Saturday, November 10, 2007

Traditional books or ebooks?

Recently I read an article over at Alternet that addressed the question as to whether digital books and e-books will replace traditional ink-and-paper books.

The author cited the convenience of digitized; that books that fill rooms in traditional book form, can all be reduced to disks and read on computers and PDAs. At present, there is a woefully inadequate inventory of such books, nor is there a device designed just for this purpose that displays digital books to their best advantage.

I have no problem with digital books as an added format, much in the same sense as audio books. I'd hate them to entirely replace traditional books, however. Reading is a sensory experience in addition to being a way to gather information and to be entertained. A sterile file of book disks in no way can compare to browsing a used bookstore with every corner crammed with books, redolent with the slightly musty smell of old print, coffee, and prowling store cats. Nor can it compare to the fresh ink smell of new books and the artistic dust jackets.

I think I disagree.
What we need is something to actually show the ebook as a normal book.
Something like a PC tablet, with good batteries, that we can carry and in which we can store the books we want to read.
Never heard of E-Paper?
Technology is something that just HAPPENS, either we like it or not...

At home, the sight of my my many overflowing bookshelves make me feel content and at home, and give every visitor insight into my personality in a way that no disk file ever could.

I think many other people believe likewise and while they will no doubt use this new format, especially when space considerations are at a premium and in work situations, I don't think bibliophiles are ready to part with real books just yet. And traditional books have one big advantage: they are not subject to hard drive failures, corrupted software, power failures, dead batteries, and so on.

When the internet first caught on in the 1990s, I'd thought at the time that traditional newspapers would gradually disappear, just as vinyl records did after the introduction of CDs, and as DVDs inched out VHS tapes. But this hasn't happened. I still see traditional printed newspapers everywhere, even though I usually read my local newspaper online. And I still like to get a printed Sunday paper every now and then -- you can't take a computer into the bathroom with you like a newspaper when you want to spend extended time in there answering the call of nature.

Similarly, when the VCR took off in the late 70s, many people worried that this would be the end of movie theaters. This didn't happen either, mainly because the industry made sure of it by not releasing movies directly to VHS, and delaying the release for a time sufficient for films to make a profit in theaters. Secondly, most people like the experience of going out to the movies. It's a traditional date activity, most movies are seen to their best advantage on a big screen, and there's nothing quite like popcorn from the movies. Movie theaters do as much business as they did before the VCR, DVD, and so on, and will likely continue to do so.

One technology where early predictions were wrong was that of TV. Many people in the late 40s and early 50s thought television was a gimmick; a passing fancy whose novelty would soon wear off. Obviously such naysayers were dead wrong on that one, There were others who predicted that TV would mean the death of radio, and were equally as wrong. Radio changed, but it didn't die; it adapted.

To return to the original subject, ink-and-paper books may one day be overshadowed by digital books, but I don't think it's going to happen in my lifetime. At least I hope not.

I love books, I own hundreds of them.
I love books because I like to read them, not because I like to have nice bookshelves.
And I very much welcome ebooks, because they mean a lot to read at the best price and no room needed to store them.

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