There is a long-standing debate about whether the book – the dead-tree version, that is – is outmoded and dying. And about whether we as a society (civilization?) should just stick a fork in it and declare that “it’s done”!
I’d like to present some evidence that the book is, perhaps, Not Dead Yet. Yes maybe sometime in the future it will be; but for now, it’s not.
Full disclosure: I read e-books using a Kindle app on my HP Touchpad. I’m particularly addicted to Amazon’s Daily Deals and only purchase books that I don’t believe my husband will want to read. Print books are preferable for sharing. I also read print books; in fact, since I started reading e-books, I believe my print-book reading has increased.
Libraries. I volunteer at my local branch library, and every day that I’m there, I see everyone from the youngest tykes (with their moms) to senior citizens walk in. And they come for more than to use the free internet access that’s available. It’s a constant stream. I’m only there for 4 hours one day a week, so I don’t witness the usage on other days or in the evenings. But I’m sure it’s high.
I believe the vast majority of people are there primarily for the books. Yes, they are checking the Internet, they are checking out audio books, or they are reading magazines and newspapers; but the books are the biggest draw. In a typical week, patrons at my branch check out approximately 14,000 books. Fourteen thousand. For these folks, the book is definitely NOT dead.
One of my earliest book-related memories was going to our local library with my father. I was about 6 or 7, and was in awe of the place. It was (and still is) a grand building: marble columns soaring up from marble floors to reach the high, ornate ceiling. And books everywhere! And it had that typical mainstay: the center desk with the librarians who checked out books and kept order in the place. (Shhhh!)
I’m hoping that the children coming to the library where I volunteer – really, any library – will look back fondly at those days of discovery: of checking out the books, carrying them home, curling up with Mom or Dad and reading the “picture books.” And later, when they’re older, they can curl up on the sofa for a solitary read. (Is there anything more wonderful than to nod off while reading and wake up with the open book on your stomach? Ah, bliss…)
Amazon.com. Amazon was created on the premise that people want to read books. They built their whole business model on it. Yes, they’ve added non-book products (which I love them for), and added Kindle books as well as streaming music and movies. But the physical book is still a large part of their business. They did, however, announce in May 2011 that sales of e-books had surpassed sales of print books on their site. This statistic bears watching to see how it trends, and the velocity of any growth. There may a tendency to characterize prematurely the statistics provided by just one book outlet (Amazon) as evidence that the print book is dead.
According to a Pew Internet & American Life report just released, 21% of Americans have read an e-book in the past year. But the good news (from my point of view at least) is that physical books still rule. The following is from the Pew report:
The prevalence of e-book reading is markedly growing, but printed books still dominate the world of book readers.
My experience with digital books. Reading is about more than just seeing the words on the page It’s the little things; but the little things are important.
- Portability. I don’t want to take my tablet to the beach to read a trashy “beach read.” I don’t mind if a paperback gets wet from touching my web bathing suit. I can leave it on my towel when I stroll the beach looking for shells. I wouldn’t do that if I had my tablet or phone with me.
- Tactile Sensations. The feel of a book in your hands. It’s nice to feel something in your hands and to actually turn the pages. There’s a satisfaction with looking at the thickness of a book and gauging how far from finished you are, based on the location of your bookmark.
- Marginalia. (This is only for books you own.) I love to be able to put an asterisk, star, or exclamation point in the margins to mark passages that I want to be able to read again (or tell someone about). I can get the book off my bookshelf, flip the pages and quickly, and find the passage I want. I’d love to see “time tests” of this with e-books. Particularly those you don’t own. Ha!
And finally, I think this website gives a definitive answer to the question “Is the book dead?”