Zachariah Wells on the Future of Books


Zachariah Wells answered our questions via Facebook in April.

1)  We all know that Dan Brown and his ilk can sell product in any form, ebook, pbook or otherwise. But what do you think will be the impact of e-books on literary publishing in the near term?

Near term? Probably minimal, particularly for small presses with limited personnel and resources, who will no doubt be slower to release their lists electronically.

2)  How will your role as a writer change as a result of the increasing adoption of ebooks and ezines?

Not a whit, near as I can tell. The role remains the same: read, write.

3)  Do you use or have you tried using an e-reader? What is your impression of them?

I bought a Kobo not long ago. I like the interface well enough, but have had some frustrations. I’ve read mostly works of criticism and philosophy on mine so far–books with a lot of foot/endnotes. There does not appear to be any reader-friendly way of flipping back and forth between main text and notes.

Also, I’ve read a couple of OCR-scanned Google books and the number and severity of scanning-induced errors is very annoying. A Gutenberg book I downloaded has been much, much better in this regard, because it was actually overseen by a human, whose email address appears at the beginning of the book, so you can let him know if you find any mistakes and he will, presumably, fix them. That’s a cool aspect of ebooks, and Google, in its zeal to scan everything, seems to be missing the fact that people need to be able to read the damn things once they’re scanned. Also, poetry seems to be a problem for epub formatting–though I expect if anyone cared enough about it, the problem would be solved lickety. Growing pains; I see no reason for it to remain this bad.

Other than that, I travel a lot and I really like having a nice light little reading device instead of carting around big heavy books. And it’s so much easier to type out quotations from an e-reader than from a book, which needs to be held flat etc.

4)  How do you think the McLuhanism that equates medium with message will apply to ebooks? That is, will artistic forms such as the novel, the short story, and the poem actually change because of the new delivery media, including e-readers, iPhones etc.? What about the impact of so-called enhanced books that include video and music?

The primary medium of literature remains language, whatever the delivery device, so I don’t frankly see it changing much as a direct result of the technology. The printing press affected distribution of literature far more than content. Yes, more “populist” texts probably resulted from the advent of the press, but that didn’t dumb down the smart books any. Writing–an anti-mnemonic device par excellence–changed the nature of literature far more than any subsequent technological development could.

We have long had “enhanced books” in the form of video adaptations. Don’t see anything new in this, really.

5)  In what ways will paper books change in the next few years because of ebooks?

I think, if anything, it will lead to even better production values, as producers of paper books are increasingly forced to justify the three dimensional artifact of a book.

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Zachariah Wells

Zachariah Wells is the author of Unsettled (Insomniac 2004) and Track & Trace (Biblioasis 2009) and the co-author, with Rachel Lebowitz, of Anything But Hank! (Biblioasis 2008), a children's story illustrated by Eric Orchard. He is also the editor of Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets (Biblioasis 2008) and The Essential Kenneth Leslie (Porcupine's Quill 2010). Originally from PEI, Wells lives in Halifax, where he works as a freelance writer and editor, and seasonally for Via Rail aboard the Ocean Ltd. Photo by John W. MacDonald.