Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The ebook debate: part 2

A few weeks back, we chatted about the appeal (or not) of ebooks, and how they compared to traditional books.

Everyone who commented talked about the tactile nature of books, and how – even though an ebook might be more convenient – it lacked the emotional experience of holding a treasured story in your hands, and then having it remain a part of your life by being visible on a book shelf.

The looming ebook era in Australia was the subject of a well-researched article by the Australian Review’s Rosemary Sorensen this past weekend.

Ebooks have not yet taken off in Australia, but Sorenson notes that if our country’s take up of the mobile phone is anything to go by, ebook take up will be swift.

However, no-one can yet agree on what that will mean, or how it will affect the emotional and nostalgic impact books have in our lives.

Sorenson quotes author Sven Birkerts (The Gutenberg Elegies: the Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age) as saying that if we replace print with screen-based text, “we will not simply have replaced one delivery system with another. We will have modified our imagination of history, our understanding of the causal and associated relationships of ideas and their creators”.

By that, I assume he means the production, look and feel of original books and their covers, which says much about the technology, artistry and social attitudes of the time in which it was published.

If the day comes when there exist nothing but ebooks, there will never again be “first editions” or “special editions” … just old electronic files.

For some, the end of the printed book is inevitable. In Sorenson’s article, New York-based Bob Stein compares the book as a form with architecture that’s no longer possible to build: “I love gothic churches and I’m sorry we don’t build them anymore, but we don’t. They’ve served their function and so has the 800 page novel. It was really cool, the novel, and I’ve spent a lot of time curled up with good ones, but new technologies give rise to new forms. Humans were not born with a gene that made us gravitate to print.”

And yet, for others, ebooks may create more demand for the paper version. Random House marketing director Brett Osmond suggests readers might use more than one format to get through a single story. “In the future, you may simply buy the book and are able to read it in a range of formats. You might begin with a paper version, then take a chapter on your on your e-reader while you’re walking the dog or pick it up on your computer.”

In this scenario, you buy the story, and it’s up to you how you actually consume it – a fascinating and revolutionary idea, and one that would require revolutionising the publishing industry to accommodate it.

What do you think of that idea? Would you be more inclined to use an e-reader if it was only one format available to you as you read a book, rather than the only format? Is it more acceptable to traditional book lovers to have the choice of both experiences – tactile and convenient?

I will always want physical books – no question. But there is some appeal to having the convenience of being able to read a couple of chapters on a compact e-reader in situations when it’s not practical to carry around a large book.

What does everyone think?


charley said...

I am not opposed to e-readers (well, maybe a bit, since I work in a bookstore), but I hope they don't become the only option.

Anonymous said...

I think they'll always print books - it's just the whole sensory process like you wrote about it - very important part of the joy of buying a novel, holding it in your hands, storing it in a book shelf and picking it up and skimming a few pages. Oh, I don't think you could ever replace that piece of joy!

I do also believe that e readers will take off in a big way, because the younger generation especially, are very good at adapting to whatever new technology comes up and making it their own.
I don't think printed books will go out of fashion though...

the ink-stained toe-poker said...

reading the paper page and reading the screen page will always be two different experiences.

outmoding books will only make the good ones more expensive and cd's were gonnae be the death of vinyl but djs and dance culture made records popular all over again.

And I'm getting ma blog turned into a book so I can keep a physical copy of it...see blurb

Gustav said...

I agree with the ink-stained toe-poker's comments entirely.

There is something authnetic and magic about reading the discoloured pages of a book that has sat on a shelf for a hundred years knowing that other souls have scaled the same trek.

I like the idea of blurb and creating our own books. We all have interesting stories to tell.

Linda Jacobs said...

Having an ebook when travelling would be a big help to me. Last year when we went to Florida, my bag was so heavy because I had to have several books with me. And they take up so much room!

So, yeah, I can see the possibilities of it but would hate to give up real books altogether.

Placey said...

Like many others, I have an emotional attachment to my books so I can’t see myself ceasing to buy the ‘physical’ kind. When I returned to study a couple of years ago, though, I loved being able to access text books on computer, sooo much better than lugging doorstops around in a bag.
I do wonder how the next generation of readers will read their books. Previous generations’ habits of buying albums and singles - whether vinyl, cassette or CD – seem to have been replaced with downloading. The current generation don’t seem to have an emotional attachment to (or awareness of?) things like album covers, lyrics sheets or even the physical medium itself. The CD/ album collection is fast becoming a thing of the past- my teenage nephews have heaps of songs on their iPods, but no shelves or racks of music like I was building up at their age.
Then again, look at the hoards of kids who queued to be the first to get their hands on the next episode of Harry Potter books. And will parents cease to read picture books to their children in favour of sitting around the laptop turning virtual pages of Mem Fox or Pamela Allen’s lastest offerings?

Placey said...

PS - for anyone who happens to follow other people's comments from week to week, I should probably point out that I have changed my blog name from BecC to Placey. Every time I go to leave my post, it takes me a good half hour to remember if I am 'Bec' with a space 'C', or 'Bec' with a lowercase 'c', no spaces at all or some other variation on the theme! I hope this will be simpler on me.

Paula Weston said...

Thanks everyone. Great comments as always.

Love the new user name Place. Works for me!