The eBook revolution is upon us. Have you chosen a side?
Burning the Page by Jason Merkoski is a chronicle of the early days of this war, namely the creation of the Kindle, and the eReaders to follow. If you can get past the first 5% where Merkoski takes credit for the first online eBook, and brags about how he was uniquely placed to be the first eBook evangelist, then you are presented not only with the history of a device, but a fundamental change in reading.
Even though he was an “eBook evangelist” for years, Merkoski is a lover of physical books. Each chapter centers on a piece of the history of the eBook through Merkoski’s five years at Amazon, as well as his predictions for the future of eBooks. But each chapter ends with a look back to some artifact of the past that will be lost, whether it’s found artifacts in books, the smell of musty pages and ink, or even just bookmarks. Merkoski describes emotionally the process required to scan in a physical book, which in nearly all cases is destructive to the original. Though he calls the eBook revolution a “bloodless” revolution, it’s clear that he is not ambivalent to the blood spilled in torn spines and burned pages.
But Merkoski loves his technology as well, though ironically he seems to think of the Kindle as a cold soulless device. A number of his predictions center around ways to make eReaders more like physical books, whether it’s physical\digital pages to turn, or covers that are shown on a screen in the front. Still he loves a good device unboxing:
“Unboxing is a new voyeuristic phenomenon that’s erotic and technical at the same time. It’s tech pornography. It’s as if we desire total carnal knowledge of our consumer electronics goods.”
Sounds a bit like a guy who hasn’t seen the real thing in a while.
Merkoski does believe reading will become more social. Whether it’s crowd-sourced travel or recipe books, to readers contributing to what happens next to our main character, writing and reading may become more of a social endeavor. In fact, Burning the Page may be one of the first social eBooks. Each chapter ends with a hyperlink to take you to Merkoski’s own site to continue the discussion online.
For a view of the eBook revolution outside of Amazon’s walled garden, look no further than Publisher’s Weekly’s “The Battle for 9.99.” Compiled from court documents and evidence in the current Apple price fixing case, this short Kindle single details Amazon’s loss-leading eBook pricing practices, and the steps the major publishers took to fight back. Perhaps some blood was spilled in the eBook fight after all.
I think as a writer starting out at the beginning of the eBook era, these books present an interesting history of how we got to the current eBook climate, and where we might be going. Personally I think the book will always exist in some form like it does today. The best writing and ideas come from structure, and I don’t think a book written by committee would fare any better than a horse designed by one. But eBooks are here to stay and for less than $9.99 you can get a view from two prominent sides.
Burning the Page – 4 out of 5
The Battle for $9.99 – 4.5 out of 5