25 January 2013


Vindication!  Nicholas Carr in his Wall Street Journal essay ~ "Lovers of ink and paper, take heart.  Reports of the death of the printed book may be exaggerated.

"Ever since Amazon introduced its popular Kindle e-reader five years ago, pundits have assumed that the future of book publishing is digital .... Half a decade into the e-book revolution, though, the prognosis for traditional books is suddenly looking brighter.  Hardcover books are displaying surprising resiliency.  The growth in e-book sales is slowing markedly, and purchases of e-readers are actually shrinking, as consumers opt instead for multipurpose tablets.  It may be that e-books, rather than replacing printed book, will ultimately serve a role more like that of audio books ~ a complement to traditional reading, not a substitute.

" .... Beyond the practical reasons for the decline in e-book growth, something deeper may be going on.  We may have misjudged the nature of the electronic book.  From the start, e-book purchases have skewed disproportionately toward fiction, with novel representing close to two-thirds of sales.  Digital best-seller lists are dominated in particular by genre novels, like thrillers and romances.  Screen reading seems particularly well-suited to the kind of light entertainments that have traditionally been sold in supermarkets and airports as mass-market paperbacks.

"These are, by design, the most disposable of books.  We read them quickly and have no desire to hang onto them after we've turned the last page ....  Readers of weightier fare, including literary fiction and narrative nonfiction, have been less inclined to go digital.  They seem to prefer the heft and durability, the tactile pleasures, of what we still call 'real books' ~ the kind you can set on a shelf.

"E-books, in other words, may turn out to be just another format ~ an even lighter-weight, more disposable paperback.  That would fit with the discovery that once people start buying digital books, they don't necessarily stop buying printed ones .... There's something about a crisply-printed, tightly-bound book that we don't seem eager to let go of."

I've weighed in on the side of printed books in this forum many times.  There's no pleasure quite like settling in with the heft, smell, and feel of a book (preferably hard-bound).  Inherent in the moment is a feeling of permanence and comfortable solitude which light-emitting devices seem to lack.  And yes, I'm aware of the irony in your reading this using a light-emitting device.  Trust me, if I could manage to go back and transfer all of my blog content, including illustrations, to a hard copy format, I would do so in a heartbeat.  I've devoted nearly five years of my life to publishing a wide variety of material here.  I'd love to have it all in book form.

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