Scott D. Parker
The iPad drops today. In case you haven’t heard, it’s the Savior of the Publishing Industry. Or so you’d be led to believe (and the publishers hope). The iPad’s e-reading capabilities are one of the top selling features of the machine as well as the new iBookstore. Marvel Comics has a comic-reading app I seriously want see. I could easily envision myself reading more comics using a device like this. The same for magazines. And, yes, I would pay for subscriptions.
For all the acolytes of the iPad, there are a number of doubters about the e-reading capabilities of the iPad. Stephen King, in his column for Entertainment Weekly, thinks that there’s a “not-thereness” to e-reading. Cory Doctorow doesn’t like the device too much, not for the e-reading aspect, but for the closed-shop nature of the iPad.
All of this chatter about e-reading and e-books and e-magazines and e-comics got me to thinking about something fundamental. Both Chris and Mike commented on it last week. Lots of people want the artifact, the proof of purchase, if you will, the proof that you’ve experienced the Whatever (i.e., the reading of a book; the watching of a movie; the hearing of music).
When you buy a book and read it, you have the proof, right there on the shelf. The more books you read, the more artifacts you have on your shelf. For many people, myself included, a home isn’t a home until I have bookshelves full of books.
In one way of looking at it, however, books are like the t-shirt you buy at a rock concert. When a rock show really thrilled me, I used to buy the t-shirt (the medium) and wear it the next day. Then, folks would see my t-shirt and ask about the show. I’d extol them with every guitar lick, brass line, and light trick (the message). The shirt (along with the ticket stub) was my artifact, my way of remembering the experience of the concert.
The internet in general, and blogging in particular, changes this equation and the medium. My “concert t-shirt” is my review of something I experienced. It’s a way for me to explain why I liked/disliked something. Likewise, when y’all read my stuff, we can get into a conversation and discover new ways to think about common things.
Blogs are not published (in a traditional sense). They are published in a new sense. They are posted with a time and date stamp. They’re out for everyone and anyone to read. They are digital, etherial, not there. I can’t autograph a particular post I wrote that you really liked. All you can do is tell me you liked it and why and then tell others. Coming up on Tuesday here at Do Some Damage, we have a flash fiction challenge. Those stories will be published but there will be no artifact for your bookshelf. And you’ll be reading them on your computer. There’s no way around it. I’ll guarantee you that you’ll read at least one story that’ll make your day.
Folks who frequent libraries don’t have artifacts either. I’m a library power user. Like some who commented on my main blog this week, I know the librarians’ names and they know mine. It’s wonderful. I can assuage my thirst for wide variety of tastes in music, movies, and books. I can try something before I decide to it. More than once, I’ve purchased something that I first read from the library.
But if the story you’ve experienced (by reading/watching/listening) is something special, having the artifact isn’t always required. Is it? I just finished reading China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. It blew my mind. It’s going to go down as one of those pivotal books in my reading life. I don’t have the artifact. I checked out the book from the library and listened to most of it as an audio file. Yet, I still have the experience. It’s internal and special, only to me. I can share why I liked it so much but I don’t need the artifact to do that.
This is a ironic post, to be honest. Here I am, a yet-to-be-traditionally-published author, one who hopes you’ll buy my books in the future, talking about why physical artifacts are not really necessary. I don’t think they are. The story is the key. Who cares about the delivery device? I think the savvy author in this decade and this century needs to be fluent in different delivery methods. Up until the internet, books had cornered the delivery device market. Now, in the 2000s, the delivery devices are expanding and also fragmenting. We writers have to write a damn good story. Period. That’s the fundamental rule. It’s only later we’ll have to figure out how to get it to the eyes and ears of all our readers. Some readers will want the artifact. For them, there are books, a medium that will never die. Some won’t care. For them, e-reading or audiobooks are the way.
Despite what Marshall McLuhan says, the medium (i.e., the artifact) isn’t always the message. Sometimes, the message (i.e., the story) is the message.
But not today. Today, with the iPad, the medium *is* the message.