Friday, 13 July 2012

A Book is Like a Sex Toy

Now, as ever I'm no expert, but I was writing about how a story is like sex, and tried to extend the analogy to the books that stories come in. This was the result. I make no apologies.

They're not essential to the experience, but some people like them

What really matters in an author-reader relationship (and, at least so far as I'm let to believe, in a sexual relationship) is the exchange of emotion, stimulation and (if the author is really lucky) love. You can transmit these things on paper, or digitally, or with the spoken word, or a gentle caress and a whisper, or all sorts of delightful means that lie far outside my experience.

But some people really like books (or sex toys). They like the way they feel in their hands (or other parts), or they like the way they look on a shelf (though if you're keeping your sex toys on a shelf, please remember to conceal them before you invite guests around).

There's no harm in liking sex toys, provided you don't use them on anyone without their permission. Likewise, there's no harm in someone liking books, or for that matter, any other delivery mechanism. I'm sure that if my mother can ever be persuaded to switch to Kindle, my father will be delighted that he doesn't have to put up any more shelves (there are no sex toys on shelves in my parents' house - every shelf is full of books).
I'd better make sure my parents never read this...

As long as there are people willing to pay for the extra pleasure, people will keep making them

From an economic perspective, ebooks are a huge step forward over print books. They're easier to transport, easier to store, easier to back-up, cheaper to produce and distribute, and vastly shorten the producer-consumer path. Yes, they make piracy easier, but the piracy is happening regardless. If market forces were rational, the print book should die out quickly.

But market forces aren't rational, at least by an economic standard. If people want something, and they're willing to pay for it, they create a market force. They create a niche for enterprising individuals to exploit. Sex toys have been in such a niche (actually, probably rather a lot of niches) for years.

Books either are or will be the same (though don't put one in your niche, for God's sake). And I think the overall quality of books will improve as a result. It will cease to be profitable to produce cheap, flimsy paperbacks. Hardbacks and special editions will become the majority. You might own fewer books, but they'll all be gorgeous.

They require far more people to produce, and that means they're going to cost more

This should be obvious, really. I can produce a digital copy of my own material in my bedroom (and do regularly: click this link if you dare). To produce a physical copy, I need a printer, a distributor, and a whole bunch of other admin staff. They all have to be paid.

It's not so much the cost of the materials involved in production that makes a book expensive. As I understand it, the quantity of paper, ink and card that goes into your average book doesn't make up a big chunk of the cost. The binding and printing are largely automated, and averaging the cost of the machinery over all the books printed using it, you get pretty small sums as well.

It's the people involved in enhancing your experience that you're paying for (and yes, this might be the fourth post in a row to contain a prostitution joke, though I guess sex-toy-makers are more like back-stage support).

If you want to use one, you're making your experience someone else's business - literally

This is a corollary to the preceding, really. If there's an industry predicated on your use of a particular product, you can bet representatives of that industry are going to take an interest in your use of it. Their jobs require it. That means you can expect a certain amount of nosiness and possibly even interference.

In book terms, of course, we're talking gate-keeping, at least as the worst form. People controlling what products are available to you, limiting your choice. This is an unfortunate but inevitable consequence of the narrowing of the hardcopy book market.

I'm going to end this post here, because however hard I try (and believe me, I always try hard), I cannot think of a joke about print-on-demand sex toys...

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