EBOOKS VS SCHOLARSHIP (A PERSONAL RANT: PART ONE)
Rarely do I rant here, on personal things of little real significance, though, there is method to my madness, as we'll see tomorrow. But there is, in fact, some significance to my ranting, perhaps...just perhaps...
I'm speaking of the so-called "e-book", those wonders of modern electronics that, true to their claim, allow you to cart whole libraries around in a device that can fit into your hand. I'm no Luddite, and certainly not opposed to technological progress. The thought of doing so I will readily confess tempted me. I have a fairly large personal library, and have had since college days. The thought of moving it always fills me with apprehension, and the thought of being able to do so by putting it all into a digital medium and popping it into a small suitcase is compelling, if for no other reason than financial economy.
But as the attraction of the technology worked on my mind, so did its dangers. I began to distrust a technology whose premier marketing identity was a name that conjured the actual burning of books. Others began to write about the dangers vs conveniences of the technology, usually in pieces of fluff that address no real issues or concerns, but concentrating instead on the inane and trivial: one couldn't take the technology into the bathtub, batteries would die right as one was reading toward the climax of the action in a book, you get headaches from reading a screen for too long, etc etc (see this article for an "example" of such "critique": Arguments Against eBooks).
Others have argued on a more "mystical" basis: ebooks will "lose the trace of the author," they don't have the same "mystique" as handling a book and turning the page, and so on.
But it's that "trace of the author" thing that, surprisingly, is not as mystical as it sounds.
Readers here know that I not only write my books, but in those books publisher by Adventures Unlimited Press, I also format them as well. I create as near camera-ready copy as I can. Granted, in the final formatting done by Adventures Unlimited, some of my intentions are lost(and regretably, some typos retained). For example, I never format a book with a section header ending on a page (or being split between one page and another) with main text following on the next page. I never have a picture with a caption on the following page. Such artifacts result by processing once the books are out of my hands. But in the main, the books appear more or less exactly as I want them to appear, with certain things oftentimes being very deliberately placed on certain specific pages for effect. Similarly with footnoting. In formatting books I have tried, when referencing one source over repeated footnotes, to place the title at the head of each string of footnotes on each page, rather than as in the old practice of an endless series of "Ibids" requiring the reader to flip back several pages to recall the text being reference. And yes, this was a conscious and deliberate personal modification of the "Chicago Manual of Style" on my part, along with a few others(I still use "p." and "pp." for example, when the modern manuals have largely dropped these, presenting the reader in some cases with a near-indecipherable string of numbers. And I don't even want to begin talking about the abominable AP or MLA "style manuals". They are not systems of referencing orthography. They are merely scholarly laziness). Again, in final editing at the publisher, this oftentimes means that my attempt to begin citations on each page with the exact title and page reference is thwarted, as an "Ibid" from the previous page creeps onto the head of the list on a new page, and the exact title reference gets pushed a little lower in the line. Such was not my intention, but is an inevitable consequence of reformatting. But, again, in the main, the page has the appearance of how I intended it to look.
Which brings us to the ebook. Here my primary concern has always been twofold: (1) it is impossible to use them to reference properly, since the author's and/or publisher's formatting intentions are utterly lost, and(my real concern) (2) this opens up the potential for much more profound mischief, such as the deliberate alteration, deletion, or simple suppression of an author's works by the corporate or other power, via the technology. There is no external check on the content if everything were to move to ebook format. And finally, someone else seems to have noticed this problem:
Kindle is fun but sucks for scholars
No reference to the original pagination? Granted, it's a lovely tool for the mandarins of the Amairicuhn edubabble establishment, enamored as they are of substandard referencing systems like MLA or AP. Page number? Why bother with that? Just put (Tolstoy, 1869), and put the whole reference in the bibliography (Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace, 1869, &c. &c.) and let the reader figure out amid several other parenthetical references interrupting the main (Edubabble, 2013) text which page you (as you turn to the bibliography and find M.O. Edubabble, D.Ed., "Using MLA Referencing Standards to Improve Cognitive Dissonance," Journal of Psychoblither, vol 204,781, no. 4, 2013, 22-23) meant. (and if there are any AP MLA advocates out there reading this, save yourselves the time writing to point out this detail or that detail. I haven't learned your systems because I don't consider them worth learning, much less forcing on students. Period. End of discussion. No negotiation.)
And if you think I'm joking about the parenthetical "references", it's almost that bad. With the ebook, the edubabblers won't have to worry about any page references, since these always change depending on how one formats one's "tablet" or "app" (insert trendy nomenclature here). The ultimate reductio of such a process will be some sort of digital version of the Soviet Encyclopedias of the Stalinist era, with the uncomfortable pictures or words being edited on the spot by the people with the actual access to the technology and the "e-texts,"
Now, if you think all this is alarmist Luddite nonsense...imagine all your personal financial documents being in such a format and no other...
...oh, wait, that's tomorrow's "Rant, Part Two"...
...for the moment: a plea to those reading my books only in ebook format: cease and desist, because you're not seeing them as I intended them to look. If they're worth the money, then they're worth buying, not "renting". They're worth owning, and having, and not "storing." I have no control over the fact that my publishers allow them to appear in that format. I make more money from ebook royalties on a percentage basis than I do from real hardcopy, but nonetheless, that is my plea.
And as we'll see tomorrow, the stakes may be more profound and far-reaching than people can imagine.
See you on the flip side...
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Both of JpF’s concerns are valid. I’ve seen claims of people online that articles, comments, twated pictures and the like have been altered by others. I’m sure ebooks are altered also. Having read a few of JpF’s more recent books in ebook format first, I then ordered the 4 more books as hard copies and I have to say that I preferred having the physical copy in my hand. The deliberate formatting he talks about above is much better than the electronic version. Being able to look at the bottom of the page at footnotes is much easier then clicking each little number which takes you to a different page to only discover an ibid. However inevitably I will end up purchasing both versions in order to use the ebook to extract and archive quotes and highlights.
I rather feel my books but as an european it is handy to buy american writers ebooks while waiting for the hard copy book to come out. Buying your books in both formats saves money because of post & packaging which is more then the cost of severall books unfortunely and the ebook comes out fast. You see I am still waiting for your last book to come out, amazon.de says september. Fingers crossed.
I have nothing to add to this, except that long ago I decided if a book was worth having, then I MUST have it in hard copy.
Amazon retracted thousands of copies of George Orwell’s 1984 a few years back. Apparently, they did not have digital rights to that title. But the sinister irony of the Kindle memory hole ala 1984 was not lost on a lot of people.
As to eBooks, I treat them as a supplementary thing. I always order a paper copy of a book, or Lulu if I have to. That’s true of yours too Joseph. I always wonder why Amazon does not offer a paper/ebook package deal… for $2.00 extra, you can get the ebook too. 100% profit to all concerned…
I referenced exactly that below (but since I’m new here, I’m not sure the post has been moderated through yet).
I don’t know if many of you have noticed yet, but the trend in music (for example) has been to issue vinyl records — a superior physical artifact to the dreaded CD — and include a code word for a digital downloadable version if you so choose. This way you get the best of both worlds…an analog piece of tech that you can hold in your hands and also access to the ephemeral digital content should you desire it for portable digital purposes such as jogging or enduring a transoceanic flight.
On the one hand, I understand the paranoia surrounding digital technology because anything in coded in 1’s & 0’s can be intercepted and altered by who-knows-what-third-party. On the other hand, where does one draw the line on their paranoia? Should one want to write a book on controversial material, can you really trust handing it off to a publisher? To push it to an extreme, anything less that writing the book, printing it oneself and then delivering it to the customer might have vulnerabilities within its’ security.
I don’t personally think that I’m naive or stupid and I admit that digital tech has its flaws…yet, I’m still somewhat optimistic that the possibility of “open source” technology can provide a counterbalance. Especially, if we push to couple digital & analog technology as I mentioned referenced above. Instead of buying a “digital” or “analog” copy, you should be able to access both by simp lying buying the content once (such as many record labels are now providing).
Kindle Matchbook is available currently on some titles (THRICE GREAT HERMETICA, e.g., is one). Buy a new print-edition (from Amazon) and get the Kindle edition for $2.99 or less on eligible titles. Covers past, present and future purchases of the qualifying books.
I may be mistaken, however, Lapis Lazuli was used by the “gods” and the tablets of Thoth were written on an unknown form of emerald. Makes me wonder just where these tomes are hidden. One day, one of these hidden libraries may be found, if one hasn’t already. This would be just about as permanent and unchangeable as a written text could get.
How much you wanna bet that just about zero (as far as I know) written documents (even if copied, of course) from any advanced, ancient, long-gone civilization have survived is because they were so “advanced” that all of their written material was electronic, and thus after any serious collapse of civilization, no one was able to access all that info again (without electricity, etc). If all of their books had been hard copy, I bet we’d have quite a few in our hands right now.
And of course, the fact that OUR society started using acid in paper production about a hundred years ago, we are in exactly the same boat right now. If OUR society ever experiences a catastrophic collapse, it will only take one to two hundred years before almost all of the books on the planet will disintegrate. Acid FREE paper is not even more expensive!!! Personally, I think the use of “acid” paper is intentional.
The digital can always be manipulated. Currently MaidSafe is trying to do for the internet what bitcoin has done for currency. Until then e-books are subject to arbitrary changes. Harper’s Magazine addressed this issue just a couple of years ago in a short letter about how Obama’s earlier digital copy was changed to a “correct” version.
To get the eyeballs on your work, one needs a publisher.
Gerald Colby, an investigative journalist, who has looked deeply into suppression of books – sometimes by publishers, and sometimes by authors succumbing to self-censorship(for truth tellers find themselves at the top of the hit parade charts/the ones you really don’t want to be on). Publishers have been known to work from the inside, to kill the book they supposedly “wanted” to publish. They do this without the author’s awareness or consent. It is called “privishing” and came into the lexicon around the 1970’s. Two families that liked to use this method were: The Duponts’ & The Rockefellers’. Privishing is a portmanteau(porter-to carry/manteaux – cloak) meaning to privately publish; as opposed to open to the public. Publicness threatens institutions whose power is invested in the control of information. Couple this with the digital, and soon one finds another deeper threat: the art of remembering is the art of thinking. Too many today are ignorant in the breath and scope about the reality that existing capitalism has in dominating social life. In an era of ever greater corruption, the watchdog is no longer on the beat. The internet is slowly evolving toward delivering something every body wants( for example, books), in a way nobody wants(e-books). Of course, I just may be prejudice.
For those who know how, back-ups can be stored off-line on CD or DVD. These can’t be altered remotely.
I’ve bought hard copies of all of your books but also the kindle versions, which I read after reading the paperbacks. You certainly have valid concerns,but I still love my devices! I have two kindles, in fact.
I’ve been able to read a lot of old out-of-print books that I otherwise could never afford. It’s been great for that purpose
As an old bookseller friend of mine warned decades ago-
“Collect your books now for we are going into a new dark ages”
While I agree with most of your points, I would like to add some thoughts.
Contrary to the hype, ebooks will never “replace” physical books until they can adequately mimic characteristics of physical books, like ease of use (turning back and forth between sections as one studies the material), formatting, as you point out, and so on.
All digital files are “ephemeral” in the sense of the word as used by Bucky Fuller – they require additional technology to be useful – they cannot simply be used by the equipment we have in our bodies (eyes). Things which require extra mechanisms to be useful are almost always problematic, and not being able to “directly” access a digital file puts us at a much greater disadvantage compared to a book, even if it is in a language we do not speak.
The lack of being able to secure or fix a persistent version of a digital file like an ebook, is seen as a blessing to some (you can always fix typos or add new content). However, as JPF points out, that also means that others can alter the file (and not just Amazon, but hackers as well).
The lack of security and file integrity is one of the biggest weakenesses of the manner in which we are allowed to participate in the digital world. We could easily have secure and private email, phone calls, medical records, etc., but the powers that be do not want us to have that. They want to be able to spy on us at whim and control us. That is the reason there is not a secure internet – it is perfectly possible to have it very secure.
Ebooks are also very poor at showing pictures, diagrams, charts, or other images. What ebook files for readers like Nook and Kindle really are is just very basic HTML, or web pages. This technology is in a very primitive state, regardless of the marketing hype.
People have been selling digital copies of their work for many years, usually as PDF files, which are a bit more secure than ebook HTML. They can also hold their formatting and do a reaosnable job of pictures and diagrams, but it still depends on the device upon which you read them.
However, even PDFs have their weakness, and are nto immune to being altered without showing a log of changes. The technology to lock files reliably is not generally available to the general public, unless you are a computer geek.
Ebooks have many weaknesses, but they also have a few strengths. First and foremost in my mind is that they break the stranglehold that a small elite of legacy publishers have on controlling who and what gets published.
The legacy publishing industry is notorious for censoring and controlling what people are allowed to read, and for taking advantage of authors. The stories of even published mid-level authors making huge profits on books that publishers turned down are many.
For example, I wrote, formatted, and published my own ebook through Amazon, and no one tells me what I can say in my ebook, where I can sell it, or who can read it. As a self-publishing author, I decide whether to copy protect the book or not, what the selling price will be, etc., etc., etc. I can also offer it as a PDF, audio, or any other kind of file I choose to put it in.
It is highly unlikely I would ever have been able to do even part of that through a legacy publisher.
The advantage of ebooks for new and un-proven authors cannot be overstated. Voices which might otherwise never be heard can have their day, and many people who would not otherwise be able, can now make money, or even a living, off their knowledge and ideas (and opinions, for better or worse).
Platforms like Amazon offer a world wide market to people who might be housebound. That is huge.
Publishers are bashing Amazon because Bezos has kicked down the corral that they have used to hold writers in slavery for so long. At Amazon, you do not surrender the rights to your work as you do to a legacy publisher. The author keeps all the rights to his work. Amazon is simply a storefront. Legacy publishers buy (and own) most of the important rights to any book they publish, so it ceases to really belong to the author.
Ebooks are limited and far from perfect. They cannot now, and probably will not ever, replace physical books. However, they do offer many advantages, especially to new or niche market authors.
What we need to do is see ebooks for the niche format they are, and work toward creating digital formats which can more accurately mimic a “real” book, while retaining all the freedoms ebooks have delivered to the masses.
My two cents.
Well said, all of it.
Excellent and well said!
Very good. You have changed my outlook to some extent. Thanks
This all part of to make sure we can’t compile our own private libraries and do are own research. Nothing like keeping us peasants in ignorance. Have you notice the collapse of the brick and mortar bookstores and the stratospheric rise of the price of paperbacks as you say e-readers can be tapered with easier just a command set an away goes the offending book. I would like to recommend a science fiction short story 30 Days Have September don’t remember the author name it about education.
Why not have both physical books and ebooks?
Like with music records now, you buy the vinyl and it comes with a download code for the mp3 file. That way, you’ve got the best of both worlds…a beautiful physical artifact and a digital file that’s convenient for the car stereo or the ipod when jogging or whatever.
Also, although my preference is a book rather than electronic version, I spend most of my time on a somewhat remote island. Without any bookstores here and considering the absurd shipping fees (books are heavy), I’ve found the digital versions to be quite handy for many uses.
I once showed a co worker just the cover mind you of “Yahweh the two faced god” . He ran away blabbering “Nooo I can’t look at it” !!!
Ha ha! Yeah, I can only imagine the distress when some folks read and grok what’s in that book. What gets me is the number of divinity students who read the various passages and don’t come to some rational conclusions. “Hmm, why would God need to ask for me to get some particular foods and clothing? Why would that God be *really* keen on non-stop adulation, sacrifice, slavery, etc?” Can you really love a God who’d be willing to kill you, especially after you get free will?
Since you yourself raised the issue of book formats, I wonder if you have any particular objection to the time-honoured custom of putting an Index at the end of the books. I know this is fairly compensated by an extensive Table of Contents at the beginning, but an Index would also be handy to find something later for research; my “better” books tend to get filled with slips of paper to mark the pages so it takes a bit to find the references (yes I look for references with page numbers!).
I agree on doing away with “Ibid.” (and “Op.cit.”). Some publishers use an abreviated form for citing references after the first use. This is handy to avoid repeating very long titles, but nowadays you just have to copy and paste…
There’s a reason those “gods” and the ancients wrote on cuneiform tablets, copper scrolls and whatnot..
Thanks for helping us see things through your unclouded eyes
Well, I suppose I’m a target of the rant who’s only too happy to change behavior with reference to your work and in deference to you.
I’m around six years your senior and already have a huge physical library that’s going to be a problem as I prepare for for future events as not just anyone is going to be the recipient of all or part of it. Lest they have the understanding as so eloquently described by Ms. Judy before me … No!
I have found my Kindle to be a mixed bag from an independent scholar’s point of view, finding, e.g. THE HUSSERL DICTIONARY, (Continuum Philosophy Dictionaries) to be dastardly and THE DARK LORD, by Peter Levenda to be divine.
Bravo!The reduction of all books to estyle will have consequences probably rivaling the burning of the books Alexandria. don’t underestimate the relationship between writer and author. real reading is a form of meditation and the reader gets from a book what he brings to it. I am now 83. When I reread books that I read decades ago, I am amazed at how much more I glean from them. Why preface these remarks by saying I am not a Luddite? Lud (if he actually existed) was right. It is interesting to observe that the early analog computers were based on the weaving looms. We in the Humanities have lost. Our culture is now computerized. Even that astute French observer Jacques Ellul thinks it is too late. Your thoughts are always appreciated whether rant or not, whether luddite of not. Keep up the good work.