The death of the book is upon us, apparently…again. The book has been in grave danger so many times it must feel somewhat persecuted, perhaps we should consider the book to be more resilient than we give it credit for  However so, the relatively new phenomena of e-books and the success of Amazon’s Kindle is throwing the world of publishing and reading into a whole new age of controversy and turmoil.

I continue to be resolutely old school when it comes to reading, and it’s quite unlike me to side against technology, however in this case I can’t help but do just that (to some extent).

I love books, and I like to collect books. I confess that I am one of those people who hoard and display books strategically on my bookshelf, although only ones I have actually read as a general rule. This is a disadvantage of e-books, there is no public display strategy. There is, however, a limit to how many Ikea bookshelves a person can fit in their house. Eventually you will run out of space, e-books are undeniably a helpful space-saving strategy.

Saying that, it’s the smell of a book and the feeling of accomplishment when you finish a read. I’m not saying you could never get a similar feeling from an e-book, but it can’t be the same, and that’s my issue. Paper books are better in practice. Maybe a Kindle could have the personality of a book, though in a different way. In the same way that an iPod is personal to you, a Kindle can be that too. Your iPod doesn’t replace all of your music, it just makes it easier to take it with you. In it are the memories of all the stories that have been read, the places it’s been taken and the feelings the owner has had whilst using it. A book might have that effect but a Kindle can do that hundreds of times over and that’s where it has the edge.

It could even encourage people to buy more books than they would have done before the introduction of the e-reader, both in digital and paper form. Jonathan Franzen says “Many readers find themselves reading more frequently and buying more books in part thanks to the convenience of e-readers…A Digital Book World survey conducted by Forrester Research, Inc., has found that 47 percent of publishers believe more people will read books than in the past due to e-readers and digital formats.”
I don’t believe the fact that people now buy e-books affects the number of physical books that are bought, if anything it should boost that number. We are a multi-tasking society – just because I can check my email on my iPhone doesn’t mean that I won’t ever check it on my computer again. Granted, a Kindle is perfect for the train, however many people I’m sure still prefer the feel and smell of a new, or old (even better) paperback book when enjoying a bedtime read.
Once upon a time we passed down stories between generations; carving them into stone, painting them on to papyrus and scrolls, and eventually pressing them into print. Each transition will have been painful, condemned and stigmatized. Yet, each time, the new has overtaken the old. Even if it’s never fully supplanted it (we still tell stories and people still practice calligraphy). iBooks and eBooks will never wipe out traditional books, they may shrink, perhaps, and become the study of craftsman and collectors, enthusiasts and artists, and the very same folk who still enjoy wooden airplanes, vinyl albums, and pre-iPhone phones – but they will never disappear. People enjoy reading and keeping books far too much.

Meanwhile, iBooks, Kindle books, and other forms of digital books will continue to be produced, make more content more available to more people (and children) than ever before, and perhaps they’ll recapture some of the magic of mediums past – but not just yet.

“It’s close, but it looks like owning 200 real books has the edge over the Kindle. Still, given our love for shiny toys, I suspect this has done little to damper your desire for one — no matter how useless it will prove to be once the zombies have taken over the world.” – Allan Mott

iBooks, Kindle books, and co. are not perfect, not yet and maybe never, but they are the future (or at least ntil the next transition). I think the book is safe for a little while yet.

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