They may be cheaper and more convenient, writes Andrew Keen in The Telegraph, but ebooks do not represent meaningful cultural progress.
Andrew Keen is @ajkeen on TwitterPublished:17 Sep 2009
Physical books – those textual products combining paper and words – are slowly but surely being replaced by the ebook, a handheld computer such as Amazon’s Kindle or the new Sony Reader that incorporates hundreds of texts on a single digital device.
Yesterday, for example, on the day that Dan Brown’s latest blockbuster, The Lost Symbol, was released globally by Random House, digital sales of the book on the Kindle were rivalling paper sales on Amazon.com. As The KindleNation blog said yesterday, it’s hard to imagine what could be a 2009 bigger story in the publishing world than the Kindle’s to compete, head-to-head, with the physical book.
Malcolm Gladwell’s much quoted “tipping point” for the e-book has now been reached. Next year, will see seductive new e-book devices including a Plastic Logic device from Barnes & Noble and a $99.99 dual screen e-reader from Asus. Meanwhile, the iPhone, the Palm Pre and every other smartphone is also a de facto e-book able to store hundreds of texts. The end, therefore, is nigh for the standalone book. The single physical text simply won’t be able to survive the growing e-book storm.
The historic dimensions that this dramatic transition from paper to e-book were really brought home to me last week in Brazil. I had the great fortune to be in Rio, speaking – along with writers as diverse as the Israeli novelist David Grossman, the Anglo-American historical novelist Bernard Cornwall and youth cult author Meg Cabot - at the XIV Rio de Janeiro International Book Fair: TV Bienal .
As one of the biggest public celebration of books and writers in Latin America, the Bienal attacts over 500,000 book lovers for ten days of readings and debates. The importance of the Bienal in Rio cultural life is hard to underestimate. For ten days every September, the Rio Book Fair replaces both the Copacabana beach and the Maracana football stadium as the most popular place for Brazilians to hang out.
So what is the impact of the e-book revolution on an event like the Rio Bienal?
While there were few ebooks on display at the Bienal, it was a subject on the minds of most of Brazil’s leading publishers. I spoke, for example, to my own publisher , Christina Zahar, who runs Jorge Zahar , one of Brazil’s most illustrious houses. Zahar sees ebooks as an exciting opportunity to expand her market, reach a new audience and, most importantly, market and sell out-of-print books.
Yet, in spite of Zahar’s optimism, I have to admit a certain foreboding about the impact of the ebook on events like Bienal. Held in a cavernous conference centre on the outskirts of Rio, this is an event that celebrates the physical book. Stall after stall of publisher were stacked with thousands and thousands of actual books – everything from Bernard Cornwall’s Azincourt to Brazilian editions of Herge’s Tintin to my own O Culto Do Amador.