Beatrix Potter vs. the Kindle

She’s the author of Peter Rabbit, and a delightful collection of other classic children’s book about animals. Beatrix Potter illustrated nearly all of the books herself, and I was delighted to discover they’re available for the Kindle, including all of her wonderful pictures. (Just point your computer’s web browser to .) You can even find free editions of her stories in Amazon’s Kindle Store – though many of them don’t seem to include the illustrations. (I’d remembered staring in fascination at the tiny print editions when I was young — with their soft grey covers and those fancy, colorful illustrations.) But it turns out that Beatrix Potter that during her lifetime, Beatrix Potter was really a publishing pioneer!

Since March is “Women’s History Month,” I thought I’d re-visit one of my favorite stories about the famous children’s book author. In 1906 she’d actually tried a new format for delivering her famous fairy tales – and according to Wikipedia, it didn’t even involve a book!

Intended for babies and tots, the story was originally published on a strip of paper that was folded into a wallet, closed with a flap, and tied with a ribbon.

The format was unpopular with booksellers and within a few years of the book’s release it was reprinted in the standard small book format of the Peter Rabbit library.

Click here to see a picture of the book’s original format!

Only two of Potter’s shorter stories were published in the “panorama” format – The Story of Miss Moppet and The Story of a Fierce, Bad Rabbit. (Yes, that really was its title.) It just seems especially appropriate that they’ve escaped the book format once again, and 100 years later – you can buy them on your Kindle.

When I originally published my discovery online, over 20,000 people eventually read my article. “But I think my problems started in 1902,” I’d joked at the time. That was when Beatrix Potter first published The Tale of Peter Rabbit, but I’d added as an afterthought that I thought Beatrix Potter would’ve liked the Kindle. (In 1906, she was already experimenting with that new non-book format for her books, though with the absence of digital technology, her best idea was still just a long, folded piece of paper that could be carried in a wallet.) The big geek web site, Slashdot had linked to my article – where not everyone agreed with my premise! But it ultimately led to a very interesting discussion.

There were nearly 100 lively comments on their site about everything from color screens, copyrights, and the iPad to the reading habits of infants. But in the middle of all the debate, someone argued that ebooks themselves were just a trendy fad. They’d panned the “buzz” around the Kindle vs. “a content delivery system which has been proven over the course of centuries.”

Their harshest line? “I may be a luddite but at least my books will still function after the collapse of civilization.”

And then someone posted this response, titled: “Sorry you are a luddite.”

The new digital world is pervasive and more permanent than you could ever imagine. In a world of 6 plus billion people, the only way for everyone to have access to books, literature, everything written down by the humans for the past 10,000 years is through digital form. This is the future. A single paperback book costs on average, $20 today. A near future netbook/ereader will cost around $100 and will have access to millions of works via a cheap connection to the internet. You can’t compete with that with your lump of soggy paper.

And sorry to say, the first thing the mobs do when civilization ends is burn the libraries to the ground, along with all the book hoarders. For any printed book, there may be thousands, or even tens of thousands of copies, but for a digital book, there can be an infinite number of perfect copies.

Beatrix Potter was a populist who wanted to make her books accessible to all segments of society. She would surely see the advent of digitalization as a GOOD THING.

And then, just to leave things on a lighter note, he ended his post with a joke.

“You may now go back to admiring and dusting your book collection.”

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