What We Talk about When We Talk about Books

Aug 15, 2014

There has been much debate over the ebook pricing dispute that’s emerged between retail giant Amazon and Hachette, a large multinational publisher. The issue could have enduring and serious consequences for the industry, and the stakes feel high.

That’s why we appreciated the stress-relieving humour in a little piece of satire published in the New Yorker on August 7. “Timmy and Pete buy some books: a short film from Amazon” portrays an imaginary dialogue between a couple of “tween”-age boys. Timmy and Pete scoff at the idea of paying more than Amazon’s favoured $9.99 price point for a “long-form immersive textual experience” by one of their preferred “book-length content creators.”

The stiff-sounding terminology is a wink (or perhaps a jab) in the direction of people who believe that new technology erodes the essence of a book and who argue that we no longer need to distinguish between an ebook and a really long blog post. Some feel we’re moving into an era where people aren’t book readers but rather consumers of digital “content” who expect that content to be sold inexpensively, if not given away for free.

At Page Two, we make every distinction between an ebook and a blog post. We believe there is intrinsic value in “long-form immersive textual experiences,” regardless of whether they occur in print or on a digital device. Many of our clients spend most of their working hours posting and broadcasting their work online, but when they publish a book, they too make a distinction between short, ephemeral pieces and the “long-form immersive textual experience” that, when published, turns them from a blogger into an author.

But we also think carefully about language and terminology, and while we continue to use the word book, we feel that we need to imbue it with new meaning to account for the new ways in which people are writing and reading. We also like to stay open to creative nomenclature, because it’s true that some new book formats call for new names.

Consider the position of our colleagues Anne Casselman and Tyee Bridge, two writers who founded a new publishing company whose “textual experiences” are described as “single-sitting” narrative non-fiction books. They’re shorter than the average-length book but longer than the average-length magazine article. In an inventive twist, they came up with a new name to describe this new format and their company: Nonvella.

You won’t catch us using Timmy and Pete’s terminology anytime soon, but you’ll find us encouraging our clients and colleagues to stay open to new bookish terminology, and to the emerging opportunities the digital shift provides.