Monday, January 23, 2006

Miss Snark, the Wall Street Journal and e-Books

There was a really interesting conversational thread yesterday on Miss Snark's blog (www.misssnark.blogspot.com).

For those of you who don't know who Miss Snark is, she claims to be an anonymous literary agent working solo in New York. I believe she is an agent, although I have my suspicions as to whether she is really a "she" or a solo practitioner. At any rate, she is bright, funny and generally on target with her comments about the industry in which she operates. She is also popular. According to her blog counter, she's had a quarter of a million visitors in the last six months. The blog I'm talking about was entitled "e-books." In it, a Snarkling asked the publishing maven to comment on (what else?) e-books.

I have nothing but respect for Miss Snark's good sense and the practical advice that she dispenses to wannabe authors about the world of publishing. I have learned a lot from regularly reading her blog. However, even Miss Snark has her limits. This subject apparently is one of them. Here is part of what she said:

"Basically e-books are gimmicks. Yes people have them, yes, you can buy readers. Yes those people claim they are the wave of the future. No, no one I know actually reads books like this."

To do her justice, Miss Snark also said, "Once the e-book reader devices become more user friendly I think they'll take off. I don't think that's now, but I think it's coming. Maybe ten years, but that's just a wild ass guess."

I think she is right about the need for the devices to become more user friendly. Up until now, e-book readers have had problems: batteries that don't last long enough, not being compatible with all formats and--most of all--not having a screen which can be easily read in all kinds of lighting.

However, I think she is way off the mark on her prediction of when e-book reader devices will become an accepted medium. I'm thinking we are talking months, not years--maybe eighteen months, but nowhere near ten years.

As an aside, Miss Snark has frequently said that she does not represent romance or sci-fi. Her aversion to fantasy/sci-fi is one of her trademarks. And, as most genre buffs know, those two categories of fiction are the most popular in the e-book universe. So we need to cut her some slack here.

By coincidence, I read her blog this morning right after reading an article that appeared in Saturday's Wall Street Journal (WSJ) entitled "A Hundred Books in Your Pocket." Terry Teachout, the columnist, wrote about the new Sony Reader, which I've already blogged on (see January 5). He made an excellent point. "If the Sony Reader (which goes on sale this spring) takes off where previous ventures fell flat, it will be because Sony is offering what marketers call an 'end to end' solution to the problem of the e-book. That kind of one-stop shopping is what made Apple's iPod so successful: You don't just buy the iPod itself, but an easy-to-use system that allows you to download any one of tens of thousands of popular songs within minutes of taking your iPod out of the box."

The WSJ article speculates on how e-books will affect the way we read and write. And ends acknowledging that while "[t]he printed book is a beautiful object . . . it is also a technology -- a means, not an end. Like all technologies, it has a finite life span, and its time is almost up."

If you visit this thread on Miss Snark's blog be sure to read the 49 (at last count) comments attached to it. They are a fascinating cross section of readers and writers. The judgmental comments that assume that e-books are either inferior or porn are truly interesting.

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