Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Definition of 'Book'

By Martha Reed

Last October my life took an unexpectedly sudden change when I switched jobs and found myself moving away from a 29-year print production career into market research. Now don’t get me wrong; I love the new challenge and it came at just the right time in my life. Any later in my life and I’m not entirely sure I would have wanted to, or even been able to, stick with the adaptation. I’m very near the point in my life when I want to cash it all in, say to hell with it, and open a tiki bar and fishing camp in the Bahamas. But since one of my Darwinian mottos is “Adapt or Perish” and also since I need to seriously make up my stock market losses before I can consider retirement, I try to take a rosy view of the whole thing.

I got into print production straight out of college in 1980, right at the start of the PC revolution. I can honestly say I was probably one of the first female financial typesetters; before we worked in ‘cold type’ (i.e. on computers) linotype operators – men, all men – cast slugs of text using hot melted lead. I kid you not. They also set the hot type backwards, character by character, inserting more picas of lead (“leading”) between the sentences to build each page. It’s a lost art and it was a privilege to work with the ‘old guys’ who proved they were typesetters by rolling up their sleeves and showing off their lead scars – the bumps and burns on their forearms caused when the linotype machine spit the hot lead at them. I wasn’t sorry to miss that portion of the learning curve.

What I’m trying to say is that I’ve seen a lot of change in my thirty years of business experience. I’ve seen an entire industry – financial printing – dry up and blow away as typists took over for typesetters and companies, always on the lookout for ways to trim their substantial printing costs, internalized their needs by using in-house PCs and foregoing professional formatting. It’s true, as long as you don’t really care what your Annual Report looks like, that you can do it cheaper in house. The SEC doesn’t care what format you use; they’re using HTML. Typesetting has become a lost art, as truly quaint and archaic as sable brush calligraphy.

Which brings me to my point. Looking through the headlines today my eye was caught by the news that Amazon has released Kindle2. I’ve had the Kindle idea – a wireless reading device – flagged in the back of my brain for about 18 months, waiting, as I have learned to do with all new technology, to see if it would fly. Well evidently Kindle is flying off the shelf. The supplier can’t produce the hardware fast enough, there’s been a waiting list for new ones – even with a $350 price tag – since November 2008 and even Oprah raves about Kindle as her new favorite thing.

What really caught my eye was that Amazon isn’t saying Kindle uses e-books. They’ve dropped the ‘e’ in their marketing material and are saying you can download books. Digital books. Now I’m not here to promote Kindle but I am wondering if our definition of ‘book’ has changed?

Definition: A book is a set or collection of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of paper, parchment, or other material, usually fastened together to hinge at one side. A single sheet within a book is called a leaf, and each side of a leaf is called a page. A book produced in electronic format is known as an e-book.

Is digital print and/or Kindle the end of the (print) world (again) as we know it? Is anyone out there using one? What's your experience of it?

6 comments:

Tory said...

I have a friend using a kindle, and she loves it. In part because she can carry "one" book but ready quite a few (I forget how many: 20? 200?)

For me, it will never be as satisfying as turning pages. And I may use a computer all the time, but if I really want to read something deeply, I print it out.

Martha Reed said...

Tory, that's been my experience, too, even more so now that I'm reading to memorize content. I just wonder though if that's a generational preference because that's what I grew up with, although my niece and nephew read books. This is an interesting development. I'm going to keep my eye on it.

Anonymous said...

I have owned my Kindle for 10 months now and I still love it. I travel for work and it is much easier to pack one Kindle than 20 books. In my hand the Kindle has the weight and feel of a trade size book. The e-ink screen looks like the page in a book. I find once I am engrossed in the story I forget about the medium I am holding and only see the words on the page. I don't feel it is an age thing, I am 56. .... Mo

Joyce said...

I would love to own a Kindle, but not for $350. Just like PCs, the price is bound to drop in a couple of years. When it gets below $200, I'll buy one.

Annette said...

A friend of mine can't say three sentences without mentioning the Kindle. She loves hers. I have no interest in getting one. Yet. Part of it is the price tag. The other part is just haven't seen the need. I love books. I can only read one at a time (usually) so I only carry one at a time.

Also, I'm usually the last one to accept the newest technology. I still don't own an IPod either.

Phil Davis said...

I just uploaded my second book to Kindle and the formatting did not come out well at all due to graphics. It looks like I need an HTML programmer to make it right. Not sure why it is so difficult for the Kindle reader to have a document look like a simple PDF. My other book without graphics turned out better.