*slams head against desk*
People, can we please stop asserting that e-books are killing printed books, or that printed books are dying or dead? Because they’re not, and this isn’t just me clutching obstinately to a well-loved medium.
I can’t tell you how many articles or posts I’ve seen where someone has announced, “the book is dead!” Part of me thinks they do it to get a rise out of people, like trolls on the internet. If they actually believe this, though, they’re being very short-sighted.
What brings this up now, you ask? Well, first off, I have yet to rant on this topic here (I have yet to rant about pretty much anything here). Recently, though, I read the following article:
The article discusses how, in December 2012, more e-books were sold than print books. There are a lot of other facts as well, all perfectly accurate as far as I can tell. But after going into these facts, which concern technologies used to access e-books and figures associated to sales, the author offers this conclusion:
“I can read the writing on the wall. The days are numbered for physical mass-market books —even if that number isn’t a small one. Sure, some books, newspapers, and magazines will live on. But, horses lived on after the arrival of the car, too; you just don’t see them very often anymore. The same fate awaits physical, paper-based books.”
No. Just no. Discussing how more people bought e-books than printed books and then concluding that the printed book is dead is like saying, “more people apples than pears last year, thus the pear shall no longer be farmed next year.” It doesn’t hold water. All these stats say is that more people bought e-books than printed books, which shows the popularity of both e-books and the technology necessary to access them.
Actually, I’m more apt to say that magazines and newspapers will cease to exist in print. Their very ephemeral nature melds well with electronic technology; you read them, you throw them away (or you recycle them, if you’re a good person and wish my continued respect). You might save a clipping or an article, but you generally don’t keep the entire publication. If you truly want to save an article or clipping from a newspaper or magazine you accessed through an e-reader or computer, you could save it to your computer or print it (if that EVER becomes possible; let me know if you figure out how to do so), or you could take notes by hand (a shocking idea).
Let me explain to you why e-books will never cause the extinction of the printed book. Picture this: you have a printed book. Now, mentally throw it across the room and slam it into a wall. Walk over and stomp on the book for good measure. Do a spirited flamenco dance on it, for good measure. Now pick it up and read it, because you can; the book is intact. Can’t say the same for your laptop or e-reader, can you? You can do pretty much anything to a book (short of it burning to ash in a fire) and still be able to access the information it contains. You can even soak it in water and you can read it, so long as you dry out the pages correctly. This is one of the reason books have survived for so long: they’re durable.
Let’s try this another way. Remember video tapes? Cassette tapes? I bet you loved those in the ‘90s. Saved family videos on them, saved favorite music on them. Can you watch or listen to them now with ease? Most likely not (unless you’re me, and you still have a functioning VCR hooked up to your TV and a Walkman easily accessible). You can’t access the information on video tapes and cassettes without the right technology. Same goes for floppy discs. It’s hard enough to find something to read a hard disc, but floppy discs? You’d have to go to a museum of technology or someplace that really needs to upgrade their computers.
And that’s the crux: access to information. If you can’t access the information it’s useless. It’s one of the challenges facing libraries and archives today: with so much information requiring electronic technology for access, how do collection policies and the needs of accessing the collection change? While the issue of physical space may not be such a challenge anymore, how do you continue to provide your patrons with information? Other issues arise to take over.
Am I saying electronic access to books and other information will stop? No, not at all, and it shouldn’t. What I am saying is that what we know as the printed book is not near death.
To make this a bit more understandable, let’s stop thinking of print books as print books. Instead, they are physical objects with words inscribed physically upon them. These have existed since the advent of writing. Cuneiform tablets, papyrus, manuscripts, all of these are included under this umbrella. This is the Form of the physical book, the theoretical and general ideal (I’m getting Platonic on your butts; booyah course on Medieval philosophy!). The only technology required to access information here is the ability to read (and the ability to inscribe the information in the first place). That’s it; it requires us. E-books, by contrast, require some form of technology. You depend upon something else to be able to access the information.
And that is why the book is not, and never will be, dead. It will evolve, of course, but it will never cease to be so long as we survive as a species.
End. Of. Story.