Tag Archives: reading

A New Year Post from the Press with the Most

1 Jan

Welcome to 2019 — the last teen year you will ever need (unless immortality is right around the corner). Is that science fiction enough for you?

Speaking of which, the very first Bundoran Press publication, “The Best of Neo-Opsis,” appeared in 2006. So, sometime this year, we will officially enter our teenage-hood. We promise not to be surly (much) or spend too long locked in the bathroom.

We also promise to bring you the best of Canadian science fiction. After publishing just one book (Driving Ambition by Fiona Moore) in 2018, we will bring out four new novels this year from Al Onia (his fourth with the press), Jennifer Rahn (her second), Brad C. Anderson (his debut novel) and Ryan T. McFadden (his first with the press). Ryan’s book is the first of a planned duology, with the second coming out in early 2020. We don’t have an anthology planned for 2019 but watch this space, plans could change.

We also have a new web-site, which you might want to bookmark if you haven’t already done so. It is the primary source of print books though we are also regularly carried by Bakka-Phoenix in Toronto, Novel Idea in Kingston, Sentry Box and Owl’s Nest Books in Calgary and The YK Book Cellar in Yellowknife. We are also stocked by the travelling bookstore, Myth Hawker. We hope to add additional brick and mortar stores this year.

Speaking of Owl’s Nest, they will be hosting the launches of Al Onia’s The Sixth Helix and Jennifer Rahn’s Dark Corridor on May 23rd. Hope to see all my Calgary friends there. We will have an announcement soon about a Vancouver launch for Duatero by Brad C. Anderson. Ryan’s first book will be launched at CanCon in Ottawa next October.

The other big development is the imminent launch of more audio books. The Steele Chronicles by Hayden Trenholm and Fall from Earth by Matthew Johnson have been available for several years but 2019 will see a slew of new titles–we currently have eight titles in production and hope to have the rest of our novels contracted soon.

In a little more than a week, Story Bundle will be offering the Bundoran Book Buddies Bundle with 6 of our titles and six books by some notable SF writers who have befriended us over the years. Watch for further news next week.

Well, time to get back to editing…


Aurora Book Bundle

6 Jul

The good folks at Story Bundle are offering another ten book collection of Aurora winning or nominated works. A great deal — 10 books for as little as $15.

Our good friend, Doug Smith is curating the bundle so I’ll let him explain it in this guest blog. Doug includes the link in his blog but if we sold you at Aurora Award, you can cut to the chase here.

The Aurora Award Bundle #2

Curated by Douglas Smith

How would you like to own, at an incredible bargain, ten books that readers like yourself have already voted to be the best examples of speculative fiction published in Canada? Well, here’s your chance. I’m once again curating an ebook bundle for StoryBundle.com that contains more winners and finalists for Canada’s premier speculative fiction award, the Aurora Award.

The Auroras are awarded annually by the Canadian Science Fiction & Fantasy Association (CSFFA) for excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy. The award started in 1980 as the Casper and was renamed the Aurora for the 1990 awards. I’m honored to have won the Aurora three times and to have been on the final ballot another sixteen.

This Aurora bundle again delivers a great mix of SF and fantasy, adult and YA novels, as well as a selection of short fiction. The books included reflect the long history of the Auroras, with titles spanning a quarter century of Canadian speculative fiction from 1992 to 2016.

This time, the bundle provides a great introduction to several wonderful series, including the first book in four separate series and the second book in a series that can be read as a stand-alone title. It also lets you sample the rich tradition of Canadian short speculative fiction, with two acclaimed collections.

In Destiny’s Blood, Marie Bilodeau delivers action, romance, and mystery in an interstellar SF tale of two sisters fighting to save each other—and all life. And it all begins in a flower shop.

E.C. Bell’s Drowning in Amber is a fast-paced paranormal murder mystery featuring amateur detective Marie Jenner who can talk with ghosts.

Druids, by Barbara Galler-Smith and Josh Langston, kicks off a magnificent epic historical fantasy trilogy, set a thousand years ago when the Celts ruled Europe.

D.G. Laderoute’s Out of Time is a YA fantasy adventure combining time travel with First Nations lore as two fourteen-year-old boys—one white, one Anishinabe—join forces across time to battle a monster.

Dave Duncan’s fantasy The Cursed takes place in a fallen empire where a plague leaves its survivors ostracized but with magical powers, powers that might be the key to rebuilding their world.

In Defining Diana, Hayden Trenholm updates the locked room mystery to 2043, where nuclear war, biotechnology, and all-powerful corporations have changed the Earth we know.

Golden Fleece, which was the first novel by Canada’s best known SF writer, Robert J. Sawyer, is an SF mystery set on a colony ship as told by the artificial intelligence controlling the ship.

In Ed Willett’s Marseguro, modified humans on a distant water world finds themselves in a battle for survival with a future Earth ruled by a fanatical theocracy.

Hair Side, Flesh Side, Helen Marshall’s award-winning first collection of short stories, is a brilliant introduction to one of the brightest new lights in Canadian speculative fiction.

Finally, my own collection, Impossibilia, delivers a mix of SF and fantasy, including an Aurora winner, a finalist, and the story prequel to my novel, The Wolf at the End of the World.

And if you are looking for still more pedigree, the bundle includes two CSFFA Hall of Fame inductees (Sawyer and Duncan).

– Douglas Smith

For StoryBundle, you decide what price you want to pay. For $5 (or more, if you feel generous), you’ll get the basic bundle of five books in any ebook format worldwide:

  • Destiny’s Blood by Marie Bilodeau
  • Drowning in Amber by E. C. Bell
  • Druids  by Barbara Galler-Smith and Josh Langston
  • Impossibilia by Douglas Smith
  • Out of Time by D. G. Laderoute

If you pay more than the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular titles, plus five more:

  • The Cursed by Dave Duncan
  • Defining Diana by Hayden Trenholm
  • Golden Fleece by Robert J. Sawyer
  • Hair Side, Flesh Side by Helen Marshall
  • Marseguro by Edward Willett

The bundle is available for a very limited time only, via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!

It’s also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

Why StoryBundle? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.

  • Get quality reads: We’ve chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.
  • Pay what you want (minimum $5): You decide how much these fantastic books are worth to you. If you can only spare a little, that’s fine! You’ll still get access to a batch of exceptional titles.
  • Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there’s nothing wrong with ditching DRM.
  • Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to charity.
  • Receive extra books: If you beat the bonus price, you’ll get the bonus books!

StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.

For more information, visit our website at storybundle.com, tweet us at @storybundle and like us on Facebook. For press inquiries, please email press@storybundle.com.

Curator’s Notes

Destiny’s Blood:

One of several books in this bundle that get you started on a new series, in this case Marie’s Destiny trilogy. Destiny’s Blood won the Foreword Award and was a finalist for the Aurora. Destiny’s Fall (also an Aurora finalist) and Destiny’s War complete the series. Marie is an Ottawa-based writer who lights up a room the way her prose lights up a page. If you haven’t read her work before, this book is a great introduction.

Drowning in Amber:

I’ve included several books in series in this bundle, most of which are the first title. E. C. Bell’s Drowning in Amber is the second book of a trilogy, but it and all the books in the series can be fully enjoyed as a stand-alone work. The first title, Seeing the Light, won the BPAA award for Best Speculative Fiction Book of the Year and was shortlisted for the Bony Blythe Award for Light Mystery. The third book is Stalking the Dead.


An introduction to yet another series! This time, it’s the Druid trilogy by the writing team of Barbara Galler-Smith and Josh Langston. I’ve never had the chance to meet Josh, but I’ve known Barb since I began writing, and it’s always a thrill to read her work. Captives and Warriors complete the trilogy.

Out of Time:

For a bundle that’s coming out shortly after Canada’s 150th birthday, it seemed appropriate to include a fun YA adventure (to remind us we’re still young) in an environment that many associate with Canada (the wilderness, specifically the shores of Kitche Gumi, or Lake Superior).

The Cursed:

Shortly after I started writing professionally, I sat on my first panel at a genre convention, an unknown among established pros. One of my fellow panelists was Dave Duncan, and I still remember his gracious welcome to a newbie. Dave is an international best seller and an acknowledged master of epic fantasy and science fiction, with fifty-plus novels and over a dozen series. In 2015, Dave was inducted into the Canadian Science Fiction & Fantasy Association Hall of Fame. The Cursed is often cited by fans as a favorite Duncan title.

Defining Diana:

I’ve known Hayden almost since I started writing in the late 90’s. He’s been an Aurora finalist ever so many times and has won the award four times. He also owns Bundoran Press, so he knows the writing game from all sides: writer, editor, and publisher. Here’s your chance to read the first book in The Steele Chronicles, a near-future SF trilogy, each volume of which earned a spot on the Aurora Award ballot. Steel Whispers and Stealing Home complete the trilogy.

Golden Fleece:

I couldn’t  put together an Aurora Award bundle and not include a Robert J. Sawyer title. Rob’s won the Aurora fourteen times with another thirty ballot appearances. Rob is one of only eight writers in history — and the only Canadian — to win all three of the world’s top Science Fiction awards for best novel of the year: Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell Memorial Award. In 2013, Rob was also inducted into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association Hall of Fame. Golden Fleece was Rob’s first novel.

Hair Side, Flesh Side:

I first met Helen when she worked for the excellent Canadian press, ChiZine Publications, and edited my second collection, Chimerascope. I didn’t realize how lucky I was at the time. Helen has established herself as a master of the short form, and this, her first collection, is ample proof. Aside from being a finalist for the Aurora Award, Hair Side, Flesh Side also won the Sydney J Bounds Award.


Here’s your chance to read the first entry in Ed Willett’s acclaimed two-book series of thought provoking SF adventure. Marseguro won the Aurora Award and its sequel, Terra Insegura, was a finalist for the award. It’s a series that will make you both feel and think, and is a great introduction to the work of an author of more than fifty books.


Fresh Fiction (and other thoughts for a frigid Sunday)

26 Jan

One of the hardest concepts to grasp, and yet one of the easiest things to spot, is ‘freshness.’ It is more than simply a new approach to the old problem of effective narrative. Down that road lie all sorts of unfortunate experiments in ‘creative’ writing that lead to unreadable prose and incomprehensible story-telling. Yeah, I’m talking to you, James Joyce. (Now, to be fair, though plenty have tried, nobody did unreadable and incomprehensible better than Joyce, so I’ll give him points for that.)

Fresh is a difficult word, with a multitude of meanings from ‘newly created’ to ‘new to one’s experience’ to ‘novel or different.’ The first two — when referring to writing — are mundane and easy to accomplish: write a new story and send it to someone who has never read you before and mission accomplished.

It is that third definition — different — that is hardest to accomplish, especially when trying to mix in those other elements that make fiction truly fresh: briskness, brightness and clarity. Simply trying to be different is not enough; fresh writing also demands those qualities we experience when we first see a mountain valley, bite into a new picked peach, smell clean laundry on the line, blowing against our faces. Finding a balance between exciting the reader while not totally confusing them is often a challenge. Fresh writing makes the reader work but shouldn’t make them tired.

In science fiction, the challenge is both easier and harder. A lot of science fiction is loaded down with traditions, tropes and clichés. Finding something fresh is often a challenge. But it can be done. A good recent example is Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, which provides a remarkably fresh spin on the tried and true ‘individual against the empire,’ that has long been a staple of space opera. Little things — like using she as the default pronoun rather than he and introducing the idea of ‘collective POV’ — pile up throughout the prose, which is clean without being boring and sensual without becoming over-written, to build new perspectives on old concepts. Though I’ve read a lot of stories that include AIs on ships, this one struck me as particularly, what was that word, fresh.

And it made me — no big fan of military SF — look forward to reading the next installment when it comes out later this year.

On Being Well-Read


One of the great challenges for a publisher and editor (and, by the way, every writer as well) is to stay current in the field they work in. Trying to read the best SF books published each year (let alone those that are ‘merely’ good) is almost impossible — especially when faced with the prospect of reading a multitude of submissions to the Press (as well as the huge amount of reading for my day job). I cheat a little by using other people’s best-of lists and meeting new writers through yearly anthologies and occasional dips into the best magazines.

Of course, reading in the field is not enough — I like to leaven my SF with dollops of mystery and literary writing (both old and new) as well as plenty of science, politics and history to feed both my writing and my understanding of the world.

Still, I am constantly reminded just how big the field of SF is when I look at the table of contents of various “The Year’s Best SF” and only recognize half or, at best, three quarters, of the names. Still that’s a lot better than my knowledge of other branches of speculative fiction. Recently, the TOC for a high-end anthology of horror was announced. I knew the editor — but didn’t recognize a single writer’s name. I’ve determined to try to rectify that — not because I’m likely to become a big fan of horror, but because it is important to have a sense where that genre is going so I can recognize horror elements that will inevitably bleed into science fiction.

By the way, one thing I’ve learned from reading nearly 100 novel submissions in the last year — it is painfully easy to tell if a writer has read anything outside the genre they are writing in.

News of the Week

 The way book covers suck you in.

Speaking of covers, here is the one for Strange Bedfellows, coming in April from Bundoran Press.

Libraries adapt to the digital age.

Fascinating stats — especially the one that says .99 e-books sell 12x more, $3.99 ones generate the most revenue and $7.99 ones are 5x more likely to be read.

The Future of Reading

7 Jul

Isaac Asimov claimed science fiction was rooted in three ifs: if this goes on, if only and what if.  You can take almost any topic and conflict and by focusing those lenses come up with at least three stories. Mix it with the three attitudes towards drink glasses (half-full, half-empty and let’s buy another round) and you get nine variations on a theme.

So what about the future of reading? Or, more to the point, the future of writing/publishing/reading? Because the three are inextricably linked.

If This Goes On – Current trends with no game changers.

Last week the Random House and Penguin merger was finalized.  Penguin Random House is now the largest publisher of books in the world – accounting for about 25% of the print book market, which, world-wide, is still several times larger than the e-book market.  It’s hard to say what percentage of the e-book market they control (since Amazon and others are vague about actual numbers of electronic books sold) but it is significant and likely to grow.  The Big Six of traditional publishing is now the Big Five.  I expect there will be further mergers as the overshadowed Four seek to ‘rationalize’ their operations.  How do you feel about the Big Three? (A similar thing happened with car rentals – the many rental firms of the 90s have been reduced to three majors.  No-one noticed because they retained brand labels after the ownership change.)

A Marxist might suggest that this is the inevitability of monopoly capitalism and will lead to a revolution. A Darwinian, on the other hand, would argue it is survival of the fittest, or more subtly, the survival of the good enough.  Before their mass extinction, did dinosaurs become larger and less biologically diverse? Just asking.  A more classical economist might argue it is change in response to market forces. More bluntly, it is a response to the dominance of Amazon in book selling. Penguin Random House is bigger than them now; are you ready to rumble?

Meanwhile lurking in the weeds are the more agile and adaptive alternatives (small presses, self-publishers), or, if you prefer, the revolutionaries preparing to establish a new world order.

However, don’t count the big guys out.  Bertelsmann (who owned Random) made it through the Great Depression and survived – and prospered – during World War II and every change since. They expanded, they diversified, they seized onto new technologies. Big companies can fail – but it happens less often than you might think.  They are adaptable and, like all predators, they are ruthless.  Already you are seeing talk of new approaches to traditional publishing – including subscription services (E-Book of the Month Club!), dedicated e-book stores, and yes, self-publishing ventures.

Meanwhile, the growth of e-book sales will taper off (there are already signs that growth rates are dropping; they always do as markets mature). Physical book sales will rise and fall with the economy and will vary by local market. The evidence is mixed here but the general feeling is p-book sales have shown slow but steady growth and drops (as when Borders went under) were temporary.  Lots of people will self-publish either physically or digitally. Few of them will sell many books; fewer still will make any money.  In the real world, one writer who sells 500,000 books (and there are still lots of those) is more important than 1999 who sell 250.

However, the proliferation of small markets and the reduction of competition among big ones will have predictable economic effects.  The advances paid to writers will drop as will overall incomes. Some – those capable of being businessmen or women as well as artists – will diversify, adopting a mixed approach that incorporates big and small publishing with self-publishing and self-promotion. Many writers – good writers – will quit or never go into the business. Writers are economic creatures, too. Writing is hard and if the rewards diminish, they will find work/reward ratios that are more favorable. Some will miss it terribly; others will be relieved.

So twenty years from now: three or four big publishers, offering a mix of physical and digital books, plus a range of small to low-mid-size publishers (the middle class is always the first to go in a diminished and unequal market) and a large-number of self-publishers – many of whom, having learned the lesson that quality counts, will be purchasing their publishing services from whoever gives them the best editorial and marketing buck.  I suspect it won’t be Amazon.  The majority of books sold will be written by 50 (or maybe 500) writers, many with narrow but deep fan bases who will insist on more and more from their favorite writers.  There may be good opportunities for ghost writers.  Best sellers will dominate but will likely stay at the top for shorter and shorter periods of time.

If Only – some fundamental background shift, maybe in human nature.

In only people put their money where their mouth was.  Sweat shops in Bangladesh would be a thing of the past and Wal-Mart would be big box stores with no one in them.  Neighbourhoods would thrive and local businesses would survive.

We all say we encourage new writers, that we’re seeking new voices. We all say these things – yet we keep buying the same authors over and over again. I know lots of people who buy any book X produces, even if it’s not her best work.  Even if X is past his prime.  The only way Y and Z – fresh, powerful new writers – have a chance is if X blurbs the book or if a critic compares Y to a young X.   Amazon or Kobo algorithms?  Not really working yet.

But this is speculation. Let’s say readers become egalitarian in their selections, constantly seeking the new while eschewing the tried and true. It has happened before (during the 1920s, there was an amazing renaissance in American writing, sweeping away previous icons and replacing them with fresh, vibrant future icons). What would that look like?

It would be disastrous for traditional publishers. They succeed because of big numbers and traditional buying patterns. Big publishers are increasingly built around bestsellers.  Unless the total number of books sold ballooned enormously – there would be no more bestsellers.  The Big Five might shrink to the Big None.  Small publishers would do much better – with a dozen titles a year all selling two thousand copies, small publishers could generate enough cash to keep one or two people employed and the doors open. Some might even grow to mid-size.  There would be more of them. Self-publishers would likely do better too – at least for a book or two – just enough to keep them writing beyond their best before date. 

From a cultural and artistic point of view it would be wonderful. Hundreds of new voices every year – from every spectrum of society.  There would be fewer issues around discrimination based on gender or race. Old White men would be replaced by a rainbow collection of writers.

On the other hand, fewer and fewer people would be able to make a full-time living from writing. Certainly, no-one would get rich. No-one could count on having a long-term career (unless they constantly changed their name and biography – which some writers already have to do). The age of the one-hit wonder might return with a vengeance.

Twenty years forward: no big publishers but lots of small to medium sized ones. A constant churn of who’s hot and who’s forgot. A multitude of players on an egalitarian playing field. Few professional writers but lots of gifted amateurs. Little chance that a writer will get a chance to grow and become truly great.  And that would be a loss.

What if – one big change, scientific or technological, that re-writes the rules.

There have been tremendous changes in the production and distribution of books over the last twenty years. E-books were predicted long before they appeared (watch some early Star Trek episodes – everyone used e-readers); they appeared long before they became significant. Tools for marketing books have also changed. Book tours and mass advertising are largely gone for most writers – except for potential ‘superstars’ (Saturday’s Globe and Mail had a full-page ad for astronaut Chris Hadfield’s book but no other book ads, not even in the book section). Now everyone depends on social media – not merely web-sites but Facebook and Twitter. Some people do it well, other’s not so well. Niche events – SF Cons for science fiction writers; book festivals for literary fair – also play a role.

So what change could change it all? Well, the Singularity, of course. You know, where we all have our minds uploaded into computers and we can just absorb info directly or maybe live in entirely virtual worlds having adventures. Or AI’s become so powerful they wipe us all out. Yeah, either of those would pretty much finish the book business.

I’m going to suggest something a little less dramatic, two things actually – things already been tried without real. Localized Print on Demand. Effective Targeting of Readers through Big Data.

The biggest cost of getting books from writers to readers is not making books – neither printing nor e-book preparation is a huge part of the cost. The two major cost centres are on the creative side (the writer, editor and designer/artist) and on the distribution side (moving the books, selling the books, marketing the books).  The former can be squeezed and often is; the latter is more inflexible.  E-books compete in price with p-books because they are cheap to move and relatively cheap to sell (no warehousing or inventory costs).  Successful e-books – that is the big sellers – are not, for the most part sold for $1.99. The reason is simple, quality creation costs money, effective marketing cost money. E-books don’t compete (for many people) in quality of the reading experience or in the flexibility of product. I’ve yet to see a quality coffee table book or scientific textbook that doesn’t look like crap on an e-reader.

Localized POD would require a dramatic drop in the cost of the machines that do the printing.  The last I heard, they cost about $50,000, down considerably from a few years ago. But what if they could be dropped in price to the cost of a high-end commercial cappuccino maker ($5-8K)?  Bookstores could be a common as coffee bars.  Like coffee bars they would have some physical product to sell but most of their revenue would come from people ordering stuff from the machine – in either physical or digital format. No distribution cost and access to both types of readers.  Wow!  Meanwhile, improvements in identifying readers and connecting them to writers they REALLY would like, could be achieved through personalized messages through smart phones or other devices. It would require better metadata about individual books – maybe providing a while new job category for the book business: people who read books solely to create sophisticated metadata tags.

Twenty years later: an explosion of independent bookstores printing books on site while offering pre-printed books in a narrow range of interests. People would choose which ones they favored the way they pick favorite coffee shops or restaurants. There would be a role for all sized publishers though medium ones might be more adept than either big or small (less reliant on bestsellers than the former; better at metadata marketing than the latter).  Lots of writers exploring particular niches or building small but viable audiences. Self-publishing might begin to look a lot more like small publishing (maybe in the form of artist collectives) because of the need to utilize more sophisticated marketing than simply yelling “Buy My Book!” on Twitter.  Fewer really rich authors perhaps but more professional writers who can make a decent living without assuming the mantle of businessperson.

Any thoughts?

Monkeys Reading Books

21 Apr

Last week, the Vice-President of KOBO in England was describing the growth of digital publishing.  The interview ended with a declaration that he still liked physical books but that it was a cultural thing.  He grew up with books, whereas the next generation will be used to reading things digitally and will have no such attachment.  I immediately thought of what the Canadian Minister of Science and Technology, Gary Goodyear, said when questioned about his belief in evolution.  Having learned what happens to conservatives in Canada who claim man walked with the dinosaurs. Mr. Goodyear replied, of course, he believed in evolution.  He’d even seen it in action: as a chiropractor, he had witnessed the increased number of back problems caused by people walking on concrete sidewalks.  It was, he said, an adaptation to new environments that would increase with each generation.

It was so nice to see that Lamarckian evolutionary theory was still alive and well, long after its main supporter, Josef Stalin, had bit the dust.

While far from being a biological determinist, I recognize that all human behavior has an unpinning in genetics and, therefore, is subject to evolutionary forces.  Change occurs but not overnight (unless you’re a proponent of punctuated equilibrium – but that’s another story) and a couple of generations – or one – definitely qualifies as ‘overnight.’

I recall a marketing study of clothing stores that discovered that the average piece of clothing was touched seven times before someone bought it.  Makes sense to me; the first thing I do when shopping for clothes, before I even check the size or price, is feel the fabric.  If it doesn’t pass the touch test it doesn’t get a second look.  For those of you who attend SF conventions or flea markets, watch the people who are browsing.  They always look at the goods from several feet away.  I used to think it was because they didn’t want to engage with the merchants.  Now, I suspect they didn’t want to be tempted into touching the merchandise.  Chatting with a few of my fellow vendors, I discovered that if you can get someone to actually pick up a book, the chances are much greater they will buy it than if you just engage them in conversation about it.

Like all primates, we are still sensory, and especially tactile, creatures.  Most of us are happy to buy electronics – cold, impersonal and plastic – on-line which is why the box stores are in trouble.  Some of us are okay with books and clothes (though personally, I won’t buy an article of clothing on-line if it costs more than $25, no matter how good the returns policy is).  Pizza or Chinese take-out, yes, but a steak dinner? Probably not. And who in hell would order a perfume they’ve never smelled from an on-line merchant?

This brings me back to our friend at Kobo. It has been possible to read books on screens for a long time – at least 30 years in any case.  Whether on computers in the 80s or handheld devices in the 90s, the option has been there, but only a small number of early adopters took it up.  The first dedicated e-readers – like Kindle – led to a significant increase in uptake but, it seems to me, the biggest upsurge occurred once they became more ‘book-like’ with the introduction of leather cases that opened like books and most, importantly, with the adoption of touch screens, that, while nothing like turning a page, allowed us to make a tactile connection to the reader. 

It is interesting that both Kobo and Amazon (Kindle) are trying to capture the bookstore experience – Kobo by partnering with brick and mortar stores and Kindle by introducing an app that lets people go to stores to get a ‘feel’ for the book they want and then scan it with their phones, in essence, pirating the bookstore experience.

While there is no doubt that engaging digitally does impact our brains – and in all likelihood our endocrine system as well – I have my doubts it is an evolutionary change.  Humans vary as individuals; human cultures show a remarkable range of ways of interacting with the world.  But they are all ‘human’ ways – that is there is a common genetic underpinning to every culture.  Learning a new culture is difficult but not impossible.  And it’s good for us, too.  It is this discovery that we are all expressions of the same human genome that has gradually led the world to become a better place.

E-readers have come a long way and I’m sure they will continue to ‘evolve.’  Yet, it’s fascinating to me that what they are trying to evolve into is what we had all along.  E-books are here to stay, of that I have no doubt.  But, overtime, they may become ever more like the physical objects our monkey ancestry loves so much.  As for real books, I’m pretty sure they’re not going anyplace soon.  

It’s not nostalgia speaking (which, by the way, is nothing like it used to be). Another thing I observed at Ad Astra’s dealers’ room.  So many of my fellow book dealers – and publishers — were thirty years younger than me.

A million years of evolution isn’t as transitory as all that.