Jason Epstein on the e-Book Revolution
“As non-negotiable as earthquakes.” That's how book publisher Jason Epstein aptly refers to new technology in “The Revolutionary Future,” which appears in the current issue of the New York Review of Books. His essay is solid, grounded, and optimistic.
He envisions a future in which it is the readers, not the publishers, who discern “Keats’ nightingale” from “Aunt Mary’s haikus.” It’s a democratic world, but as a reader, the idea exhausts me. I guess that means we'll rely even more on recommendations from our preferred tastemakers. And maybe that’s how most people find the books they read anyway. That being said, I’m a big fan of judging my books by their covers. So I’m casting my vote that the (only somewhat) hypothetical new virtual bookstore allows for browsing book covers.
Epstein also advocates for strong digital rights management, saying “without protection authors will starve and civilization will decline.” He proposes a digital lending, rather than purchasing, model, to more accurately reflect the true reader-publisher relationship. I think that idea has merit — if electronic books are going to be less expensive than paper books anyway, why not introduce them as borrowed items? I would gladly subscribe to my favorite dictionary and be free to upgrade to the next edition when it comes out, and with most books, having them for a year would probably be enough.
Check out the whole essay — it’s just great to read a piece by someone who’s not prophesying that the book-publishing sky is falling.