Digital Fantasies

America’s Newspaper of Record brings word that Amazon has opened its first bookstore, as in brick-and-mortar bookstore.

The opening of’s first brick-and-mortar store on Tuesday proves that software is not really “eating the world,” as venture capitalist Marc Andreessen put it in 2011.

In his widely noted Wall Street Journal column about predatory software, Andreessen wrote:

“Today, the world’s largest bookseller, Amazon, is a software company — its core capability is its amazing software engine for selling virtually everything online, no retail stores necessary. On top of that, while Borders was thrashing in the throes of impending bankruptcy, Amazon rearranged its Web site to promote its Kindle digital books over physical books for the first time. Now even the books themselves are software.”

Retail stores are still not strictly necessary, and yet Amazon now has one in Seattle. That’s because the book market has proved less one-dimensional than publishers and sellers feared in 2010 and 2011.

In September, The New York Times revealed that the Association of American Publishers had registered a 10 percent decrease in digital book sales in the first five months of the year and that the number of independent bookstores was actually growing.

The failure of the Great Pumpkin to rise from the pumpkin patch and sprinkle the children with free eBooks is hardly surprising. I used to go around and around with moonbat friends about this issue as they were all convinced that we would soon be reading everything from a magic tablet. Physical books were old and stuff so of course they serve no purpose.

As is always the case with Utopians and futurists, they naturally assume that because they cannot see the obstacles to their fantasies, those obstacles must not exist. Full steam ahead! In the case of books, the glorious future of eBooks faced the very real obstacle that they were not a very good replacement for real books. They are and remain, a solution in search of a problem.

Don’t get me wrong, I consume most writing off a screen. I read a book or two per month, sometimes more sometimes less. I read a ton on-line. It has been so long since I’ve held a newspaper I can no longer remember when. The other day, I was getting coffee and someone asked if they had a newspaper. To me, it sounded like he wanted to know where to tie up his horse.

The thing I was never able to explain to my moonbat friends with regards to eBooks is that books as we understand them, along with bookstores, publishers, writers, editors, layout men, illustrators etc., did not spring from nothing. They evolved over time to solve the problem of quickly and easily distributing content to as many people as possible in a way that profits the people involved in that process. It is not easily replaced.

Movable type was invented in 1040. The printing press was invented 400 years later. In other words, it took 20 generations for there to develop a need for the mass production of printed material and a solution to be developed. We have another 30 generations to get us to the paperback that you can take to the beach. The point being is there is a lot of trial and error in those bodice-rippers you wife reads.

Utopians never think of these things as they think that their inheritance dropped from the sky. They have no appreciation for what they see around them. All they know is the sleek looking iPad is cool and all the cool kids have them so let’s close down the bookstores and make everyone read eBooks. That’s an exaggeration, but that’s the level of thinking. The people betting on eBooks were betting that 50 generations of work could be replaced in a wave of the hand.

I say all this as someone who reads eBooks. I read physical books too, but I also read eBooks when convenient. I re-read Camp of the Saints the other day off my tablet. The book is terrible and I would not display it on my bookshelf so I saved the money and downloaded it. The thing is, I don’t read a lot of books that suck and I tend to make notes in the margins when I read so the physical book works better most of the time.

Further, if I leave a book on a plane or at the beach, no big deal. If the sun melts my tablet, that is a big deal. If I drop my tablet down the steps, that’s a big deal, while dropping a book off the roof costs me nothing. These are things the Progressive mind can never contemplate as they see no value in them, because they see no value in people. My preferences are immaterial to the material mind.

This blinkered reasoning is standard fare these days so I’m an outlier. The physical book was as good as it needed to be and mail order was fast enough and cheap enough. For something to replace this model it had to be different, offering things you could never get in a book like embedded video or multidimensional plot strictures for fiction where every reader get s a slightly different experience. Instead eBooks are just books that make your eyes bleed.

25 thoughts on “Digital Fantasies

  1. “…and the reduction in price so trivial…”



    on why Amazon opening a single brick and mortar store does not herald the demise of ebooks.
    Her reasoning about the sales decline of ebooks has to do with Amazon conceding publishers the right to force pricing of ebooks. Amazon used to use its clout to force publishers to allow Amazon to set prices, and to negotiate hard deals with the same publishers. Amazon would negotiate an ebook cost to themselves of 20-30% of the hardback price and then take a 20 margin. The ebook price would be in the $4-$8 range. Then the publishers accused Amazon of anti-competitive tactics and got the right to set their own prices (incidentally, this bumped up Amazon’s margin) and guess what? Prices for their ebooks jumped. From $4-$8, to $10-$20. And – what a shock – sales of ebooks went down. When you look at 3D books, their sales did not climb correspondingly.

    Are people tired of ebooks? Maybe, but the data available today doesn’t really show a trend, one way or the other.

  2. You’re all missing the main point. Books look great. There’s nothing nicer than a room with oak bookcases filled with books. The e-book will never takes its place.

    • I have about 80 boxes of real-wood-pulp books, accumulated over the course of my life. They’re sitting in my basement because I made economically suboptimal choices in my early adult life, and thus did not take the opportunity to become a wealthy member of the overclass that people handed to my naive late-teenage self. So I don’t own even one mansion (let alone five, like Al Gore), I still work in a day job, and I don’t have the space, money, or leisure time to get all my boxes of books up on shelves the way that I ideally would like to do.

      So when I annoyingly argue that eBooks may not be refuted by this blog post, any more than automobiles were by “get a horse”, I’m not writing that out of some anti-book or youth-infatuated Philistinism. I’m writing that because of my belated realization that I have a huge number of books that are damned difficult for me even to inventory, let alone browse or reread. If Kindles had existed 30 years earlier, a huge amount of that wood pulp in boxes would be at my fingertips right now. And I’d be able to carry it in my hand.

      Yes, shelves full of books are wonderful — they’re one of my happiest childhood memories. One of the few things I seriously regret about becoming an impecunious scientist rather than an affluent lawyer is that my books ended up in boxes. But, it’s also nice to have a house full of servants, like Downton Abbey. Realistically, most people aren’t going to have either.

      • I think the display value is underrated. I walk into someone’s home or office and note the books. No books suggest no curiosity. A shelf full of hate think and I’m thinking I made a friend for life. I doubt we will ever have a custom where the first thing you do upon meeting a new person is rummage through their Kindle, like dogs sniffing butts.

        But, you never know. Perhaps our robot overlords will demand it.

  3. This subject is similar to the ongoing discussion of the ultimate demise of the cable industry and television networks. Hard cover, paperback, tablets, whatever. I own some of each and use them all. The convenience of a tablet is something I enjoy. The point is that all of these are just a method of delivery. The content is what matters. How you consume the content is just a matter of individual preference.

  4. As a librarian, I always thought, oh, give me a “real book”, I’m old school, but no, that’s not the way it turned out for me. I move from 3D books to digital with no problem. I love the feel of a book in my hands, the ability to examine it physically. But I also love the way the digital saves my page, and the ability to check the meaning at will of words I either have forgotten the meaning of, or (horrors!) never knew. I love that I can borrow digital copies of books at midnight, when the library is closed. And I love being able to take a digital copy of a book with me anywhere I go without having to worry about its size or maybe leaving it somewhere inadvertently. I will say, that I always want my nonfiction in hard, physical form, but the fiction can go either way.

    In the end, books are books. We read them for the content within, no matter the delivery system. What matters is that we read, and we learn.

  5. A subject near and dear to my heart. I just gave up on home delivery of The Wall Street Journal, again. The worst part of the experience was the dawning realization that the reason the WSJ didn’t give a damn if my paper was getting delivered or not was that (as far as they were concerned) as long as I could go online and read the digital edition their job was done. I literally could not get them to care about my missing issues (3 in a single week).
    That I liked to take the paper with me and pick it up when I had a free moment and not have to haul out a tablet (if it had enough battery power left or could find the xfinity wifi locally) and worry about that tablet dropping, or adjusting the screen contrast (if outside) or not being able to simply putting the paper down on the bar and leaving it in plain sight (and unprotected) while I was in the Mens.
    And for swatting a fly, no comparison.

    Digital books should not be discussed without seriously thinking about DRM (or Digital Restrictions Management as I call it) and the whole concept of ownership. The digital publishing racket has implications for truth, censorship and repression; when every book, every article, every word can be changed, recalled or vanished.
    The digital publishing houses have chosen to follow a business plan that presupposes that their readers, their customers are dishonest. They have taken all the wrong lessons from the experiences of the music industry and learned nothing from its fate.
    Recently, Bruce Willis the actor, was doing estate planning with his lawyer; Bruce wanted to add his massive digital music collection to the estate to be distributed in accordance with his wishes. He found out that, legally, after his death all of the purchased digital media could not be disposed of with the rest of his estate. Unlike a physical book or CD or DVD.

    So I ‘burrow’ digital books from the library. I purchase physical or ‘real’ books that I want to keep. I Stream movies from a service, I buy DVD or Bluray disks of films I will put in my library. I don’t buy digital media; first because I don’t like to do business with companies that think I’m a crook and because for things I want to keep, I want something that can’t be taken away or changed without my knowledge or permission.

  6. Ebooks are useful for novels, where you start at the beginning and read straight through to the end, hand for travel because of weight and ease of getting another when you finish the current book. Non-fiction, not so much, as you want to go back and check, go to the index and look something up, see maps and pictures which are displayed too small in ebooks. Books that contain a lot of links are handy, but I send them to my computer instead of my reader, so I can use them easily. So basically it isn’t either-or, just pick the right tool for the job.

  7. I’ve been screaming about this for years, and my screams get especially loud when I hear of some Education Reformer who wants to pack his classrooms with E-this and I-that and eliminate forever the slaughter of Gaia’s forests. (At no small cost either, I might add.)

    As the Zman points out, e-books are a pretty good delivery system for bodice rippers. But how does one learn algebra, or chemistry, w/o flipping back and forth and writing notes in the margins and decorating every other page with post-it notes? Maybe I’m just a slow learner, but in those courses where you actually had to come up with a correct answer I found myself often flipping back and forth and referring back to what had been covered earlier. STEM subject are like that, and I don’t think I am alone here.

    Of course, the Education Reformers are ignorant of all this, having majored in some Fuzzy Study or other and having never set foot in the Science Building during their entire college careers, so I ‘spose I just answered my own question.

    • I’ve somehow acquired some 3,000 books.
      We are shortly moving house.

      E-books look like a fine thing right now.

  8. I wonder, though, if there is not a generational divide going on here. I like the e-reader, and I probably read most of my books that way. I do miss being able to flip back and forth, and at least for now I think picture books are better on paper. I plan to get Howie Carr’s crime books on print- mostly for the pictures.

    Your other point is solid- moonbats have no appreciation of the past; indeed I think the attitude of the average SJW toward the long ago is contempt- they are positive that we who live today are just better people- the goodwhites, anyway.

  9. One of the most adament that I would “NEVER read a book on a tablet”, I broke my hip and was virtually bed-bound for over a month. Holding a book to read while in prone position is fatiguing; it is worse when your body is damaged. Sooooo I succumbed. Camp of the Saints was already on the tablet. A freebie that downloaded to Kindle as a “document”. Then I found some of the free ebook offerings via my public library. New books. Things to read for entertainment or information and then move on. A few books read as ebooks were so good – keepers – that I went and found hard copies for my library and to share with others.

    I like being able to hold the tablet while resting/reclining/lying down. I like being able to adjust the size of the font. (Large type print books are far too large.) I like being able to read at night and not disturb DH. I am able to bookmark pages, and the bookmarks are saved, so I can go back and find something later.

    Both hardcovers and tablets have their pluses and minuses. I am happy to have both. Would I pay Amazon or B&N prices for Kindle books? Nope.

    PS. Your new Edit feature is brilliant!

  10. I think you’re (inadvertently) illustrating why things like eBooks do in fact end up taking over the world. Think about what you’ve actually written here:

    you used to read newspapers routinely; now you read the Web instead
    you used to never read anything on a screen; now you read tons
    eBooks didn’t exist, not so long ago; now you actually read them

    Really, the only issue you’ve got here is that eBooks “make your eyes bleed”, which basically tells me that you’re like me (and unlike healthy twenty-somethings) — you’ve got presbyopia. All of this electronic stuff gets harder when the lenses in your eyeballs lose flexibility and start blocking light.

    I’m old enough to remember when the idea that the Web would displace newspapers was considered a silly joke. Now you’re *taking it for granted* that they have, but then explaining that no, eBooks cannot possibly end up making a real difference in two decades because they haven’t managed to completely replace printed books in one decade. I think we can take this as a demonstration of how the takeover by eBooks is actually likely to happen — for a while longer it’ll be impossible, until one day it’s a fait accompli. And a fair amount of that change will happen one funeral at a time.

    • Not really.

      I used to ride a horse to work, but the car turned out to be better, so I drive a car.

      I used to read newspapers, but the web is better (free access to millions of sites, with links and other display items).

      I used to read books and then found that eBooks are not much an improvement and often worse than standard books.

      • The Web has been around for 21 years. Are you *really* claiming that you embraced it in 1994? Probably not. What you’re probably really saying is that, after two decades, it started to get good enough in the last 5-10 years that it replaced things you’d been previously reading off the Web from 1994 to maybe 2007.

        eBooks have not been around nearly as long as Mozilla-style web browsers, so the real comparison is probably this: how will you feel about eBooks in 2030?

        By the way, “get a horse!” used to be a standard joke aimed at very early adopters of automobiles who (frequently) found them breaking down helplessly under conditions that a four-legged conveyance would canter through. It stayed witty until Model Ts became common enough that most people owned one — which didn’t happen until three decades after the first automobiles started being driven in the U.S.

        • I was “on-line” in the 80’s when no one had heard of the internet. I also dabbled in phone phreaking back when that was still a thing. I hosted a BBS which should tell you how old I am.

          • OK, I’m sincerely impressed. And you’re clearly not somebody who started using the Web in 2007. Point taken.

            Since (as you’ve observed) it took 35 years to get from BBSes to Web 2.0 and a browser in every iPhone, and (as I’ve pointed out) it took roughly as long to get from the first horseless carriages to the Model T, I really don’t think you can write off eBooks after less than a decade with Kindles. The reasonable guess is that they’ll take about as long to reach generically useful status as most things in the past have taken. Decades, not years.

          • Fair enough. I’ve been bearish on eBooks simply because the increase in utility is so low and the reduction in price so trivial, they simply looked like another loser. We remember the winners that overtake old technology, but there are many many more losers that go nowhere. Out of every hundred new ideas ninety-nine or more will probably be inferior to the traditional responses which they propose to replace. That’s been the history of technology since the wheel.

            My hunch is the eBook will follow the path of the Fax machine. I was alive when it burst onto the scene and I’m still alive as it has disappeared. It was a transitional technology. My guess is the next generation of “books” will be something different than books that take advantage of the technology in ways that no standard book can do. Conditional, multidimensional plot and character development is my thought. Create a short story in which each reader gets a different version based on how they progress through the book. Sort of a written version of a MMORPG.

            Or, it just goes away.

  11. “The people betting on eBooks were betting that 50 generations of work could be replaced in a wave of the hand.” Yes, the same “insights” that support that also support a man can be a woman, homosexuality is normal and to be promoted, gay marriage is real, one half of the population on public assistance is sustainable, national borders are irrelevant, race and gender are social constructs, all sex is rape, blacks are not responsible for their dilemma, etc.. Hundreds if not thousands of years of accumulated knowledge and custom waved away with the swipe of a hand in th 2000’s. Who the hell are these idiots?

  12. I have a relative who is far more happy with ebooks than I am. I have read a few and, for reasons I cannot explain, find them hard to finish. Perhaps it is because I am too old fashioned and prefer the tactile pleasures of a book. Even a paperback offers me more than an electronic book does in terms of value and weight and appreciation of what went into its making. I also find, if there is something I haven’t grasped in an actual book, I find it easy to skip back a few pages in order to clarify something. For some reason I find that hard with an ebook.

    But my relative doesn’t want to fill her home with piles of books (a problem I have until another relative appears who will take them off me and read anything and everything voraciously. What happens to them after that I don’t know. Probably they go to a charity shop)

    But you also mention newspapers. I worked for years in newspapers and in a way I loved them — at least until they became vapid opinion sheets and squanderers of information and truth in the quest for ‘fairness’ and ‘equality.’ But by the time I left that industry it was obvious it was dying. The inevitable shrinking readership from mostly old people — the young saw little relevance in newspapers — sent signals that the product could only get blander, deal with gossip and publish inanities in the hope of making anyone buy the product. You talk of a ‘newspaper of record’ but while in the UK local newspapers were essential records with the Hatch, Match And Dispatch classifieds bringing news of births, weddings and deaths the truth was each year fewer people were finding it necessary to publicise their family history.

    And do I still love papers? Though I very occasionally buy a heavyweight Sunday paper it sits, unopened and unloved for a week until we throw it out. That tells me a lot about how I feel about them these days.

    • Regular readers almost always find something weird about eBooks. It reminds me of the difference between digital gauges and analog gauges. It turns out that humans can read the old style clock with hands or speedometer than the digital variant. I hate the fact I really never know where I’m at in the book. I’ll remember where something is just by its rough location (1/4 inch from the front). You don’t do that with eBooks.

      Whatever it is, most regular readers I know have found eBooks to be weird. Even young people have this experience.

      • Your point about analog and digital gauges is very relevant. Many years ago the UK watch market was intrigued by an early digital watch invented by a man called Sinclair, with the notable issue it was in fact a two-handed device in that you lifted your left hand to see the watch and had to use your right hand to press and activate the display. Usually watches and clocks don’t need such work.

        But it struck me then that the problem with analog displays was that when people look at say a normal clock face they make various estimates about the time it is and the possible time they have left on a certain task. But a digital display tells you it is, say, 2:17 and it takes little longer to decide if it almost twenty past two.

        As I used to say, what the hell does 13:41 mean?

        • The air force has been tackling this with their heads up displays for a long time. They first tried displaying numbers, but found that he pilots reaction was slower and more error prone. Today. All weapon systems use graphical displays whenever possible.

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