From The Telegraph:

Richard Russo, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, says his latest novel, Interventions, “is a tribute to the printed book” and is not for sale in an electronic version.

His new book is intended to give readers a “book book” – as he calls printed books – experience.

Russo, talking to the Associated Press from his home in Maine, said that the rapid rise of e-books and online sales of printed books pose threats to bookstores, the publishing industry and the rise of new authors.

He said: “I encourage the idea of buying locally. I think this particular book is part of that groundswell of people who are beginning to understand that buying all of your books through online booksellers is like buying everything from online sellers, whether it’s flat-screen TVs or flowers or whatever. I think there’s a groundswell of people who are beginning to understand the implications of that. And that’s the only justification I have for saying print books are unlikely to disappear.”

I heard Russo speak at the GigaOm conference and his talk was just a tirade against Amazon and was full of misinformation – allthough he obviously believed what he was saying.   Though I covered the conference I didn’t report on his talk because it was so silly. He seemed to be angry that his daughter’s bookstore is having problems and blamed this on ebooks and Amazon.  I observed that  people in the audience were shaking their heads and clearly felt embarassed for him.

Thanks to Richard Herley for the heads up.


  1. Crotchety print book advocates are as irrelevant as crotchety screen book advocates. Complementary roles of physical and virtual books must be carefully extracted and factors of their interactions widely identified. In any given stance issues of ulterior motive and favoritism should be considered.

  2. While I think that the whole “debate” surrounding electronic v. traditional publishing is really a false dichotomy, I also think Russo’s gesture is valuable. As e-publishing carves its path into the future, we are in a unique position to examine and influence what that path should be. E-publishing obviously has its place in the world, but it cannot, must not, replace the printed word. Besides the importance of keeping tangible records of the world, and besides the sensory joy a physical book brings, there are still a lot of issues with electronic publishing which have yet to sort themselves out, not the least of which is the growing pile of mediocre slush grown from self-publishing and a general lack of quality control.

    While many are sure to call Russo a “crotchety” old throwback, the reality is that our definition of literature is changing, and we need to acknowledge that. What do you want the world to look like in ten years? In fifty? Do you want to see a library-less world where the only books people own are hardcover status symbols, with no purpose beyond display pieces? E-books are the present and future of PORTABLE literature, but they should not become the future of all written forms. That is simply a terrible, terrible idea. So kudos to Russo, for sticking up for what he believes. Gestures like this raise awareness of the intrinsic value of books, timeless, tactile artifacts that are more than mere vessels for words.

    Personally, I want to see a future where e-books COMPLIMENT printed literature – not send it to extinction.

  3. This makes me a little sad, as I’ve really enjoyed Russo’s work over the years.

    Aside from that aspect of it, though, it troubles me (and others have pointed this out) when authors go to such great lengths to privilege the physical packaging of their words. If they don’t like to read ebooks, if they prefer to have a paper book in their hands…. fine. And I really get that; I personally have many bound volumes of great sentimental value. But when they get to a point where they make it sound like the presentation of their words (each one of which they’ve no doubt sweat blood over) is more important than the words themselves, I think they’re selling their own work short.

  4. Fine, he wants to right a print only book, let him…just don’t expect me to read it.

    I have nothing against p-book readers. I LOVE p-books, but I only buy the p-book after I’ve read the e-book and decide that that particular book was so good it deserves a place in my physical library. Since he is denying me the chance to make that decision, I’ll just have to skip his latest work.

    E-books and p-books can coexist. There is no need to choose one or the other. Nobody made me sign a pledge to never touch another p-book when I bought my first Kindle.

    And if his real purpose is to help his daughter’s bookstore, then maybe he should hire a creative consultant for her instead of going on a p-book or nothing rant. There are independent bookstores out there that are still going strong because of creative marketing and use of their space.

  5. What a moron. Really!

    He may as well mandate that his book can only be sold in brick and mortar stores and not through online outlets like Amazon. Or he could decree that it be printed using hand-set block type on hand-cranked manual printing presses. Perhaps it could be distributed solely by Amish using horse and wagon.

    There’s really no limit to how far you can go once you decide to turn your back on present reality and instead gaze myopically backwards at an idealized past.

  6. As anyone else bothered to look up a description on the book before blasting the lack of an ebook version? It’s four individually bound volumes gathered in a slipcase; each of the four volumes is paired with a small, full-color print of a painting by Kate Russo, his daughter. Sounds like this is more along the lines of an art book than just text–and it has a $40 MSRP, perhaps targeted to the “art” crowd.

  7. Apparently it’s an ego project and a vehicle for his daughter’s paintings.

    Nevertheless, the presumption is that a great writer is a great writer because he has something to say. And he says it with words. Not with slipcases and bindings.

    I have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of an author being more concerned with the fancy package than he is with getting his words out to a broader audience.

  8. I have to wonder whether, if Russo had announced his tribute to the printed book and gone on to say that it would eventually be available in digital form, everybody would be applauding rather than making irrelevant and ignorant comments. As long as there’s a market for beautifully produced books, projects like Russo’s will be regarded as “an ego project” only by those who insist that *only* the words matter and that the market is always more important than aesthetics. Before pouring scorn on “fancy packaging, maybe some of you would benefit by learning a bit about the arts of book design and binding.

    I don’t agree with Russo’s attitude, but that’s a separate issue from the publication of his book.

  9. You’re missing the point here Catana. Nobody is pouring scorn here on Mr. Russo for producing a fancy printed book. We are pouring scorn on him for announcing that this is the ONLY version available. And he went out of his way to make clear that there would be NO electronic version despite the fact that millions of people are currently making the shift towards reading digitally.

    Sure, a book can be a beautiful object. But so can a stamp or a coin or vase. Ultimately the aesthetics of a object only matters to collectors and hobbyists and decorators. It’s a nice thing but not really very important.

    The real function of a book is as a medium for the transmission of knowledge and visual images. When a prominent author announces that he puts MORE value and focus on the package than he does on the words and the ideas then that is definitely deserving of scorn.

  10. Sorry to contradict you, but I’m not missing the point. “I wonder if the book will be good enough for the pirates to even bother?” “Apparently it’s an ego project and a vehicle for his daughter’s paintings.” Ad hominem applied to books.

    And unfortunately for your uninformed opinion, there’s a whole world of people for whom aesthetics are very important. And I don’t really see any evidence that Russo puts more value on the package than on the words. In fact, a beautiful package honors the words. He’s a Pulitzer Prize winner, so it seems fairly obvious that words are important to him.

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