Last year, I wrote a blog post about one of the many “books are dying” panels that went on in 2009. For the record, I also love the smell and feel of books and stand by my post. Real, physical books are not going anywhere! Anywhere, I tell you!
Now, some perspective.
If Nathan Bransford’s annual e-book poll is any indication, it looks like even more people are embracing this newfangled e-book “trend” than ever before. That’s right. Apparently e-books were not just some phase publishing went through in college. Something tells me that by 2012, that percentages in Nathan’s yearly question will reach more than half. And even when that happens, I will still stand by my 2009 blog post. Here’s why:
We all knew an e-book majority was coming. It’s what we’ve been preparing for. So when I saw this article this morning by Leah McLaren, I had to rub my eyes and remind myself what year this was. Are we really still anti-e-reader? Are we seriously, in 2010, lamenting over the still-hasn’t-happened-yet loss of physical books? This line, particularly stood out to me: “…the act of giving books as gifts – once the simplest of holiday rituals – has been perverted beyond recognition as a result of technology.”
Among McLaren’s other “most alarming” concerns about e-books is that:
1) “It has robbed us of the ability to share, discuss and passive-aggressively communicate through our mutual gift-book choices.”
2) “Once e-books completely take over, it will become impossible to know who actually reads and who doesn’t”
These quotes make me think she’s winking at her own foolishness, but this article was still written and published, so it’s getting talked about. With 2010 now ending, it makes me wonder why this article was published in the first place. Was it written in 2008 and shelved? Has the author been out of the publishing loop for some reason?
No matter the reason, the point is that the whole e-book “debate” is still, in fact, a debate. Books still make the best gifts. They always will. Unlike CDs, tangible books are still the dominant format, so gift-give away!
Speaking of the music industry, which is the best and easiest comparison, we’re used to updating our music collection with the advent of new technology. 45s, 78s, 8-tracks, cassettes, and CDs were all viable ways to listen to music. So, the dawn of mp3s weren’t really that big of a deal. They were just one more evolutionary notch. When I get an iTunes gift card, I don’t think it’s impersonal or tacky. I just think “sweet, now I can buy stuff I like in the format that I usually listen to it.”
But books have been in the same bound-pieces-of-paper format since, well… since books were invented. So naturally, we’re freaking out that someone is trying to change them. I find it sad that people like Leah McLaren are still writing articles that fear technology, rather than embrace it. It’s also upsetting that people with that viewpoint need to be reminded that CDs are still around. People even still buy them regularly! Even the majority of people who now get their music digitally are buying them. They just use them differently now, which, ironically, are more for gift-giving purposes. Owning a special edition or boxed set of your favorite band’s work just isn’t the same when you can see the work put into the packaging and liner notes.
The only difference between books and music is that we have a romanticized notion of what a book means. Or, more specifically, that it has meaning at all. I count myself among those who have this view, by the way. But, for the sake of my job and for the sake of the future of literature, I must put my personal feelings aside.
Books will eventually become novelties too, reserved only for the retro, the collector, or the die-hard. And yes, to me this is sad. There are those of us (let’s face, if you’re reading this blog, you are included in this group) who will always buy books the way music purists still buy CDs (and even records). But we live in a small world, us literary folk. Eventually the “rest” will win. How they buy books will determine how they are sold. As the minority, we’ll do what we can and adapt to the change, and hopefully through it all, we remember that the words inside the pretty covers are what ultimately matter anyway.