As the Australian publishing industry is still trying to get its head around this digital thing - and still somewhat acting as if the internet will go away if we just close our eyes for long enough - it occurs to me that part of the confusion and resistance could be caused by the fact that the internet is simply not a medium many of them are comfortable with, particularly in terms of their work. They use the web for email, to find out information, perhaps to order groceries. But they don't think about the pages they read in terms of content - thus, it's hard to perceive how a book may also be considered content, or content source.
There could be something else behind the resistance, too. A lot of us in the industry were library nerds or, at the very least, bookish children and teenagers. We formed our identities around the idea that we loved to read. Reading was our refuge from the harsh world; it gave us our own commonwealth, even if we were all so introverted that we rarely interacted with other bookish people. And our love of reading let us tell ourselves that we were smart, and apart from others. I read, I don't play sport, I don't watch television. Sport and television are for people who don't like reading and my reading makes me somehow superior.
I'm speaking from personal experience - I was a horrible reading snob. But it didn't mean I was smarter than everyone else. It just meant I was a horrible reading snob.
Now take a horrible reading snob and plonk them down in front of the idea that e-books just may reach people who play sport and watch television. E-books - because of ease of research and purchase - may reach people who didn't read books as children, not because they didn't want to, but because they couldn't. I mean people with dyslexia, for example, who want to read but for whom reading is torture - so much so that they'll never go into a bookshop because they don't know what they want to read and they don't want to have to explain that to the horrible reading snob behind the counter. But e-books mean they can take their time trying to find something they may like and they can, if they want, read it on their phone so no one can see. E-books - digital publishing - open up the world of stories, both fiction and non-fiction, to many, many more people. And inherent in that is a threat to the safe world order of the horrible reading snob who believes that stories belong to readers alone.
But they don't. Our first storytellers did not write their stories down - they told them out loud. When all storytelling was oral, the stories belonged to everyone. The advent of the printing press changed the dynamics of storytelling and oral storytelling now takes place on - wait for it - the television. And the cinema, radio and theatre.
However, that doesn't mean that the stories contained in books should belong to only those who can read them. Stories belong to everyone - to every single person who speaks the language they're told in. The stories that are contained in books do not belong only to the horrible reading snobs. They belong to the people who can't read so happily; they belong to the blind; they also belong to the illiterate. While e-books won't appeal or be accessible to everyone, I do think they will open up more stories to more people once the devices are more affordable and access to e-books is more widespread. At this point in time it's just my personal theory - I have no proof of it. But my safe, protected, printed-book, horrible-reading-snob world is coming to an end, and I think it's exciting.