Back in the day, music was expensive and books were cheap. A cassette (ahem) ran almost $15 and then a CD was at least $20. My books were (usually) paperbacks for less than $10. The library was also well-stocked with books that I wanted, while the music selection was less impressive. So my music collection largely consisted of mixed tapes I recorded off the radio and copies of the tapes of my friends. If there was a particularly expensive hardcover book I wanted, I would either get it from the library and buy it later in paperback or ask for it as a gift. We owned a lot of books in my house growing up (a lot of vinyl records, too), so it’s of little surprise that you would find me at swim meets plugged into my walkman, reading.
And then Napster changed everything.
Look, I already didn’t pay for much of the music I listened to. But Napster made it really easy (and less time consuming) to get the music I wanted when I wanted it. (Please remember I lived in Canada and this wasn’t yet illegal). However, I was willing to support the bands/performers that I loved. I would pay, in particular, to see them live, in concert. Somehow, paying multiple times more money to see a band live once was better than paying to buy their album to listen to over and over again.
Books, on the other hand, I have always loved to buy. I preferred to own books rather than borrow them from the library. I loved my books. And I insisted that I own complete collections of authors that I loved or series that I was obsessed with. Used book stores were a godsend (I got into used CDs eventually, too, but mostly because the prices were driven way down because of Napster). I bought every single book from my courses (literature or otherwise) and kept each of them. And I have carried them with me across two provinces, two countries, and three states.
Something funny happened during graduate school – I started buying more music and stopped buying books. Once iTunes came out, I had no problem paying 99 cents a song or less than $10 an album. Admittedly, it was impossible to make my own mixed tapes from the radio anymore, but I also felt like I should be supporting the artists I enjoyed by buying their music. That and I could no longer afford to go to their concerts.
The books, however, instead of getting cheaper, got way more expensive. Out-of-print, hard-to-find, or just plain expensive academic books were the norm now, and inter-library loan became my best friend (and the photocopier). I was 14 again, but instead of making mixed-tapes, I was making…bibliographies for academic essays and my dissertation. I also stopped reading for pleasure; if it didn’t have anything to do with my teaching or my research, I just didn’t have the time or energy to read it. Besides, there was just so much good stuff available for free, online (not books, blogs).
I got a Kindle for Mother’s Day. I love it, but I am shocked at how much it costs to get an ebook. I was hoping that, in particular, it would be easier for me to get Canadian and Quebecois literature without paying high shipping fees (or asking my mom to buy it and mail it to me). Alas, most of the books I want either aren’t available as ebooks or just as expensive. Now, I understand that authors don’t get to go on books tours and charge hundreds of dollars for tickets, but I have gotten so used to the cost of music going down that I wasn’t expecting books to be just as expensive or more expensive than I remember, even in electronic format.
So I’ve rediscovered the library. And, that Kindle Samples are dangerous (so far, I’m hooked on Mudwoman and Canada). I love that I can carry all of my music (ok, a lot of my music) on my phone, and my entire library on one small device. I still have lots of physical books that I own I want to read (hello, The City and the city), and I will always love books, especially because it doesn’t really benefit me financially to buy them electronically.
(This is glossing over the very real threat of simply losing any and all of your both music and literary libraries if Apple/Amazon decides to take them away. It also doesn’t deal with the very physical and tactile experience and both the book and music. A large part of me would also prefer never having to pack and pay to move 30+ boxes of books and music ever again.)
But seriously, can we figure out how to bring back the $5 paperback, but in ebook?