Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Monday Musing: Print Only


© Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar

Almost as soon as I announced my intention to take a short break from the blog, I saw/read/heard things that made me say, “Oh! I’ve got to blog about that!” Naturally. But I’d broken too many promises in the past, too often I’d written, “Hey, on Friday, I’m going to…” and never done it. This time, I was determined to keep my promise.
Anyway, one of the items that caught my eye was the news that Stephen King’s newest novel, Joyland (and I swear, I’m not getting paid for plugging this book in any way, shape or form–I wish I was!), was going to be released only in print. No e-book. No digital download. Just paperback (oh, and a limited edition hardback). Charles Ardai, co-founder and editor of Hard Case Crime, the book’s publisher, wrote aninteresting article explaining the decision. “Presentation matters,” Ardai said. Part of his purpose in founding Hard Case was to “replicate a pleasure from the past – not just the type of stories told in those old books but the physical artifact itself.” Indeed, the books published by Hard Case have quite the, uh, retro look, the sort of covers that caused me to break into a sweat when I came across them in the early stages of adolescence. Ahem, enough about that.
In addition to recapturing a bit of the past, Mr. Ardai said that another reason for not doing a digital version of Joyland was because of his and Mr. King’s “desire to support traditional booksellers.” He goes on to say, “it’s frightening to see the decline in the fortunes of bookstores over the last handful of years.” Indeed, it is. Supporting and saving bookstores is a noble notion, and it’s great to have a heavy hitter like Stephen King in on the fight. Sadly, it’s also a pointless gesture, I feel, but not because I am convinced that bookstores are going the way of the dinosaur. They might, but not yet, anyway. No, the reason this gesture is pointless is because Joyland is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and as an audio book through iTunes. It’s probably also sitting on the racks at Wal-mart and other non-bookstore booksellers. It seems to me that the only way to support traditional bookstores is to make the books available only through traditional bookstores, and that is just not going to happen (and I wonder–if King told Amazon, “Sorry, you can’t sell this,” what would happen? Lawsuit? Would Amazon break the “Buy now” links on all of King’s books? Who knows?). Even a guy like Stephen King, who is playing with a huge pile of house money, isn’t going to do that.

11 Responses

  1. I was sad just thinking of physical books referred to as "artifacts." That's how they are thought of in my post-apocalyptic, dystopian novel. 🙁

  2. Oh okay. I see. Also, the people I know who don't use e-readers all order their paperbacks through Amazon so you're right. Nobody goes to the bookstore anymore–or so it seems. I think yes, this is a noble gesture and when you're King you have a lot of influence and I think it's awesome that he's using it in this way but I think it's only going to frustrate readers. Our society is way too into immediate gratification these days. 🙁

  3. King is always thinking! He would be a fascinating man to meet. I'd hate to see all the bookstores close too – although I do read mostly on my ereader now.

  4. The thought that the traditional bookstore might completely disappear breaks my heart. The memories I have of browsing old bookshelves for little treasures are very dear to me. At the same time, I have recently been diagnosed as having allergy induced asthma. Unfortunately I am allergic to dust mites. One of the many things I was told that I needed to do was to get rid of my books. I have a lot of books, and the idea of parting with most of them is unbearable. I am not sure I will be able to do it. What I have done is to start purchasing a lot of my new reading material on an e-reader. This decision has its pluses and minuses, but it is one that I have made for mostly health reasons. The idea that some authors may not make their product available to me in this format, as a way to support traditional bookstores, concerns me. I understand the decision to a point, but as you stated, the book will still be available from online sellers, as well as in audio format. Is this decision really making a difference?

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, T.L. As I said, I doubt the decision makes much of a difference in the big picture. As much as we might like the experience of browsing in bookstores, the sad truth is it can't match the convenience (and, usually, the price) of online shopping.

    I wouldn't worry too much about too many authors following Mr. King's lead. King is pretty much playing with house money; he can afford to release his books just about any way he wants (though, of course, the publisher has to at least break even). Most writers are not in that position, and don't have that kind of power.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. Very interesting observations! But there's no fighting it. Just like the music industry, digital is the way people prefer their literature. I do love my Kindle, but I still prefer a hard copy.

  7. I think the demise of the bookstore has been greatly exaggerated. Don't get me wrong. It's definitely been hard. But every revolution has its casualties, and always something rises above.

    The traditional bookstore may be dead, but in some places it's reinventing itself. I believe the way of the future is bookstore-as-experience.

    For instance. Imagine a bar. It is made of books. Like, literally constructed of books, with a glass top. This exists. Now imagine a menu of drinks with literarily themed concoctions such as "Tequila Mockingbird."

    You can go to drink, and you can go to browse, and yes, you can go to buy. Most people will buy, once they're there. But no matter whether they do or not. The drinks are enough to pay the bills.

    Tell me you would not patronize this joint.

    Or imagine a children's bookstore recreated as a literary themed indoor playground. Would you take your children there? Would you go home with books? And maybe sip an overpriced coffee while you're waiting on them to finish playing? I would.

    I have more to say but goodness it's 10:30. Yawn. Thanks for stopping by my blog tonight. I've enjoyed romping through yours. 🙂

  8. It's certainly the way that a lot of the larger bookstores, aka Barnes&Noble, were going. I was in a B&N last week, and the cafe took up nearly a quarter of the space. One of the smaller local bookstores has a couple of chairs, and they're next door to a coffee shop. They have an interior connecting door allowing coffee shop patrons to wander in without having to go outside (a big plus in winter hereabouts).

    The concepts are great, but space is a limiting factor a lot of the Mom & Pops; that and $$$.

    And thank you for coming by and commenting!

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