The thing is, no one really knows what a real book is. I mean, at some point, I’m sure that Og the caveman sniffed in disdain about the newfangled books coming out written on pieces of wood instead of good solid craftsman stone tablets.

Of course, yes, I realize I’m mixing eras there. But I’m trying to point out that through every technology change (and yes, stone tablets to scrolls is a massive tech shift) people, likely the majority of them, were aghast and horrified about it.

Of course, we in this era especially have it bad since we don’t even notice those tech waves crashing past us anymore. In one of the author forums I frequent, there was discussion about changing the backmatter of your book and how onerous it was. You had to take the original document, do all the changes, upload it to Amazon, hope it didn’t get rejected for some reason or another and then wait for it to take effect. There was discussion that Amazon should just have the document available on their system so we could make changes to the live document without having to go through all the middle steps.

(Parenthetical addition – “back matter” is the stuff at the end of a book that has upcoming books, snips from current works, author comments and the like.)

I wrote this in response:

Scribe Arturo sighed and said, “Man, what a day. The old man wants the backmatter updated. Last time I did that, it took almost three months, and that was just the illumination on the capitals.”

Scribe Alphonso nodded, “Yeah, I know the feeling. At least you get to work in color.”

Scribe Job piped up, “Hey, you hear about that new guy – Gutenberg I think his name is?”

“Nah, what does he do? Use bear’s blood or something?”

“Nope, some kind of magic. I heard he can make changes to the backmatter in just a few days.”

Arturo scoffed, “A few days? That’s impossible. Even without illumination it takes weeks, and that’s even if he’s only wanting a few corrections.”

Job shrugged, “I don’t know. Sure sounds nice though, doesn’t it? My back howls just thinking about another twelve hour day bent over a scroll.”

The conversation moved on down the hallway, out of hearing.

The new guy Gutenberg was truly a tech shift of the highest quality. The merest idea of being able to actually print multiple copies of a book so easily. Of course, easily is relative. It took him two years on that print run of 160 copies of the 1300 odd pages of the Bible that he was working on. The end result was hideously expensive, too, although not as bad as having had a scribe working on it day and night for months. For a single copy.

Interestingly enough, if you really want to look at it, that was the last of the changes and we basically were still doing an updated version of printing the Gutenberg way right up to just a few decades ago.

And then along came the Kindle. Electronic media is likely here to stay, and those of us that have been sucked under the bus by it will never go back. I read an actual paper book last week (The Bait Shop – Mark Neher – pick it up and take a look, it’s a good story) and it was odd since every now and then I’d find myself tapping at the right corner of the book page, expecting it to change for me.

So, to the original question. Are eBooks real books? Are audio books real books? Does it have to have dead trees in its ancestry to qualify?

As far as I can tell, it’s the story that makes it a book. In all its incarnations through all the millennia it’s been the story that’s survived in whatever the media.

So far as audio? Still the story. And if you really wanted to push an analogy, the first books were the shaman sitting around the fire, telling the people of the tribe the history of the world and their people.

So, here we are full circle, listening in the original format to books in the original traditional way of doing so. No dead trees, phosphor pixels or eInk required, just some quiet time and a storyteller.