When I am talking with friends about their reading habits, the advantages of e-books over bound books—or vice-versa—frequently become part of the discussion. “I just like having that book in my hand,” is a comment I hear quite a lot. “But you can read your (Kindle, Nook, e-book reader—just fill in the blanks) at night without having the light on,” or “I can carry dozens of books on the plane with my (Kindle, Nook, etc.), and I couldn’t do that with hardcover or paperback books.” All points are good ones, but one walks away with the feeling that the some people think that the issue is a dilemma that will only be resolved with the disappearance of print or with the relegation of e-book readers to the trashpile of faddish gadgets like the Walkman or the 8-Track Tape Player.
“Print is dead,” Egon (Harold Ramos) said to Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts) in “Ghostbusters.” History would seem to side with those who see this innovation eventually making print go away. When Julius Caesar published his Gallic Wars, instead of having it displayed on hinged wooden tablets which could be written over, he bound the papyrus (probably) together in a notebook fashion. This wasn’t done widely for some time, but eventually the bound book—or codex—replaced the old tablet approach because it was so much easier to transport—and to save. With the invention of the printing press, there was no question that codices were the way to go (even though the word codex now refers only to handwritten bound books). So, the more practical, in the case of codices, clearly beat out the less practical, and book binding made it possible for everyone to own and easily read books of their choosing.
There is no question that the Kindle, the Nook, and other e-readers are cool, practical, and portable (if you want to take three dozen books on a long trip). But the question is—practical for whom? Not everyone is comfortable with the new technology, so for the time being I doubt you will see printed books going by the wayside. And, furthermore, you can read a printed book on the airplane on the runway, whereas you are sometimes asked to turn off your electronic devices. We can all learn a thing or two from Alec Baldwin’s experience!
Then there is the problem of vulnerability. Unless your books are stored in a cloud somewhere, if you lose your device you have lost your books. You may be able to pick up another copy of what you were reading in your next stopover (depending on how deep the book you were reading is!), but you will have to wait until you get to your destination to purchase another device.
I read books using a Kindle app and galleys using an Adobe e-reader. But I also still read “real” books. I can’t say I have a preference. I doubt I am alone in this. So, frankly, I think that the issues of e-reader versus real books is much ado about nothing. If the e-reader does displace print, it is not going to be for a long time. And there are many, many books that are not now—and I doubt they ever will be—available in electronic format. There is a treasury of knowledge that we must continue to be able to access, and who is wise enough to choose which should and should not be translated into electronic format just for the sake of coolness, practicality, and portability?
What do you think?
Do you think electronic books will displace printed books? Which do YOU prefer? What will the future of reading look like?