“Printed books have been wrongly declared dead or dying so many times before that I think we can be completely confident of their survival, forever undead.” Lisa Gitelman, What are Books.
The book has, in the past few years, evolved beyond expectation and yet remains somewhat behind the idea of the digital age when compared with other forms of entertainment. Because on the surface that is what a book is for – the consumption of content, either fictional or factual, for the purpose of either providing information or for enjoyment. Since various scholars, authors and publishers have had a crack at what they thought about the future of the book, I thought I’d have my say too.
So there are 3 things you need to know before I begin:
- The printed book ain’t going nowhere.
- All novels are books, but not all books are novels.
- Books aren’t undead. They’re alive and kicking.
My main concern is not about what is better, the ebook or the physical book, (though if asked, I answer physical book) but the question behind this: Why does it matter? Not only this but what makes the digital vs physical antitheses rather than complementary? And where do audiobooks fit in on this scale?
Why should people prescribe to one side of the fence or another? The reason being is that large corporations have no iota of care for the integrity of the book industry. They only want to sell books as vastly, quickly and cheaply as possible. As a result, this means that those who prefer the feel of a hardback cover to slide through fingers as they remove the dust jacket to avoid creasing it will have to pay several pounds extra for the luxury, while those who prefer a digital copy will only have to worry about their screen cracking.
In my eyes it is only a matter of time before books do what the visual industry did and combine their sales. ‘Wanna buy a book for a friend? Pay slightly extra and we’ll give you a free ebook copy for yourself!’ Before we know it audio, physical and digital will become the combined sales package, and why not? But will people really want that?
If you’re like myself, then you make prefer the physical book. Being able to browse lazily through your shelves until you hear the faint pulse of a hidden gem that you bought several months ago but didn’t have time to read at that moment. But, equally, you may also find the value of having an ebook copy for textual analysis. I buy every single one of my course texts physically, though I can guarantee I’ll be looking for free editions on kindle within a few weeks when I start writing an essay so I can search for keywords.
I guess my point is that each medium has its own qualities that make it useful. I know for a fact if I could buy a book and have the ebook copy included for a slightly higher price, than I would definitely choose that option, knowing I could buy gifts for friends and have to book myself to discuss later. Reading is an equally solitary and communal act, depending on how you choose to partake in the experience.
Scholarly retention of information suggests that to have a functioning archive everything must be written down and recorded, though the web through a kink in that. So if we can store all information online, what is the need to rip down trees and print the words again? There is every reason. Backups, upon backups upon backups. Printing is the archaic backup. Though it would be a great loss to have all digital only books washed from existence at the touch of a button, it would be a far greater loss if we did not have physical backups for scientific innovations and historical events.
By no means are books the undead. They are living, functioning and better than ever. Because books don’t just exist on pages. They exist on our computers, in our libraries, and most importantly in our minds. As long as people are reading, why should it matter which medium they decide to do it through?