This blog has been the site of some kvetching about the digital future and its impact on our most cherished media formats. Having adopted the brave-new-world position with regard to the “Death of the Album”, I again find myself leaping to the defence of innovations that threaten formats I love: e-books, in this case.
Two authors recently announced their distaste for the digitisation of books. Sherman Alexie, who appeared on "The Colbert Report" last week, bemoaned the effect that online file-sharing has had on the music industry, and insisted that he would not allow for digital versions of his books. In this way, he seeks to prevent his work from being similarly pirated. Techdirt.com’s Mike Masnick does an excellent job pointing out the absurdities of Alexie’s position. Most obviously: not producing an authorised digital version only encourages readers to produce unauthorised digital versions, and then trade them online. Still, Alexie’s attitude may be self-defeating, but it is not unreasonable.
More recently, and far more outrageously, Alan Kaufman, a poet and novelist, penned a column for the Huffington Post in which he compared the Amazon Kindle and other e-readers to Nazi crematoria for books.
It’s hard to follow Kaufman’s line of reasoning (as you might expect), but in essence, he asserts that those who are encouraging the replacement of paper-and-print books with high-tech solutions are trying to destroy books in favour of “massive easily controlled centralized repositories of book texts downloadable on little hand-held devices and from which a text can be dissapeared [sic] with the click of a mouse”.
Here again, Techdirt hosts a good discussion of the article and its implications, and rightly invokes Godwin’s Law in dismissing Kaufman’s rant. But no one seems to object to the most absurd aspect of Kaufman’s funhouse-mirror view of digital-content distribution: his faith that digitised books will somehow be controlled by a few governments or corporations. Amazon’s instantaneous deletion of Orwell's "1984" and "Animal Farm" from users’ Kindles over the summer served as both a worrying precedent and a textbook case of irony, sure (it turned out the books weren't public domain yet). But ask the big movie studios or record labels if they have had any luck ensuring that only one authorised database of their content is available online. Even better, search for e-book versions of popular novels on any of the big torrent sites, and consider the job of a bureaucrat trying to whack-a-mole all of these unauthorised texts out of existence.
Concerns about how content creators can thrive in a digital future are an important part of our cultural conversation. Paranoid ranting by the technologically clueless, however, is not.