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The Trouble With Silos

Posted on by arlen

I have a problem with books. The major symptom of this problem is I have too many. I love the feel of them, everything about them. I have a disease — it’s called bibliophilia.

But I’m learning to cope with it. Slowly I have learned to differentiate between the words on the page and the pages themselves. There are writers I love to read (Gene Wolfe, I’m looking at you) and books I love to hold (leather-bound Lord of the Rings) but at least I’ve now managed to convince myself that the sets are not identical. Gene Wolfe is still Gene Wolfe, even if the words are formed by excited particles on a screen instead of ink on paper. I still fear it must be illegal for anyone to write that addictively well.

But now I have another problem.

I’ve stopped buying technical books, for the most part. I use O’Reilly’s magnificent Safari book service, which lets me place books on a virtual shelf, to be referred to and read when I need them from my computer, where I usually need them. Ones I find I need to refer to often, I buy in actual ink-on-paper form, but now only after they prove their worth.

I can see taking the same route with much of my fiction. About 5% of the fiction books I own can be said to be in the “collectible” category, where the physical book has value beyond the text itself. The other 3-4K on my shelves are what’s fondly referred to in the trade as “reading copies.” The same goes for the 2K+ non-fiction volumes. Any format for them would serve the purpose.

Enter Amazon’s Kindle, posing as a solution. Given it and some off-line storage, I can have a few hundred square feet of floor space in my house back. Oh, there’s hangups like some authors I read (Charles L Harness and Gordon R Dickson, for two) don’t show up in Kindle format, nor do some individual books I re-read from other authors (Michaelmas, by Algis Budrys par example). But I could keep those books in hard copy without the need to reinforce my floors.

“But…” you say. You say you smell a but coming. And you’re right. I don’t get access to my Safari bookshelf from a Kindle, except through their lame web browser. And its support for other e-book formats isn’t the best. Sony’s book supports more of the e-book formats, but refuses to admit my computer exists, hence I can’t use it, and Sony doesn’t do the Safari thing, either.

Silos. Everybody’s building silos. They want to pen me up in their little world, and keep me from wandering away.

Silos are for grain, not for people. I voluntarily climbed in to O’Reilly’s silo because it gave me access to 75% of the books I wanted, and I could make do with other titles for the other 25%, in return for the easy, quick access it gave me. But that doesn’t mean I’m content to remain there. I’m getting out as soon as a better deal comes along.

I might be able to justify spending the money on a Kindle if it included technical books. But if I switched, then I lose the quick-reference and the book rental model Safari offers (and let’s face it, especially when it comes to computer tech, rental makes more sense than buying, because most tech books are almost worthless after a couple of years, given the speed of change) and instead would have to pay inflated prices (I’m sorry, but offering me 20% or so off the price of a book because you don’t pay paper, printing, storage, shipping, and inventory costs isn’t a fair deal, especially since there’s no resale value to factor into the equation, and you know it) for books that I may not actually find useful. Nope, that doesn’t work for me.

So I have to choose my silo, for the moment. And I choose Safari. But it chafes me, with the limited selection and the fact I can’t bring the book to bed with me, or to the beach with me. And the first one to offer me a larger silo gets me as a customer. I want a wider selection, and a rental option for expensive reference books. Are you listening, Amazon?

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