The future of books in an increasingly digital age; or, where to spend your book dollars

by Anna Blanch on July 19, 2009

I love the feel of books – sometimes the older the better – and I have said before that i am not entirely comfortable with books where the spine has not been broken (this could also have something to do with a somewhat traumatic experience with a housemate who liked their books with the spine unbroken – trying to read the Chronicles of Narnia without cracking the spine on any of the volumes almost did my head in (needless to say I failed on the not cracking of the spine, and i’m not sure he’s ever really forgotten….).

The act and art of reading has evolved in an increasingly steep curve over the last 50 years. So much so that the electronic screen can now almost mirror paper.

In terms of the recent developments in digital reading devices the Kindle 2 hit the shelves on Feb 24 2009. It was supposed to represent a revolution in electronic books. For information and specs see here. While I haven’t used one I asked around and a friend of mine, Kat, responded to my question about how the experience differs from physical books:

I wouldn’t use this to read the “real books” I love; but for instant periodicals, books I’m interested in but don’t know that’d I’d buy, or reading while traveling (vs. packing a few weeks’ worth of reading, like I’ve done now) this is ideal. It’s not a replacement to paper — nothing can be — but a compliment and a tool.

Clearly I’ve already justified this in my mind.

Unlike Kat I can’t justify an electonic reading device just yet. A further justification for my hesitation came over the last couple of days as the news that Amazon had removed George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 from purchasers Kindles without their knowledge or permission trickled across the web. The act drips with so much irony I checked to make sure this didn’t originate on Onion! Is this merely an example of indian-giving from the corporate world? Nope. It isn’t as simple as that – the purchasers had a valid contract with Amazon for the provision of a product, simply changing your mind about wanting to sell to a client doesn’t usually give a vendor the legal right to take back the products they have previously sold.

As Mark Frauenfelder writes:

This is ugly for all kinds of reasons. Amazon says that this sort of thing is “rare,” but that it can happen at all is unsettling; we’ve been taught to believe that e-books are, you know, just like books, only better. Already, we’ve learned that they’re not really like books, in that once we’re finished reading them, we can’t resell or even donate them. But now we learn that all sales may not even be final. As one of my readers noted, it’s like Barnes & Noble sneaking into our homes in the middle of the night, taking some books that we’ve been reading off our nightstands, and leaving us a check on the coffee table.

Reverse polarity: electronic Books to printed
The New York Times wrote recently about the phenomenon of successful web “books” appearing in print. Printing a “web” book allays many of the fears associated with web publishing.

That a book derived from free online content has sold so well may allay some fears that giving something away means nobody will want to pay for it. It also encourages publishers who increasingly scour the Internet for talent, hoping to capitalize on the audiences that a popular Web site can deliver.

The comments contained therein are all to familiar, one said he “wanted something I could put on my shelf.” And added, “There’s nothing like holding the weight and smelling the paper.” It seems I am not alone.

On a slightly different note
The folks over at the IVP blog contend that there is a connection between your theological learning and your love of books. I think it is partly tongue in cheek, though not entirely! Addenda and Errata’s contention is that those who are Reformed LOVE books, closley followed by Catholics…the suggestion is that Reformed youngsters love reading and have longer attention spans because there is nothing else to do…

If you need any more motivation to buy physical books – take a look at what Dan Reid says about the investment value of books. He specifically suggests that we should put big dollars (especially while a student) into Reference books:

In a day when we are all looking for conservative investments, reference books represent the smart money in book buying. It will pay off now and for years to come.

This is justification by any other name…but it is justification i can live with. Now if only i had an unlimited budget to ship books to Scotland!

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