I was sent a novel yesterday. It popped into my email inbox, attached to a message from a very nice publicist who seemed awfully pleased about having sent it to me. And there was a time when I would have been delighted to get it too, though I’m becoming less and less thrilled as time goes by.
Why? Well the novel is one I really want to read. It’s written by a terrific writer whose work I very much admire and enjoy; someone I’d happily buy a pink drink, should we meet on some continent or other. And definitely someone whose work I would always read.
But, this was a PDF. I get sent a lot of PDFs, or even more helpfully, links to PDFs that I can download. PDFs are, no matter what anyone says, designed to be printed. They are a portable document format. Monday’s PDF was about 500 pages long. There’s not a lot of reformatting to be done in a PDF, so the length is fairly much a given. I’m happy to absorb the cost of downloading handfuls of multi-megabyte PDFs every week. I’m even willing to read a bunch of them, though less and less so. Middle-age is synching up nicely with my short sightedness, making reading on screen uncomfortable for long periods. And that means printing.
Printing out Monday’s document means about $6.00 worth of paper and about $20.00 worth of printing costs. Call it $25.00. That’s close to what the final book will cost to buy, once it’s been published. I can justify that cost from time to time, but not day after day. I get emailed PDFs of novels, anthologies, magazines, and individual stories by publishers, publicists, and whomever. Let’s say an average of $40.00 or $50.00 in printing costs for the various things I do print out. I’d say that’s incredibly low, but it’s a ball park. That’s a couple thousand dollars a year for books I’m reading or looking at to keep up to date as a reviews editor for a magazine, or to consider for my year’s best annual.
I’m seriously not sure this is sustainable. I’m considering restricting year’s best reading to printed copy only. That would mean I’d need pages or whatever of anthologies and magazines. I’d still accept single stories via email. As to novels. I don’t know yet. I need to keep up to date, but this is getting harder to sustain.
We’re going away this weekend, so I’m going to give this some thought and will start to email people. I would say, though, that if you want your magazine issue or anthology considered for my year’s best (and year in review essay) it would be best to send me a printed copy. That way it’ll definitely be considered. If you think you might be affected, or this might be a problem for you, drop me an email and we can discuss it.