The tl;dr is that ebooks are an important piece of the puzzle that is solving accessibility (large print, audiobooks, ebooks, special software, etc.). Remove that piece, and you remove the ability of a certain group to read those books, or you increase the financial or time cost.
Why Not Being an eBook Is A Problem
When I first heard that Stephen King’s new book, Joyland wouldn’t be coming out as an ebook, I sighed and rolled my eyes and wondered what kind of stunt it was. But as I’m not currently in a public library, I just shrugged it off as some kind of reactionary phase from King or his publishers. I’ve seen speculation that perhaps King wants to retain ebooks rights and release on his own later. That may well be.
But when the book actually came out this month and I thought about it again, I began to see it from the point of view of accessibility. Suddenly, all the stunt’s real-world consequences for readers who love King’s work and may have to pay more (it’s available as an audiobook, which costs more time and money) or be unable to read it at all.
Since I had seen the discussion mostly phrased in other ways, I decided to write to Mr. King. I don’t think he’s thought of the problem from this point of view. My letter is below. If you read it and feel the same, consider sending your own letter. He doesn’t have an email address but according to a number of internet sources, he can be reached at: 49 Florida Ave. Bangor, ME 04401.
My Letter to Stephen King
Dear Mr. King:
My name is Ruth Tillman. I’m a library paraprofessional finishing up my library degree and a fan of horror stories. One of my focuses as I prepare to become a librarian is studying accessibility for libraries and library patrons, as we attempt to make more information and more stories available to everyone, not just those who can easily pick up a book and read.
This is why I was dismayed that your new book is not being released as an ebook. I love print books. I love their feel, their smell, their reality. I love that people can’t take my books away from me. I have a whole bookcase in my home dedicated to Weird fiction and horror. I have 4 other bookcases for the rest of my books and 2 for my husband’s, despite living in a one-bedroom apartment. But I also recognize that physical books are limiting.
Ebooks are not THE answer to accessibility, but they’re part of the overall answer, which includes audiobooks, braille, large print, etc. Ebooks allow the reader to resize print without having to pay more for a cumbersome large print copy. An ebook may be read on a computer by someone who does not have the use of their hands but can use voice controls for the computer. It may be read with a refreshable braille display, far faster than an audiobook. Some people who cannot physically get to libraries because of their inability to drive use their library’s online ebook system as an easier way to get books than waiting for a library delivery service, if available.
I think it’s fantastic that there is an audiobook version, at least, which opens it up to those with vision impairment, but audiobook and ebook reading experiences are different and some people and reading situations are more suited to it than others. For example, a friend of mine is a disabled veteran who is losing her hearing (audiobooks are out) and also experiences intense pain from her injuries. Holding a book while lying in bed may be too much for her on a bad day. Holding a Kindle/Nook/etc, is easier. They’re also flatter and easier to prop up than books. Another friend who was born without much sight uses the large print features on her Nook to read in bed with her husband, but finds it antisocial to listen to audiobooks there. Audiobooks are also more expensive and have a higher time cost than ebooks.
You have written some fantastic fiction, Mr. King. It’s great that a lot of your works are available in many formats so that readers may enjoy them, no matter what disability they have. I am saddened that Joyland will be more limited. I am saddened that librarians will have to tell patrons with certain disabilities that they simply won’t be able to read it and we can’t help.
Might you consider rethinking your position and talking with your publishers about it?
Thank you for your consideration,
Ruth Kitchin Tillman
If You Write
Please don’t be rude. Don’t harass or call names. Mr. King is a very generous person, in the winter of 2011/2012 he donated thousands of dollars to help Maine families pay for heat. He and his wife started a foundation to help strengthen Maine communities nearly 27 years ago.
Remember that he is a writer, not a publisher or a librarian. It is a publisher’s duty to know about accessibility. It is a librarian’s duty to, as well. It is not part of a writer’s job. A writer’s job is to write good stories.
Share your own stories, if you have them, about working with patrons who find ebooks far easier to use or the only thing they can use. Examples are important. Remind him that these are real people who won’t get to read his book.
If it ends up being just me writing, that’s ok. But if you think this will affect people at your library, I strongly encourage you to write. Not just because it’s Stephen King, but because if Mr. King does change his mind and decides to publicly state why, it’ll raise awareness among writers/publishers/the general public that ebooks are more than just an easy option for reading. (Not that there’s anything wrong with them as an easy option, but it’s fantastic that they can be so much more.)