I spend every day reading and writing about the printing industry, so I’ve heard it all from both sides. It’s either “Print is dead,” or “Print will never die.” As with most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. What prompted this post was an article I saw from the Associated Press about E-Books. What interested me is that the article doesn’t say e-books are great or e-books are bad. It says that e-books are great for some things and not as good for others. For example, one company featured in the article published PDFs of role-playing texts. Why is the format popular for these types of books? Because the print books are thick, heavy tomes that players have to carry them to each game. The books are for reference, so the players need them, but in electronic form, they’re easier to transport.
Print books are a medium. E-books are a medium. Websites are a medium. Billboards are a medium. Television is a medium. CDs are a medium. The lesson here is that each medium has distinct advantages and disadvantages. The success of each medium depends on the kind of content it transmits. Print books and magazines still have advantages over an e-books and magazines and vice versa.
What's This Got to do with Poetry?
I think this discussion is relevant to poetry in a lot of ways. The internet certainly has made it easier to distribute poetry to more people. Digital printing has made it easier for authors to fund their self-publishing efforts. In terms of e-books specifically, I wonder when poetry publishers will start to really take advantage of the technology, by which I mean incorporate it into a viable business model. There are quite a few presses, journals and individuals who offer work electronically, but it's more often out of necessity than conscious strategy.
I wonder if and when, for instance, a publisher will have an ITunes model, where people pay to download their favorite poems. Another characteristic of successful e-books, according to the AP article, is their perceived disposability. Harlequin now sells short stories for 89 cents each. Why can't a publisher or writer do something similar?