Stephen King, Tom Petty, and the Paper Book

Did you know Record Store Day happens in mid-April every year?

Record Store Day was conceived by Chris Brown, and was founded in 2007 by Eric Levin, Michael Kurtz, Carrie Colliton, Amy Dorfman, Don Van Cleave and Brian Poehner as a celebration of the unique culture surrounding over 700 independently owned record stores in the USA, and hundreds of similar stores internationally. (accessed 6/1/12)

In 2011, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers marked Record Store Day by re-releasing their first two albums on limited-edition colored vinyl — just 4,500 worldwide prints of each. These LPs were sold only in independent record shops.

Just recently, Stephen King has announced that his forthcoming book, Joyland, will be available only in paper, at least initially.

You can see the connection I’m making, here.

It’s not exact. Vinyl has long since been a collectors’ medium for music, whereas paper is still the mainstream medium for books. But the similarity is there nonetheless. The Tom Petty re-releases are about harnessing nostalgia for a superseded form in defense of indie record shops, themselves an embattled entity. King, in turn, couches his decision in the language of nostalgia: “I … loved the paperbacks I grew up with as a kid, and for that reason, we’re going to hold off on e-publishing this one for the time being” (accessed 6/1/12).

So, are book stores analogous to record shops? Borders = Tower Records, which went bankrupt in 2006? Ebooks = MP3s? Well, you probably know what I think.

Don’t get me wrong, here. I like browsing in book stores, and I own about a zillion paper books. But I don’t buy many of them, nowadays. I’m one of those people who still buys an occasional CD instead of downloading an album on MP3. But maybe I won’t be doing that ten years from now. CDs take up so much more space, and I have to rip them if I want them on my iPod.

As for record shops, I still like browsing in them, though there isn’t one anywhere near where I’m living right now. I was last in one in summer 2011 — the fantastic Strictly Discs in Madison, Wisconsin. I sold them the last of my import and special-release vinyl. I think they paid me $58.

And hey, I love Tom Petty, too. That’s the music I grew up with. If you’re interested in those re-releases, they’re available used on Amazon here and here.

Problem is, it’s not really about what I like. It’s about what the whole stinking mass of us like, because the whole stinking mass of us spends enough money to dictate how things work for everyone. The resisters eventually get relegated to collector status, and there’s nothing they can do about it.

That’s a hard thing to accept. Heck, you’re looking at someone who held onto her favorite vinyl until 2011, close to twenty years after her last turntable broke. It took that long for me to admit that I was just never going to buy another turntable.

You know what else I’m never going to buy?

Another bookcase.

4 comments

  1. I was very disappointed on King’s decision to initially release this book as print only. Apparently, he has forgotten that he owes his success not just to his amazing talent, but also to the readers who have purchased his work over the decades. I recently purchased the print edition of an e-book I own, because I love the story and wanted a bit of the nostalgic–a print book to hold in my hands, and to sit on my shelf. But–you know what? THE WRITER GAVE ME THE CHOICE!

    1. It would really annoy me too, Anne, if I were a King fanatic — the kind of reader who needs every new book as soon as it’s published. I do understand that a lot of readers are deeply unhappy about the move to digital because they love paper books. I’m sympathetic, but I also think it’s pointless to resist the move. Better to embrace it and try to make the most of this brave new world by exploring what ebooks can do that paper books can’t. If you’re going to end up someplace no matter what, better to get there in style with your head held high, not kicking and screaming.

  2. As an author, and a constant reader, I totally agree with embracing the e-books. I love my Kindle! It lets me carry a vast amount of entertainment in one tidy package. Over the past year I’ve bought just one print book (mentioned in my earlier comment). But–I digress. When I published my paranormal mystery novel, LOST GIRL (Book One of the Lost Trilogy), in April of this year, my intention was just to put it out there as an e-book. However, I had so many requests from readers who had not yet made the leap to digital that I felt an obligation to publish a print edition as well. So–even though I personally prefer the e-books and am truly excited about the future of the digital reading realm, my goal, as an author, is to satisfy the readers’ needs. When book two, LOST SOULS, is ready to put out there, if sales and funds allow, I’ll publish in e-book and print as well.

    It’s a disappointment to me that King doesn’t seem to recognize the needs of readers over his personal preferences.

    1. I think it’s great to put out a paper edition, Anne. Paper’s not going away any time soon: there are tons of people who like physical books, don’t like ereading, or feel they can’t afford the upfront investment required to eread. Authors should definitely serve those readers. I’ll get around to a POD edition of my own book one of these days.

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