS prescription glasses, and from the screen of an iPad.


References:


[1]Trachtenberg, J.A  (2010)  ‘Authors Feel Pinch in Age of E-Books’ [Internet]  The Wall Street Journal Online accessed 2012

[2] Martin Bookshop Online (2010) Welcome to Martin Bookshop Online . [online] Available at: http://www.marymartin.com.au/ [Accessed: 17 Oct 2012].

[3] Opcit: Trachtenberg, J.A

[4] ibid

[5] Buy the Iphone Outright [Internet] 2012 AppleIphone.com accessed 2012

[6] Wan, L.K. (2011) ‘Computer Vision Syndrome’ [Internet]  allaboutvision.com accessed 2012

Additional:

Trachtenberg, J.A  (2010)  ‘Authors Feel Pinch in Age of E-Books’ [Internet]  The Wall Street Journal Online accessed 2012

Buy the Iphone Outright [Internet] 2012 AppleIphone.com accessed 2011

Wan, L.K. (2011) ‘Computer Vision Syndrome’ [Internet]  allaboutvision.com accessed 2012

Holly Byrne

Holly Byrne is a journalism student at the University of South Australia, majoring in Editing and Publishing. Currently completing her first year of study, she hopes to pursue a career within the magazine industry.

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