How to exploit faux-literary sentiment for profit

Portland’s Microcosm Publishing store is offering to trade unwanted, Christmas-given Kindles for their value in new or used books and magazines of the paper variety.

The silly, pseudoliterary pretense of the ad had me in stitches.

I Books

Upfront, let me say that I do not own an ereader and I have no interest in one.  I have tons of books, and only a handful of them do I simultaneously own as audiobooks for consumption during long road trips.

Even so, I understand that the literature is the text, not the wood pulp on which it is printed.  I love books, sure, but I don’t confuse this with my love of good writing.  The weird, idolatrous degree of fixation among some “literature lovers” on wood products is not at all about loving literature.  It’s just sentimental fogey-ism.

I should know, because I am also a sentimental fogey for books.  And, I love good literature.  But I know the difference between the two. And, since I know the difference, I am not what the experts at MPFC would call a “silly person.”

Here’s a line from the ad that made me laugh out loud: “Do you want to trade in your soulless faux-literary technology for its worth in good old fashioned books?”  Loving the written word regardless of medium is “faux-literary” but loving a medium for its physical characteristics is (I presume they mean, by contrast) genuinely literary? F—king absurd.

And, if you think I’m jumping to a conclusion about the pseudo-literary fetishism of this scheme of trading ereaders for books, let me grace you with another quote from the announcement: “We love the and grain and pulp (sic). Long live the grain and pulp! Long live the PAGE.”

Does the page need to have anything on it?

Businesses $

Now, let’s get down to economic brass tacks.  Does anyone believe Microcosm is going to take a customer’s ereader, hand over a couple hundred dollars worth of books, and then destroy the ereader?!

Of course they’re not!** They are going to resell the ereaders, which will actually accelerate the transition from books to ebooks because, unlike the disgruntled giftees, the new owners will have chosen the ereaders for themselves, which means they plan to use them.

All of which makes Microcosm’s “Thanks for helping to keep print alive!” look pretty hypocritical.

The only thing any Luddite who trades in their Kindle for a cart of paperware has accomplished is to fall for a very clever—and quite misleading—marketing scheme. Those couple hundred dollars in books you paid for with your ereaders represent a couple hundred dollars you might not have paid for with cash money.

Far from valiantly shoring up the world of print from encroaching ebooks, Microcosm is simply trying to get book fetishists to buy more than they ordinarily would have, or could have.

In a way (an unethical sort of way) Microcosm can be admired for their business acumen, but anyone who indignantly dumps an ereader that could have given them access to thousands of books so they can pat themselves on the back as Defenders of the Literary over the two dozen books they cart home while Microcosm staff posts their abandoned Kindle on Ebay?

Not so much.

_

* They simply say “zines” because they are hep to the jazzy lingo and all that.

** If someone can show me evidence of an official ereader smashing ceremony by Microcosm staff, my sincerest apologies.

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5 comments

  1. I also find their advertising medium amusing. They didn’t create fliers, they posted an ad on that evil digitized Internet. Keep print alive…?

    I got a Kindle for Christmas. I never would have bought one myself, but it was a gift. And I love it! Oddly enough, I haven’t stopped reading old-fashioned paper books yet. I’m not planning to, either. And I still love them, too.

  2. My kids just asked me yesterday if I wanted an ereader for my birthday…no, no, no!!!! My son said I have too many books, I told him to bite his tongue…there’s no such thing as too many books!!!!! 🙂

  3. Well I for one like being able to carry a few thousand books with me in my hand. I also see this as a benefit if some type of disruption happened and I had to move quickly.

    Its a lot easier to grab a laptop and ereader or tablet than it is to try and pack up a desktop and physical library. lol

    Each to their own i suppose.

  4. I have to admit that the prospect of carrying a library in my book-bag is tempting, but the way I read (and write) would make the current presentation formats frustrating. While reading, I often have a finger or two at other pages (key charts, scenes, arguments) so that I can flip back and forth to compare. I check out the ereaders every now and then, but none of them seems to accommodate the way I like to access text.

  5. Thank you for this! Let me first state that I’m typically a big fan of Microcosm, and have worked with them on several things before, but I had the same reaction as you did when they sent me their release about this stunt. I understand that it’s unavoidable, but the constant pitting of books v. eBooks truly gets us nowhere. eBooks are here to stay, and in a lot of ways I’m glad that they are. So rather than continue to fight this pointless battle, and worse try silly marketing ploys based on this empty argument, we should move past it and begin to focus on how the two complement eachother, and more importantly improve the relationship between the author and his/her readers.

    My two cents…

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