Pixels or Fonts, Does It Matter?

A Resistance to E-books by Some in the Library Profession


Linda Pendleton

Copyright 2002, 2015 by Linda Pendleton, All Rights Reserved.

I wrote this article below in 2002, in the early days of dramatic changes in the world of publishing.  Thirteen years ago, authors who chose to self-publish ebooks, via Amazon in particular, were often met with outrage and discrimination, not only from NY publishers and agents, but from other authors.  Several professional author groups restricted membership.  Some of those same authors who yelled the loudest have now changed their minds about self-publishing or independent publishing and are now putting out their back-list books and new books independently as ebooks.  So it has taken a decade or more for ebooks to find their place, and for authors to make business decisions that work best for him or her. Amazon is still under attack from publishers and a group of authors, but for many authors, Amazon has been a blessing, and has given authors decent royalties that are not available from NY publishing.  I now have all my books and those of Don Pendleton in print and/or ebooks. In 2012, after 22 years as a member of the Authors Guild, I resigned due to the Guild's on going attack against Amazon.  


Recently my town library director wrote an article in our local newspaper that disappointed and disturbed me. Her article was titled, "Computers Won't Replace Books." What I found disturbing about the article was that she stated that she found amusement in the content of an article that appeared in the "Christian Science Monitor" with a headline that read, "Book lovers fail to click with e-pagers." She stated that for at least the past decade, "doomsayers have been predicting the demise of the printed word," and that these "prophets of the new age" claimed that the eventual disappearance of books printed in bound paper format was all but inevitable. Considering herself a lifelong book person, she stated, "I always scorned these prophecies."

The librarian commented "triumphantly" (her word not mine) who would want to curl up with a computer on their lap? She makes further comment about having to deal with hard to read pixels, batteries, and plugs, while "deeply involved in a well-written novel." My answer to that is a lot of people. But she fails to realize, at least in her article, that many read from their regular computer monitors, in addition to those who read from handheld devices. Maybe I am reading between the lines of her words but it seems she is indicating that a well-written novel would not be in electronic format. I believe her attitude as a librarian is distressing. I don't feel that it is of any importance what format a reader chooses. All that matters is that they read. It is important to encourage reading in young children. Children can sit for hours playing a game on a handheld computer-and they can also read a good book on a handheld device. I suppose it could be that I have an old fashioned belief that librarians encourage reading, period. At least, the librarians I've known have. While in high school I worked in the school library and in my earlier years spent a lot of time at the library, either doing research or checking out books to read.

Well, I can assure her that her career as a librarian is probably secure if that is what she is worried about. But obviously she does not peer very far into the future and has not educated herself about the popular use of the Internet for reading a large variety of materials that are available.

From what I have heard from e-book authors and publishers who belong to the same two professional e-book organizations that I do, her pessimistic attitude is not too unusual among many librarians. Which is sad. Of course, there are librarians who hold a visionary and optimistic view about any and all formats of reading materials and encourage their use, but obviously she is not one of those.

Many people who are computer literate read a great number of documents on their computer monitors and spend hours doing so-including "well written" novels. E-books come in several formats including the simple and easy to read PDF format. I would agree that some of the hand-held reading devices can be improved and I am sure they will be before long with the new technological advances that are taking place. Apparently, one of the most popular hand-held readers is the Palm Reader, and a few other devices are enjoyed by many. Recently, Edward Nawotka, a "Publishers Weekly Magazine" editor wrote an excellent article about his personal use and enjoyment of the Palm Pilot in reading 4,934 pages of "The Corrections" while on vacation in Europe.

What is nice about these handheld e-book readers is that a number of books can be stored in memory and are available at the flip of a switch.

I would agree that electronic literature will not replace paper bound books in the immediate future, nor probably within this librarian's lifetime or mine. Despite that fact, there is plenty of room within the publishing and literary world for books of all genres published in electronic format.

Electronic literature also allows for Print On Demand. This means that there does not have to be tens of thousand copies of a book sitting in a warehouse somewhere. I have been in several of those warehouses myself, and I have also seen conveyor belts sending thousands of copies of magazines and soft cover books into the shredder. Print on Demand saves storage and paper, and the tradepaper book is printed and bound and ready to ship quickly after ordering a copy.

The quality of e-books has improved in the few years as new authors have found their niche and many established authors have moved away from the New York publishing print world and into the electronic world of publishing. Many have done so for business reasons and wider exposure. And not far behind, have been the New York print publishers, jumping on the bandwagon and offering their books both in print and electronic format. Why have they done so? Because they know it is a viable and profitable medium and will become more so as time goes on.

As a print author, I had watched the development of electronic technology for three or more years, consulting from time to time with my New York publishing attorney regarding copyright infringement issues that might put copyrighted materials at risk when available for download on the Internet. I also carefully followed the growing information in regards to these issues with the Authors Guild, of which I am a member.

In late 2000, I made the decision to publish electronically. Last year I was afforded the opportunity through the Authors Guild to put twelve of my late husband's popular novels back in print, as Print on Demand. The program has worked well. I also put six novels back in print as electronic books with Palm Digital Media, formerly Peanut Press. Their program has also been profitable. In fact, according to a January 2002 press release by Michael Segroves, Vice President and Director of Business Division, Palm Digital, stated that in 2001 the company sold almost 180,000 e-books, up 40% from 2000.

Richard Curtis, a well known New York Literary Agent and president of E-reads, an electronic publishing company, had this to say, January 7, 2002, in a "Publishers Weekly Magazine" article: "How long are we going to endure skeptics telling us that nobody wants to read on screen, when thousands are paying do so every day?" He also stated in response to critics, "Those of us making money in e-books, delivering thousands of downloads every month, paying royalties to authors and publishers, have to wonder what planet these pundits are on." I totally agree with Curtis.

The University of Virginia currently has a database of approximately 51,000 electronic texts. That is only one example of what is available on the world wide web for educational and pleasure reading. I have come across a lot of books available for PDF download that have been out of print for many, many years, even as far back as the Nineteenth Century. For those doing genealogy, there are many historical county histories and books of that nature available to download and read.

My late husband, Don Pendleton, in his thirty-year successful writing career, published more than 125 books, and has had more than 200 million copies of his novels in print world wide and in more than two dozen languages. And now, because of the technology available, I will continue his legacy in various publishing formats, including electronic.

The popularity of electronic books will grow. It is bound to. In fact, it is inevitable. Our children and grandchildren are becoming proficient in computer technology not long after first grade. Computers will become a way of ordinary life for them, and for many, it already has. They will not object to reading from their computer monitors, nor curled up on the sofa with their Palm Pilot-or whatever new technology arises in the near future.

Visionary e-book publishers are now offering books for children of all ages. A few short years ago, it appeared that many of the electronic books were limited to romance novels but that is rapidly changing to include all genres of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.

I have had published, for the first time, six of our books electronically, fiction and nonfiction with Mystic-Ink Publishing, an imprint of the Digital Literature Institute, Inc., a non-profit educational organization that was formed to help raise awareness of e-books and alternative forms of reading. I have been nominated for the Franklin E-Books Awards; one novel was an EPPIE 2001 Award Finalist; a nonfiction e-book is currently a 2002 EPPIE Award Finalist. The EPPIE's are given for the finest in electronic publishing. Four e-books are also entered in the Independent E-Book Awards which also recognizes excellence in e-books.

I believe if librarians do their homework they may change their mind on the future of electronic publishing. We are at the early stages of something that will become a vital part of the publishing industry. Electronic books will not fully replace paper books on library shelves but it will give millions of readers the opportunity, twenty-four hours a day, to download their choice of reading materials from home or work. A trip to the local library will not be necessary.

If librarians cannot recognize the technical advances that have taken place in the last five years-and the value of the new advances that are currently and rapidly unfolding-then I would have to agree with Richard Curtis and wonder what planet they are coming from-and in what age they are living.

I have always believed it should be the goal (and desire) of librarians to encourage people to read. It should not matter what format the reader chooses. The author's words are there to be shared-a meeting of the minds-whether in pixels or fonts.

-Linda Pendleton