Kindles and Book Depository and books as art … or not?

Kindle‘What’s that noise, Mummy?’my daughter said to me this morning while I was pushing her on the swing.

‘I don’t know, I can’t hear anything,’ was my response.

To which she solemnly replied, ‘I think it’s my brain.’

Obviously at this point I cracked up laughing. And then just had to ask, ‘What does it sound like?’

‘It’s squeaking!’ she shrieked, also laughing by now. ‘My brain’s squeaking!’

Okay, funny as that may be, I know just how she feels. My brain is definitely squeaking at the moment with words like Kindle and Book Depository and Angus and Robertson and receivership and that awful statistic I posted on my Facebook page last week about the average sales of a debut Australian novel being 919 copies.

What the hell am I doing to myself? What business do I have trying to be a writer?

A Kindle edition of What is Left Over, After was launched a couple of weeks ago. It’s one of the first 2 titles chosen by my publisher to be issued in a Kindle edition. The publisher asked me to provide a comment on how I felt about this for their media release. And I sat and stared at a blank email for half an hour. Because I’ve never even seen a Kindle in the flesh (in the plastic? I don’t even know what it’s made of) so I don’t really know how I feel about being Kindle-available.

Obviously I want to sell as many books as I can to as many readers as possible so part of me thinks it’s terrific. The other part of me has difficulty imagining myself sitting down with an e-reader and curling up with my electronically inked words. I am a person who loves a book with pages. But of course not everyone is the same as me.

And then there’s the Book Depository phenomenon. Cheap books, free postage. I’ve been to lots of book clubs over the past couple of months to talk about What is Left Over, After and many of these clubs are buying their books through Book Depository. I understand why they’re doing this – they can save money and who doesn’t want o do that?

But I also wonder whether it is only since the advent of Amazon and Book Depository that people have begun to think books are expensive?

Part of me doesn’t quite agree with the ‘books are so expensive in Australia’ argument. A book costs about $27.95. A book will take you many hours to read, you can pick it up and put it down and read it when you choose, you can re-read it again later. A night at the movies might cost slightly less but it’s over in a couple of hours. No one complains as vigorously about the price of movies. So why are books seen as less worthy of their price? Is it just because there is suddenly a way to get books cheaper via Book Depository that books now seem expensive?

A good book is, to me, like a piece of art. It prompts contemplation in the same way that a work of art does, it speaks to me about the greater puzzle of what it means to be human and I close the covers feeling richer and somewhat blessed that I can own a piece of art for the bargain price of $27.95.

What do you think? Is a book a work or art? Or have books become disposable, a read-it-once, read-it-quick, thus get-it-cheap object?

17 comments

  1. i have shelves and shelves of books. i don’t like to throw out books, even if i will never read them again i find it impossible to throw them out – unless of course i read it or tried to read it and just didn’t connect with it. if that happens, then it gets packed off to the local second-hand seller quicker than anything.

    i do like sitting and gazing at my book filled shelves – if i had the space i would have a room lined with shelves filled with books alas i do not.

    i will never have a kindle or any type of electronic reading device – for me half the pleasure of reading is buying a brand new book and cracking the spine for the first time, inhaling the smell of a book be it old or new – you can’t do that with something, cold hard and electronic.

    however i am a gal who loves a bargain – i will never pay full price for a book unless i REALLY want to read it and can’t find it anywhere cheaper. the most i’ve ever paid for a book was around $26 and then it turned out to be crap.

    i usually browse and find “new” books that i love at places like angus and robertson and then go and hunt them down cheaper elsewhere [read: book depository, target, big w]. yes as an author that sucks for you BUT i only have limited money and i love to read, so i try to source books as cheap as i can so i can buy MORE of them. $27.95 might not seem like alot of money but some months i can buy 0 books, other months up to 5 or 7 a month at times, which as you know does add up, so i’m always going to source as cheap as i can so i can continue to feed my addiction without bankrupting the Guv!

    great post.

    ~x~

    • Thanks for your reply Rach. I am, at the moment, waiting with anticipation to move into a new house in which I’ve built a whole wall of shelves for my books – I also never throw books out. Like you, some occasionally end up being donated to the local church book sale but that is rare.
      I also like your attitude about book prices, that you don’t consider books to be expensive but given that you buy so many, you want to be able to get them for the best price. I’ve had so many people say to me lately that they think books are expensive, yet they quite happily spend the same amount of money on an experience that, I think, provides less value. But then I have to remind myself that we all value different things!

  2. Trin

    Rach, I couldn’t agree more it was as if I had already written my point of view!

  3. “…inhaling the smell of a book be it old or new…”

    Yup, agree with Rach there. I’ll never own a Kindle or any other electronic book type ..thing..o (I also said, however, that I’d never be on MSN or Facebook…)

    Most of the books I read (Starwars, Warhammer 40k etc) are around $20-25 and I don’t think it’s too expensive. Movies on the other hand ARE. I remember being able to goto the movies, buy a popcorn and drink, with a $10 note…

    • Yes, I also said I’d never be on Facebook and there I am! I wonder if that means you’ll find me with a kindle in a couple of years.
      I remember when TWO people could go to the movies for $10 – but that’s just because I’m old!

  4. Anthony Pyle

    I think book prices are very hard things to judge. I generally always bought books online from the moment I could, just because it seemed easier to type my favourite authors into a search engine than go to a book store and find they didn’t have the book.

    and I don’t think $30 is a lot for a book, but when its offered at half the price online with no shipping fees you have to wonder if its better to own two books for $30 or just one.
    At least thats my mentality.

    Although I most definitely think its killing the book shop industry, as they really cant compete against such low, low prices.

    I don’t really have an opinion on Kindles, I have a book reading app on my phone which is just horrible to read with. I also prefer to have a clutter of books over a neat organised PDF file in a metallic box.
    But then perhaps i’m just a purist in the sense of books belong on paper and not in any other format.

    • Hi Anthony – I agree with you. So many people have said to me lately that they think books are expensive without really considering what else they can buy for the same amount that provides an experience of the same value. So it’s not online book shopping that bothers me so much as the perception people have about book prices. And I always find that online book shops are great for getting hold of hard to find titles or out of print works too.

  5. I love books. I have five on my side table, another four inside the drawer, and a pile to be read on my dresser. My husband was given a Kindle and I toyed with it briefly, but I doubt it will ever give the same tactile and sensory satisfaction as a tangible book made of paper. Books smell and I love that!

    I love filling the shelves with books that I know I will want to read over and over, and not just ones I think look good on the shelf. I agree with Rach, if I don’t connect with a book (and there have been a few lately) it’s straight off to the second hand book shop so I can exchange it for something I do love.

    I know it’s silly, but I arrange all my books by colour, so it looks like I have a rainbow in my bookshelves. I remember the day I realised that my Dad had shelves and shelves of books, and we had a similar taste. I realised that I had my own personal library (and librarian) and I hope to have a similar experience with my children one day.

    I will buy a book new if I am desperate to own it, but I admit I buy the vast majority of my tomes at the second hand bookshop, op-shops and fetes. Finding a book on my wish-list for $1 gives me a buzz that lasts all day, though I appreciate that does absolutely nothing for the author.

    But I wouldn’t baulk at spending $27 on something I really want (provided it lives up to expectations). Like you say, a book lasts a lifetime (or at least a few nights) but a movie last two hours, and the last cost me $19. It was a good movie, still, I could have bought 3 or 4 books for that.

    Finally, I have only ordered once through Book Depository. The prices were reasonable (not cheap) and yes it was free shipping, but it took forever. I am a bit of a ‘I want it now’ girl, so I will stick to books shops in future.

    • Haha – I’ve never thought about arranging my books by colour but I like the rainbow idea. And I agree – the wait for delivery on Book Depository is one of the reasons I’ve never ordered through them, my book buying tends to be more impulsive than Book Depository allows. The thing I love about second hand book stalls at fetes is finding books you’ve always meant to read but forget about when you’re in a bookshop because your attention is drawn to all the latest release books. At a fete, I always tend to rummage around more than I would either in a shop or online.

  6. marlish glorie

    In this kindle versus book debate, lets not forget bookshops and the people who work in them.Bookshops are a vital part of our communtiy. They employ people for starters!!! In my case I’ve beome very good friends with the owners of my favourite bookshop, Dymocks in Freo. Clive and his wonderful mother Karen, run the shop with a small army of cheerful and extremely helpful staff. Most of them young, most of them in need of employment! And I know having a kindle makes books more affordable. But can we afford, as a community, to see bookshops and those on board sink?

  7. Absolutely they are a work of art! I too love the feel and smell of a new or old book and have inherited so many from my grandparents with their names scrawled on the inside. We have a home library which we use every day and I think it is the best room in the house! Georgie x

  8. Kathryn

    I love my Kobo app on my iphone for convenience. If I am reading a paper book and I get stuck in a waiting room I never seem to have my book with me an I hate gossip mags, especially 2 years out of date, also it also looks very unprofessional to be reading a book at work. With the phone it sits in the palm of my hand and people don’t even notice. (I sit in a display home and some days go hours without seeing anyone). When its on my phone, its always there. I’ve been using it for about 8 months and have read more novels than I was able to with books. Hubby HATES when I have the light on late to read, but with night reading enabled (backlit white writing on a black page) it doesn’t bother him. I still love to curl up with a book, but the convenience of such a mobile device is great.

  9. Trudy

    So many hours of thought, writing, crafting, editing and re-writing go into a published book – I’m surprised they are sold as cheaply as they are (or perhaps I should be enraged that authors aren’t paid more). While I love browsing, buying, reading and displaying my books, I also have a soft spot for the Kindle. Mine is always in my bag because I’d rather read than fiddle with my phone when I’m sitting at a cafe or waiting for something or someone. When travelling, it’s marvellous. I download 3 or 4 new books to take with me – so much easier than lugging heavy books around. I also like the highlighting function that enables you to store favourite quotes from your books. Granted, you’ve also got to take a charger, but still, it lasts a long while 🙂
    Natasha, I hope the Kindle experience is a positive one for you. You may even pick up a whole new swag of fans!

    • Yes, you’re right Trudy. So many hours from so many people go into a book and it does irk me that people believe $20 is too expensive for this. I’m really glad my books are available as ebooks too, because I want readers to be able to read my book in whatever way suits them. I haven’t got into the habit of reading on an e-reader yet, paper books work best for me at the moment. But I think for travelling, an e-reader is fantastic.

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