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Monday, October 06 2014 08:14

·       Recently a close friend displayed a use of technology previously unknown to me. No, it was not a drone, or a robot, but rather an iPhone used as I had never seen it before.


What David did was respond immediately to my enthusiasm for a just-printed book written by my friend, Beth Macy. This work is called "Factory Man" and focuses on the achievements of the owner of a wood furniture company in Virginia.


Against all odds, this leader had managed to save his business, and the livelihoods of its employers, from much stronger Chinese competition. Beth’s account of how he did it has attracted the attention of business reporters around America.


I am rooting for it to sell widely, and perhaps inspire other manufacturers to ward off similar attempts from other foreign companies.


In a matter of seconds, David located "Factory Man" on his iPhone and bought the book. The Apple application he used accepted his request without complications.


I wondered how Apple would send the book. Would it come in the mail within a few days? Or would David perhaps have to pick it up at a local bookstore?


As I should have known, the printed text was present on his computerized

screen almost momentarily. Four hundred and 50 pages suddenly appeared on David’s small screen. He could have made a good start on the book without interrupting our conversation.


How much did my friend have to pay for this electronic purchase? Only $9.95, I am sorry to say. That was the price for a book of more than 400 pages, based on passionate and meticulous research.


Why do I regret such a minimal price for this work? Why don’t I celebrate the financial ease with which my friend David bought a fine book?


First, I regret that the author, my friend Beth, will derive so little profit from a work that took years to write. She is being squeezed out of what I regard as something worth a whole lot more than a 10-dollar bill. In this age of financial increase, her potential will decrease further.


Secondly, I bemoan what this kind of sale does to bookstores. As I see it, such stores are a cultural treasure and should be supported by our society rather than forced to lose out to those who sell way below market cost.

(Incidentally, my friend David’s book purchase technology does not allow him to handle the physical book itself. To me, that also counts as a loss.)


Thirdly, I don’t like to see the work of book publishing companies go down. In this view, I admit some prejudice because a member of my family is an editor with one such enterprise.


Undeniably, the labor of those who prepare books for publication enhances their value. It’s part of a long tradition from which our society benefits. But they cannot continue this work if good writing is not seen as important for the way we live.


·       Currently, the leading company that sells everything for lowball figures wants to sell books for very little. This is the approach of Amazon, which currently is trying to reduce prices to new lows.


Publishers are putting up a lively fight. News sources here and abroad are closely following the arm-wrestling between Amazon and the U.S. division of Hachette, which includes Little Brown, Grand Central and others.


And authors, not only from Hachette, have responded in the hundreds, putting their names on a full-page ad in the New York Times.


These days, my hope is for our country to place value on books and other publications that play such an important part in our community life. I’m in favor of making books readily available but not by beggaring writers and those who assure the quality of their work.