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bear by san

December 2021



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can't sleep books will eat me

help yourself don't speak

What seanan_mcguire says here about kids and books and poverty is true, and everybody should read it.

I was one of those kids too. We didn't have much, and my clothes may not have fit--but I had books.

And significantly, I think, both Seanan and I now make some or all of our livings... from books.


Me, too. Sort of.* Other than the growing up to make a living through writing part.

I doubt print will ever die, but it would totally suck if we priced all the poor people out of the market while claiming to be helping them with subsidized ereaders.

*We were actually more weird than poor. So, computers on one side of the house, no electricity on the other because electricians were expensive, not enough chairs for everybody to sit down at the same time, neighbors who always borrowed money at the end of the week... and BOOKS. Lots and lots of books.
I love me some ebooks. I love me some ebook royalties.

But books are a mature enduring technology, and that had a lot to recommend it too.
"print is here to stay too."

yes! it's like - just because some of us can email and text and skype does not mean that people don't make phone calls. Daily. (Although I will admit the snail mail letter writing has dropped off precipitously.) Ereaders and other computers have and will replace books for certain uses for certain people, but there's not going to a be wholesale rejection of ink to paper.
Oh, come on.

Price of a new Kindle four years ago: $399
Price of a new Kindle two years ago: $259
Price of a new Kindle today: $114

You see where I'm going here?

Also, the price to download CC-licensed books from Feedbooks: $0.

Quality of such books: highly variable, but they include the complete oeuvre of Cory Doctorow, Peter Watt's Blindsight, Stross's Accelerando, Jo Walton's The Prize in the Game, Nick Mamatas's Move Under Ground, a couple of my own books - and those are just the ones off the top of my head. Oh yes, and then there's the Baen Free Library.

Not good enough? Price of a pirated book: also $0.
Difficulty of finding pirated books: variable, but generally not large.

I propose that the linked post, while well-intentioned, suffers immensely from looking at where the puck is rather than where it's going.
You're missing the point that that hundred bucks may be a family's food budget for a month.

And you are making a very privileged assumption that a poor kid is even going to know of the existence and utility of such things.

I didn't get my first computer until I was a junior in college. I paid for it myself. I bought it used for $200 and that was a huge amount of money.

The only reason I knew I wanted one or that it was useful to me was because in college, finally, I was surrounded by middle class kids with expensive toys. Like computers.

ETA: So please think a little before you condescend.

Edited at 2011-09-17 05:15 pm (UTC)
I apologize for my ill-considered tone.

Not least because it seems to have obscured my point, which is that over the next five years e-readers are probably going to become so cheap that they become ubiquitous. Yes, they're too expensive now, but that's not going to last.
This is distinctly possible.

And in five or ten years from now, the current crop of eight year olds are going to be thirteen or eighteen.

It doesn't matter to them where the puck is going; it matters that they can go to a library tomorrow.
Absolutely. But I got the distinct impression, from phrases like "we need paper books to endure" and "the coming ebook revolution", that the original post was, in fact, mostly about where the puck is going.
We do need paper books to endure--as archival materials, if nothing else--and because one way kids learn to read, to be interested by books, is by stumbling on them poking around in a box or a bookshelf.

I don't actually think paper books are going to vanish any time soon. As I've said elsewhere, they're a mature technology. Electronic anything is vulnerable to catastrophic loss--though we're coming up with ways to mitigate that.

But in any case, I'm not terribly interested in debating religious issues.

(Mac vs. PC, also right out.)
"and because one way kids learn to read, to be interested by books"

Another way is by being read to - and despite everyone talking about ereaders and ebooks, no one yet makes an ereader or ebook that works well for reading picture books aloud. Especially to a large group of kids, such as in a classroom or a library.

Which is one of the main reasons I roll my eyes when people go on about ereaders and ebooks.
Also, we forget where children really begin reading; with board books and extremely simple picture books. In board books, texture matters, and tricks you can't do with a screen yet. But even later, when it's stories, it needs to be possible to see pictures and text without knowing how to operate a device. Or how not to break it. I learned to read before I learned not to use black permanent marker or crayon on my books. Or throw them, or crack the spines....

It's going to be a LONG time before anyone gives an e-reader to an infant or a toddler.

(There's also a side visual effect; I remember the infant of a friend flipping through her picture books, slightly confused, because she saw mommy and daddy doing it with *their* books, so there had to be something to it.)
"It's going to be a LONG time before anyone gives an e-reader to an infant or a toddler."

oh, hell yes.

And yes, one of the most important things that (board) books teach very young children is sequence and that pages are read in order - this is actually a very important pre-reading skill. Beginning, middle, end just isn't as clear on an ereader. This leads to some interesting uses as far as creative experimentation goes, but isn't terribly useful as far as teaching reading goes.

(and then there is the fact that all the ebooks for kids insist on having animation. which is really cute and encourages kids to explore, but is not terribly useful for improving attention spans and observational skills.)
I had a similar experience growing up. Not quite so desperately poor, and my parents made good choices on the trade-offs they had, but similar enough. My parents, the little two-room library in a storefront on Main Street of my pop-250 town, and the two little old ladies who staffed it set me up good.

Obviously paper books are never going away (cf. vinyl), but I don't think they're necessary to provide universal access to even recent literature while compensating authors fairly.

I'm excited for the day, which I think is coming, when ebook readers are free -- there's a button on Amazon's site which says "want a Kindle?", and you click it and they'll ship it to you. (Furthermore, I think Amazon *wants* this. It's in their interest, after all, if they can sell enough books.) Hardware too cheap to meter. That way there's no worry about someone stealing the reader or whatever. It's no longer a fetish object. As ubiquitous as cell phones. (Modern ereaders are shockingly fragile. I strongly suspect that Amazon includes the cost of a replacement or two in its current Kindle pricing, and makes enough on book sales to cover.)

What I don't know yet is where the material to read on those free devices comes from and how authors are compensated for it. Obviously poor kids can't afford to pay cover price for all the books they read. Out-of-copyright stuff includes many of the classics, of course, which is Good and Moral and Improving and all that, and I did read some of the classics growing up, but I also read, y'know, Star Wars novelizations and Asimov juveniles and many other people who weren't yet out of copyright, even though they were hardly new any more -- seventy years is a long fucking time. Ten times your life, if you're seven. All but the very earliest science fiction is still under copyright -- an entire genre locked away. (Yes, yes, copyright renewal and things and stuff. That's still a minuscule fraction available of the whole.) Today some kid wants to read the Hunger Games, and who can blame her -- I do too, and she shouldn't be limited to Twain and Dickens just because I've decided I want all my books as digital files.

Libraries exist to provide free access to everyone but especially people who can't pay for it, while still compensating authors fairly. So we need a way to let people who can't afford ebooks get free ebooks while people who can afford ebooks don't, and give authors royalties from government funds. It's not easy, but it's not actually impossible, phrased like that. The author compensation bit happens already in eg. the UK. On the reading end, something like: submit your latest tax return to Amazon and B&N proving that you're below the poverty line and get fifty free e-books a month! (I like libraries as institutions, and I'm not sanguine about replacing them with for-profit Amazon et al. This is for demonstration purposes only. Specifics will be different.)

So I don't think we would be SOL even if all the paper books in the world disappeared tomorrow, but this transition period is going to be rocky while we figure it all out.
(Edited to fix some poor phrasing.)

The caveat that I would make to the cheapening cost curve for ebook readers is that this is not necessarily inherent in the technology (at least the speed of the change isn't), but rather is tied into a business model where ebook readers are loss leaders for selling books. Amazon may well give you a free Kindle (particularly if you're a member of Amazon Prime), but they're a business who is doing that to make money: they're giving you a free Kindle because with it you're going to buy books at a substantial enough price that Amazon makes money in the end.

I don't think this is going to be true of the typical poor family, who is not going to be doing a lot of buying books at full price. (I wasn't particularly poor growing up compared to many, more lower-middle class, but still buying books was a rare treat and only for things that I really wanted, and there's no way that new books would have fulfilled my reading desires.) Therefore, there's no incentive for Amazon to give them a free Kindle to read public-domain books; Amazon makes no money from that. Therefore, I'm dubious it's going to happen, except maybe as a PR stunt to get good press (and even then, that's likely to come with some nasty strings).

I completely agree with you on thinking that public-domain books are not any sort of reasonable solution to this problem. The effect of that would just be to exclude poor kids from reading the stuff their peers are reading and that speaks to contemporary concerns for them, and that's not okay.

I also agree that libraries are probably one of the keys to fixing this, and would certainly go a long way (and maybe that's the way that one could get an ebook reader, although, still, even a $50 piece of electronics is kind of a big deal if you're living in an environment where things like that get broken or stolen). But I think it's also important not to underestimate the value in being able to buy a trashed used paperback for a buck or two and have it be *yours* and not have to give it back and to be able to read it until it falls apart. I think we miss something important without that sense of ownership.

One final note: perhaps I'm too sensitive to this, but I'm not a fan of programs that are specifically for poor people. Having to go to Amazon or someone and say "I'm poor" is kind of a big deal. It's humiliating and degrading, and that's not the sort of barrier we should put in front of reading. Libraries and used book stores deal with everyone on the same basis with the same prices, even if poorer people are more likely to use that more heavily. There's an egalitarianism in that that's important.

Edited at 2011-09-17 09:13 pm (UTC)
To some extent the cheapening cost curve for ebook readers *is* inherent in the technology -- as long as the computational cost of displaying ebooks stays the same, it becomes cheaper to fab the same chips as Moore's law progresses. I agree that it's not totally, and the dedicated reader may be a transitional technology for many -- we may see it largely displaced by do-anything tablets.

I see a day possibly coming in ten or twenty years where the hardware is cheap enough that it *is* in Amazon's interest to give everyone a reader, to read public-domain books or whatever they want, even if they never buy an Amazon book, because enough people will who wouldn't otherwise have that the program is cost-effective. And if not Amazon, then a nonprofit on the model of OLPC.

I'm basing this off a couple things -- Amazon's talk about giving all Prime subscribers a free Kindle, and the fact that it's already the case that any recent device you own can read ebooks with the Kindle and Nook apps for Android and iOS and Windows, so we're already in a way living in the age of free readers. In the limit when this tech is ubiquitous, whoever owns the market makes the most money if readers capable of reading their content (maybe not the nicest or the latest, but adequate readers) are free, so as time progresses, I believe Amazon (who currently own the market) will act to preserve that ownership by driving the cost of readers to be basically zero. Some day, you'll get free readers in your fucking cereal box.
Ah, hm, yes. If you give it ten or twenty years, you've got a good point; it may be that the marginal manufacturing cost will be low enough then that it's worth Amazon's money to give everyone an e-reader just in case they ever buy a few new books.

I wonder how much money Amazon is losing (or making, but I think that's unlikely so far) on each Kindle, and hence how far off from actual manufacturing cost the current pricing is.
We have a habit of assuming all countries are like us. All countries are not like us. There are more than a few countries where a significant percentage of their population has come from the stone age to the computer age in one generation. There are countries where the rich are the ones who have electricity, running water and windows with glass in them. Paper books are the great leveler. You don't have to have a "reader" to be able to read paper books. You don't have to have electricity to be able to read paper books. All you need to be able to read a paper book is the ability to read and enough light to see the page, -- and sunlight is free. It may be difficult to scrape together the price of a paper book, but if you have access to a library, you don't need any money at all. In my book, lending libraries are the most democratic institutions on earth.
I didn't grow up poor, just without a lot of money. But I didn't actually have all that many books (well, "many" is relative. Maybe I owned twenty, which is a lot to some people.) The thing is, I didn't need to own books, not with a five-floor library two blocks away. I was appalled a couple years ago when they were discussing closing or significantly pruning that library system, which has endured since the 1700s when Ben Franklin and a few buddies pooled their books together. So I donate to them - it's one of a couple places (like Planned Parenthood) for whom I think of donations not as giving but as required payback.

When I was in grade school, I was a latchkey kid (remember those?) and the public library was my babysitter. I could go there after school, be safe from bullying, warm, and endlessly entertained.
See, I think we were in similar positions growing up (my single mom was a secretary, but my grandparents helped out at lot), but I didn't have books OR access to the library. My hometown had one library, downtown, and two bus lines with service hours that were nigh on useless. Getting my mom to drive me to the library so I could use the literary criticism books for my HS English papers was hard, especially when she was working two jobs, and I couldn't walk: it was a 10-15-minute drive.

My grandma would buy me random books at the used book store (and she still does; I have stacks of books I'll never read, such as The Grilling Season). I can thank her for picking me up my first copy of Lord of the Rings when I was 10 (maybe it was on a display table, because I know she's never read it and wouldn't know if from Shannara if it bit her). Some Stephen King here and there, Gothic romances, medical thrillers, whatever. I don't have many fond memories of reading books other than LOTR as a kid, except Narnia (which I borrowed from a friend, anyway).

The books my mom had in the house were bad romance novels. Barbara Cartland, Danielle Steele, countless Harlequins. I remember reading the 4-volume medical encyclopedia from the 1950s my grandpa gave us, the 2-volume dictionary we had, and the 1917 edition of Emily Post's etiquette. My mom thought it was weird that I wanted to read books (other than romance novels), and when I got really geeky about LOTR in 8th grade or so, she thought I was some sort of freak.

Books aren't important to her. My dad has books and loves to read, but I didn't grow up with him. I remember reading one or two of Ben Bova's Mars books when I was with him one summer, and he bought me the entire Belgariad (all 10 volumes) in middle school. But other than that? Bad romance novels (that weren't mine), school assignments, random things from my grandma, and dictionaries. Most of the books I own were bought in college or later.

I think what I'm getting at is that not all people on the poor spectrum were lucky enough to have books or access to them, whether because of circumstances like no access to the library or because their parents didn't gaf about books. I wish mine had.
I was lucky in that both parents read, and Mom read to me a lot. (Her own books are largely Harlequins too - but also include Zenna Henderson, Anne McCaffrey, and Elizabeth Peters).

But I don't know how to get used books to kids who need them, so I figure there are two things I can easily do to make books more accessible: donate to the library and buy my own books new so that the authors I love have a better chance at surviving as authors. (I'm not saying everyone should do these things, I'm saying they fit the resources I have available at this moment.)

Also, we have a house in a tiny town back in the US; someday when we get to live there I hope to volunteer at the small local library, which could expand the hours it's open.
Elizabeth Peters! Grandma bought me some of her Egypt books when I was younger. They were fun.

In general, I think everyone would be better served if we had real, useful public transportation in the US. That way, libraries would be reachable by people who don't have cars and/or live outside of walking distance. It was a little over a mile from the house we lived in from 5th-10th grades, which would have been doable when I was in early high school, but my mom didn't like us walking downtown after dark. The other house was about 3 miles away, because the more direct 2-mile route doesn't have sidewalks. Doable, if you can carry a stuffed backpack 45 minutes each way...and have an extra 90 minutes to spend on walking.

But then, American car culture is an entirely different rant. The anti-intellectualism rant is a bit more appropriate.

Supporting libraries (and authors) in whatever way(s) you can is always admirable!

(The libraries at my elementary schools had lots of books, and I checked out all sorts of things, but my mom made me stop getting the Greek myth books I liked, because they were evil and anti-Christian. It may have been my middle school library where I got the Left Hand of Darkness, which went straight over my head. But LeGuin was right after L'Engle on the shelf, so...)
That's the other thing - I grew up in Philadelphia, where you can pretty much get from anywhere in the city to anywhere in the city by public transit. Though you still wouldn't want to ride alone late at night.

It was a bit of a shock when I moved to Houston after college.
I did most of my growing up in a small town so walking a little over a mile to get to the library wasn't a big deal. There weren't any bookstores used or otherwise, though. We had to go twenty miles to the nearest larger city for that. (And my favorite used book store still exists. Which is saying a lot given that it's located in Flint. Heh.)
I grew up basically middle class, though my family had some pretty lean years when I was in junior high. My dad was making a living then from free-lance journalism, which really did not pay well. I still got $20 a month in allowance though, and I was doing some babysitting, which gave me additional disposable income.

However, I was going to the library and taking out 20 books at a time. There is no way I could have afforded that if I had had to buy them. Also, I was a pretty omnivorous and indiscriminate reader, and I stumbled across things in the library that I would never have kown existed otherwise. Buying a book is a commitment. Would I have taken the risk on some of those books if I had to pay for them all? I don't know.

Nobody in my family reads SFF, and my parents still sort of look askance at the whole genre. I discovered it for myself in 7th grade when a friend loaned me Dragonflight, leading me to the library to look for more books like that one. I wonder if that sequence of events could have happened in a world of e-readers.
I. Love. This post. Oh, my word, I do. It's something I've been trying to get through to people for AGES.