E-books’ lack of cover could end intellectual snobbery of reading in public

We’ve mentioned a couple of times the “problem” that e-readers create of people not being able to tell what the person next to them on the bus or train is reading. Some people seem to feel that something precious is being lost, be it the ability to satisfy your own curiosity or the inadvertent advertising that a book seen in public provides to induce other people to buy it. There was even a brief rumor that Amazon’s Android tablet would have a second screen on the back that could allow people to see what you were reading.

However, Stephen Hough takes another view, in a piece on the UK’s Telegraph paper, in which he suggests it could be “the end of one kind of intellectual snobbery.” No longer, he writes, do we need to worry about being seen in public reading only “the right kind” of books.

No one can know whether we are reading Homer or Harold Robbins as we depress the side-buttons to change pages. In fact, one of the drawbacks to the Kindle is that we can actually forget the exact title of the book we are reading because it no longer passes before our eyes each time we pick it up.

He discusses his childhood spent reading “adult” books such as Tropic of Cancer or Lady Chatterley’s Lover, much to the disapproval of his librarian, and skipping over one particular book he saw everywhere—Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice—because of its overexposure. But he lately found an ad for the book on Amazon, and has been able to read it on his Kindle without fear anyone else might notice.

It’s worth noting that, as in many other media, pornography (or romance/erotica, some of which is basically porn without pictures) drove some of the early adoption of e-books from stores such as Hard Shell Word Factory and Ellora’s Cave, as bored housewives found they could read their favorite smutty romance novels on their Palm Pilots without anyone else being the wiser. So in some ways the lack of cover was responsible for e-books originally taking off.

7 Comments on E-books’ lack of cover could end intellectual snobbery of reading in public

  1. Absolutely correct. And people are less likely to interrupt your reading to ask you how you like the book. Now, they don’t usually interrupt you to ask how you like your ereader.

  2. I am curious about the need for the word “could” in the title …..

  3. But what about the effect of seeing loads of people all reading the same book? Part of the whole Dan Brown craze was walking down the aisle on a plane and seeing every second book be The Da Vinci Code. Same thing with Steig Larsson.

  4. Be brave, be the one to step away from relying on the tedious “bored housewife” stereotype to explain the success of romances and their readers supposed shame for early acceptance of ebooks.

    I not embarrassed and yet I read romances in high school and through a double major + minor stint at university here and abroad. I still read and enjoy romances, and am not a housewife or bored. What I do is travel with my husband and write romances – a few of which are from Ellora’s Cave :-)

  5. Clytie Siddall // April 1, 2012 at 2:52 am //

    I read a truly delightful reader review yesterday on Amazon, where a policeman explained that he had to rip the cover off that paperback, so his partner, who had very fixed views on fiction suitable for a cop, wouldn’t see that he was sitting in the squad car reading paranormal romance. 😉

    He told his partner it was a book about a cowboy shooting a lot of outlaws, and his partner was satisfied.

  6. Mark Forrest // April 1, 2012 at 4:34 am //

    The standyby screen on my reader automatically uses the cover for the current book, but I do manually change it at work if I’m reading something less intelectual.

  7. Chris, Chris, Chris. Haven’t those of us who read and write romance kicked your rear enough times so you should know better than to trot out romance reader stereotypes that aren’t even accurate stereotypes but ones created by people who have never even opened a romance or looked at the statistics of who does read romances?

    See most current stats here:
    http://www.rwa.org/cs/readership_stats

    An earlier survey said that the majority of romance readers aren’t stay-at-home housewives, and most have at least some college education.

    The differences in porn, erotica, romantic erotica, and romance are numerous, but here’s a simple explanation I found:

    http://sarahmccarty.net/diary/2008/03/06/the-difference-between-erotic-romance-erotica-and-porn/

    Anyone who has read two of each kind and who has any kind of critical reading skills would know they are reading vastly different types of story.

    And you are also wrong about why the early ebook romances were so successful. I’m one of Hard Shell’s first authors, and Hard Shell Word Factory or HSWF was a pioneer in the ebook market so I had a front row seat in ebook adaption. First, HSWF has never sold erotica, and it was in business long before the erotica explosion created by Ellora’s Cave.

    Its early and most successful books were niche novels that the NY publishers refused to publish like science fiction romance and paranormal romance. (Believe it or not, before the current vampire/werewolf craze, an author couldn’t sell “weird stuff” to a NY editor.) Readers starving for these books were the first wave of ebook adapters.

    When the short Regency romances were dropped by NY, the writers and readers moved into ebooks, and when sweet romances with mild or no sex became passe, again, the readers and writers moved into the ebook market.

    The cliched clinch cover of the half-dressed woman in the arms of a bare-chested hunk which many readers and writers hate was a happy lose for those of us who wrote romance, and we were able to choose our own covers, but the covers were important in the promotion of our books and the sale of our books online, and they have remained so whether or not the cover can or can’t be seen by others when you read.

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