Kindle at Poseidon’s Gate

Elizabeth Bluemle -- July 8th, 2009

I was planning to post something very summery and blueberry-related today, but that will have to wait. A queasy-making tidbit of information earlier this week about the possible next evolution of e-books led to discussions among horrified readers and booksellers: specifically, Amazon’s purported contemplation of adding advertisements to the "pages" of Kindle e-books (more on this in a moment).

While our reaction was universally negative, one bookseller colleague did more than recoil, exclaim, shudder, and back slowly away from the news item. Kenny Brechner (owner of DDG Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, and co-chair of the New England Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council) borrowed Jonathan Swift’s pen, and his message is too funny, too timely, and too terribly apt not to share with you. The blueberries can wait.

Kenny writes:

***

Anyone wondering how e-books will really bring progress to the act of reading need wonder no further. Just read the quote below from today’s Shelf Awareness.

"Amazon.com is applying for several patents on ads in e-books, according to Slashdot, which has links to the Patent & Trademark Office (oldfashioned) paperwork. One example: "For instance, if a restaurant is described on page 12, [then the advertising page], either on page 11 or page 13, may include advertisements about restaurants, wine, food, etc., which are related to restaurants and dining."

What a fabulous idea, but why stop there when digital texts can do so much more? Thirty second video ads when readers access a new chapter are a sure thing, of course, but what about hyperlinking the text itself? Who wants to read this by Virginia Woolf…

"The wheelbarrow, the lawnmower, the sound of poplar trees, leaves whitening before rain, rooks cawing, brooms knocking, dresses rustling–"

When you could be reading this…

The wheelbarrow, the lawnmower, the sound of poplar trees, leaves whitening before rain, rooks cawing, brooms knocking, dresses rustling–

What an improvement! I mean to say what well turned phrase isn’t made more sublime by turning a profit at the same time. For example E.R. Eddison’s lovely prose can easily be embellished thus…

With such fancies, melancholy like a great bird settled upon his soul. The lights flickered in their sockets, and for very weariness Gro’s eyelids closed at length over his large liquid eyes; and, too tired to stir from his seat to seek his couch, he sank forward on the table, his head on his arms.

Fabulous. One thing I’m sure of is that if Richmond Lattimore had been asked what his one regret concerning his magnificent translation of Homer’s Iliad was, Lattimore would have opined the lack of advertisments linked to the text. How sad it is that he didn’t live to experience the following…

Then looking darkly at him spoke resourceful Odysseus: ‘Son of Atreus, what sort of word escaped your teeth’s barrier?

Setting a book down to absorb a compelling passage will be a thing of the past. Who can pause to reflect while he’s pausing to watch commercials on his e-reader and making purchases between sentences. We’ll all be too busy interacting to be reflecting. The term reading itself will probably have become passe at that point. Hmmmmn. Greading?

***

[Elizabeth here again now.] *stands, laughing, albeit a tad bitterly, and applauding* Just when you think Kenny’s essay can’t get any better, he coins "greading." Greading. I had to repeat that because it’s so perfect.

What do you think, dear readers, about the possible future of ads in e-books? One assumes the books would be free or very cheap to download, subsidized by the ad revenue. Free and cheap attract many people, especially in tough times.

As we draw ever closer to the world depicted in M.T. Anderson’s Feed, where advertising is ubiquitous, the Internet is wired directly into people’s (excuse me, consumers’) brains, and a market economy is integrated into every aspect of life — I find myself wondering how to counter it. The Obama generation is at least somewhat ad-wary, and perhaps the following generation or two will have enough memory of a time before ads were woven into T-shirt chips, peppered over every web site, and downloaded into e-books to find something wrong, abhorrent and degraded about that ubiquity. But American culture is nothing if not eager to embrace the new, even if we sacrifice a little something (or a lot) in the process, and I wonder if advertising is even now so normalized, so present in nearly every crevice and corner of private life, that soon we won’t even notice it any more.

To leave on a slightly happier note, perhaps the pendulum will swing all the way back until we come to this:

7 thoughts on “Kindle at Poseidon’s Gate

  1. Ruth McNally Barshaw

    Brechner’s rant is beautiful. I loved his clever use of the links. If Kindle goes to ads it’ll be a good reason never to buy one; they’re a bit high-priced anyway. Would I get one if they were free but featured ads? I don’t know. Medieval Help Desk – very funny.

  2. DoozieVonToozie

    Brechner’s piece is brilliant… though I worry that some people will actually read his chilling satire and think “Hey, he’s really onto something.” Thank goodness for thinkers like Brechner who offer the voice of reason that says that in our current cultural climate in which everything from sporting events to holidays are commercialized, some things (literature foremost among them) are indeed sacred and should be immune from flashing lights, hyperlinks, and for sale signs.

  3. Joanne Fritz

    Wow. Medieval help desk. What a hoot. I haven’t seen that in at least a year. Your version leaves off the funniest bit at the end. Go to youtube and search for “medieval help desk with english subtitles.” Look for the longer version (2:39). [ed: done! Thanks!] So… ads in e-books. Ugh. Kinda like reading, um, a magazine. But why would we be surprised? Advertising has always taken over any media it can. Look at facebook and twitter. Look at product placement in movies. Sounds like a great reason never ever to own an e-reader. I’ll stick with paperbacks, thank you.

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