Books of the Future

When I first developed a passion for the music of Queen, one of my dad's friends recorded his entire collection of vinyl on to audio cassettes for me. At the time I was about 11 years old and had no conception of the illegality of his kindness and was yet to develop the moral sense I possess now in relation to stealing from artists. However, my sole income was £1 per week pocket money, so I simply couldn't afford to buy the albums myself; my parents probably thought my sudden enthusiasm for all things Queen was a passing phase: transient and unworthy of investment.

Thirty years on I can confirm that it wasn't a fad and one by one I replaced those old cassettes with shiny 12 inch vinyl records, bought new on release day for the later titles, acquired secondhand otherwise. Researching for this post, I was saddened by the news that the shop from which I bought the Queen back catalogue, Sellanby Records in South Harrow, closed a couple of years back:

It was probably a couple of years ago when Eastcote Sellanby closed its doors. Memorable mostly for its extensive collection of Rolf Harris paraphernalia it was never a source of gasp-out-loud finds.... Since the shop's demise I have often pondered the fate of Rolf' miscellany.

And so I consoled myself with the knowledge that there still remained the South Harrow Sellanby. But no more. From a distance all seemed well, the gaudy yellow sign still proudly protruded from above the shop, but then I saw the Sellanby sign lying forlornly on the ground. It had been violently chopped in half and within the shop a couple of men were lazily measuring planks of wood.

Rupert Cook

Like everyone else in the late 1980s, I owned a 'walkman' (although it was a Panasonic model rather than the Sony trademarked original), so out came the cassettes again and convenient as they were, they just weren't the real deal, even when appropriately purchased from a reputable source - usually Sellanby's. After that I partially replaced my albums with CDs (for 'replace' read 'put the vinyl in a cupboard for safe-keeping') and these days have MP3 versions of everything in my Queen collection. I no longer need to buy two copies to keep one in mint condition and making a duplicate just in case the original gets damaged or lost is easy. But...

The thing is, books are the writer's vinyl; their physical presence makes what we do real - our words in print - real ink on real paper in a real book. In a blog post I came across earlier this week (I can't find it, will attribute when I do), the author referred to his love of books, adding that ebooks are OK for reading on a Kindle at 60,000 feet (or words to that effect). I completely understand what he means and remember expressing the opinion that ebooks would never replace physical books. That was some time ago, but I do still believe this; even though Kindle versions are outselling paperbacks on Amazon, there remains a nostalgia and emotional connection shared by readers and authors alike for the 'real thing'.

For all of this, I'm currently ploughing through a CreateSpace paperback proof copy - a process which highlights the pros and cons of both electronic and physical formats. The typographical errors are immediately apparent, which was not the case in previous onscreen examinations. This, of course, means resubmission of the corrected manuscript and ordering another proof copy (this one took 6 weeks to reach me in the UK), delays which do not apply when dealing with ebooks, although the errors would have passed me by completely.

At the same time, I've changed the price of the Kindle edition of And The Walls Came Tumbling Down, reducing it to 99 cents. I'm duly waiting out the 24 hours it takes for Amazon to update, after which I'll be adding it to the 99 Cent Network. Here again, the ease of completing this process leads me to conclude that I must 'get with the program' and stop hankering after the past. On the other hand, my co-pilot has accumulated many flying hours today in his endeavours to validate the epub version of 'Walls' (as he insists on calling it, much to my irritation) and by comparison it was far easier to sort out the page setup for the paperback edition.

Perhaps there will always be room in this world for both, certainly for as long as there are places lacking the technology (and electricity) required to access electronic formats. Likewise, it is difficult to assess whether ebooks will prove to be greener in the long run, given the rate of change and subsequent rise in environmental costs associated with manufacturing / waste.

Whatever form the books of the future take, the one thing that is certain is that there will always be books, because there will always be those who read and those who must write. As Groucho Marx said, "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."