Monday, February 04, 2013

Poetry ebooks: are you really satisfied?

Are poetry readers really interested in reading poetry books on their Kindles or other ebook readers? It's a big question, not least for small poetry presses like ourselves.

As many of us already know, ebook readers are fantastic in that they allow us to go mobile with large volumes of large prose works (novels, non-fiction that doesn't rely on graphic content, etc). But when it comes to poetry, things can turn a bit ugly.

Who doesn't squirm, for instance, when the line- or stanza-breaks of a favourite poem are mangled by the prose-fixated default formatting of their favourite ebook reader. And how many even avid poetry readers, so often disappointed by our local bricks-'n'-mortar bookstore, are willing to surrender this most distinguishing physical attribute of the poem in order to have its nuts and bolts (however jumbled up) available in a convenient, portable form. (Our own recent foray into all-digital poetry publishing on Apple's iBooks platform -- in the form of the anthology Airborne: Poetry from Ireland -- was much more reassuring than other digital poetry experiments, due to that platform's offering publisher/poets strict control over the appearance of their work. That said, it seems clear that iBooks, as yet at least, accounts for only a small section of the overall ebook readership.)

Prompting these thoughts is an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal ('Don't Burn Your Books—Print Is Here to Stay: on the rise (and first signs of a fall?) in the popularity of ebooks. Whatever the truth of the claim (and one has to be careful about equating a slow-down in the sales of ebook readers with a falling-off of interest in ebooks themselves), it does raise an important question: As a poetry reader, avid or just occasional, in an ideal world what form would you like your next poetry book or magazine purchase to take? Are you like us, still inclined to search out hard copies of the books we want to really engage with but happy to read individual poems, and even the occasional anthology, in a more fluid (and sometimes frustrating) form?

It would be interesting to hear.


Anna Livia Review said...

The advantage of an ebook or kindle are really its availability and their price. Airborne, as an ebook is easier to tackle than a kindle edition is and it also comes with spoken word which is a huge advantage. The navagation features also meant that I could look through it quickly. Personally however I still prefer hard copies, second to this is the ebook and for poetry, the kindle is very unsatisfactory.

Anonymous said...

I buy both print and digital versions of poetry and haven't found any problems with the layout or feel of the finished product, mind you I don't buy a lot. I do however read a lot of poetry online, mostly on poetry magazines online, and while the aesthetic is different, the industry is rsing to the task of providing a more substantial and appealing reader experience. And even then it's not that complicated as I've seen some magazines even just release a .pdf format through issuu or the likes. The technology for providing enhanced reader experiences is there, and by suggesting that poetry is something more sacred than other literature is a bit far fetched.

PB said...

Thanks, Anna Livia Review, for your feedback. And ifihadaminutetospare: I don't think I suggested anywhere that poetry was 'more sacred' than other literature (that word 'sacred' is more than a little loaded, don't you think). But there are certainly issues which relate to the display of the line (the fundamental unit of poetry) that do not apply to prose. It was these which were and remain at the heart of my inquiry.