Why Printed Books Will Never Die

The following is a short excerpt from the article, Why Printed Books Will Never Die, which was written Josh Catone, editorial director, and published on Mashable.com. Cantone’s perspective offers insights into the argument on why printed books will never be replaced by their digital counterparts. He brings up several key points, a few of which are displayed below. To view his full argument, click here.

Measured en masse, the stack of “books I want to read” that sits precariously on the edge of a built-in bookshelf in my dining room just about eclipses 5,000 pages. The shelf is full to bursting with titles I hope to consume at some indeterminate point in the future.

It would be a lot easier to manage if I just downloaded all those books to an iPad or Kindle. None are hard to find editions that would be unavailable in a digital format, and a few are recent hardcover releases, heavy and unwieldy.

But there’s something about print that I can’t give up. There’s something about holding a book in your hand and the visceral act of physically turning a page that, for me at least, can’t be matched with pixels on a screen.

Yet the writing appears to be on the wall: E-books are slowly subsuming the printed format as the preferred vehicle on which people read trade books.

For those who prefer their books printed in ink on paper, that sounds depressing. But perhaps there is reason to hope that e-books and print books could have a bright future together, because for all the great things e-books accomplish — convenience, selection, portability, multimedia — there are still some fundamental qualities they will simply never possess.

Books have physical beauty.

That’s not to say that electronic books can’t be beautiful — as a medium, e-books are still new and designers have yet to fully realize their potential. But for paper books, we’re already there. As Craig Mod points out in his essay “Hacking the Cover,” the book cover evolved as a marketing tool. It had to grab your attention from its place on the shelf. For that reason, the best designed covers were often beautiful art pieces. Not so in the digital world.

“The cover image may help quickly ground us, but our eyes are drawn by habit to number and quality of reviews. We’re looking for metrics other than images — real metrics — not artificial marketing signifiers,” he wrote. And though that might eventually free book designers to get more creative with their designs, you can’t display a digital book, even if you wanted to. Any electronic book that boasts beautiful design, does so only ethereally.

Web entrepreneur, designer and novelist Jack Cheng, who recently funded the printing of his book through Kickstarter, told me that printed books just offer a more robust experience to the reader. “I feel like with e-books, you often just get a meal on the same white plate as all the other meals,” he mused. “But a nice hardcover is like having a place setting, having dinnerware selected to suit the food. The story is still the main thing you’re there for, but the choices around it — the paper stock, the way the book is typeset, the selection of fonts — they add their own subtle flavors to the experience of that story.”

Books have provenance.

Your favorite books define you, and digital versions don’t seem to impart connections that are quite as deep.

“I think print and paper has a lasting value that people appreciate. Pixels are too temporary,” said Praveen Madan, an entrepreneur on the Kepler’s 2020 team, via email. Madan and his cohorts are attempting to reinvent the business model for independent bookstores, including ways to sell and offer services around e-books. “Books have been around for a very long time and people have a deeper relationship with some books than most digital content,” he said.

Books are nostalgic.

The PBS website MediaShift recently asked a group of book lovers in Chapel Hill and Durham, N.C. which they preferred: printed or electronic books? Those who preferred printed books cited things like the smell, the feel and the weight as reasons.

“Paper books don’t get replaced by e-books, because there’s just part of the experience you can’t reproduce,” said one man. (Of course, nostalgia is generational.)

Conclusion

E-books are not simply a better format replacing an inferior one; they offer a wholly different experience.

Brian Haberlin is one of the co-authors of Anomaly, an ambitious printed graphic novel, augmented by a smartphone app that makes animations leap off the page while you read. I asked why he chose to print the heavy, unwieldy and expensive hardcover edition. His answer was simple: “Because books are cool! I love print, always will. I love digital, always will. But they will continue to be different experiences. It’s a different texture, a different experience and that alone warrants their existence.”

Yes, Anomaly is one of those beautiful, collectible art pieces. But it also highlights why print is here to stay. The experience of reading Anomaly on your iPad is vastly different than the experience of reading the printed version. The story is the same, but the medium affects the way you read it. It’s not totally unlike the difference between watching the movie version of Les Miserables and watching it performed live on stage.

There may come a time when we look at electronic books and printed books as similarly divergent mediums.

In a recent Fast Company column titled “The Future of Reading,” author and comedian Baratunde Thurston made a compelling case for why books might just be better in electronic form. Superior annotation tools, easier discovery, interactive content and shared reading experiences are just some of the things made possible because digital publishing has allowed us to, as Thurston put it, network our words “and the ideas they represent.” For Thurston, this is an either-or scenario. Digital books or printed books. And while he lamented our diminished attention spans — the result of distractions embedded in the digital format — he concluded that it’s all worth it because of the great things e-books can do.

But the choice between e-books and printed books is not a zero sum game. Print books do not have to disappear for e-books to flourish, and e-books don’t have to be the only choice.

“Printed books are for people who love printed books. Digital books are for those who love digital books,” Haberlin told me.

Maybe it’s just that simple.

To read more reasons why Catone believes print is here to stay, view the full article. Then tell us your opinion in the comments section below: do you think print and digital texts can thrive together? Or will one eradicate the other?

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