The future of the printed wordAs I've mentioned many times, I used to be a production editor at a major religious publisher. I did not leave my job willingly. That publisher has been losing...
As I've mentioned many times, I used to be a production editor at a major religious publisher. I did not leave my job willingly. That publisher has been losing millions each year, and I was in the first wave of "downsizing."
My supervisor wanted to get rid of me anyway, though. I always argued with him about printed books vs. ebooks. Our unit was Reference and Epublishing, and he believes the ebook will replace the printed word. My argument was that (1) nobody wants to cuddle up with a nice ebook reader and (2) what happens when the electricity goes out and the batteries all die?
Also, one of our development editors was a part-time archaeologist and would spend her summers digging in Megiddo, looking especially for a library or archives. She wondered what would happen if all our printed books were destroyed and people of the future couldn't figure out our technology. Imagine an archaeologist 2000 years in the future digging up a Barbie doll. Would he or she wonder about the strange religious practices of 20th century people?
What do you think? Does it matter whether we keep printing books, or should we go totally digital?
I think paper books will always be around--at the very, very least--as a fetish property. They look good, they feel good, they smell good...and most important, they read good. The technology has not yet been developed that can make a digital long-form reading experience pleasurable--too much eye strain, not enough tactile response. But for short-form reading (news, articles in magazines or journals, op-ed pieces), I would be completely out of touch without the Internet. I haven't picked up a print newspaper in years, and I've also let most of my magazine subscriptions run out (save for the very few that focus on design over content). So as far as I'm concerned, books are in no way in danger of extinction. But just about every other printed medium....well, all this noise could be a death rattle.
I hope that books will be around for more profound reasons than simply just a "fetish property", soctt-locklear! I do agree there is a danger in being too gung-ho and transfering all of our "matter" onto ebooks. Just think of all the computing disasters that have happened. I am no computer-nerd, but I just don't believe that it is completely safe to store such information in its orginal form on-line or in some virtual world without it getting lost, edited, changed or twisted. Therefore books seem to perform a valuable function with this regard. Also, they are so much a part of our culture and society! I agree with linda-allen - you just can't curl up with a kindle!
I like to say that the reason why I lost my publishing job was downsizing, but I think the real reason is that I constantly disagreed with my unit director about the future of the book. He truly believes that the ebook will replace the printed-on-paper book someday. I think he saw me as an obstructionist! Is it wicked of me to take pleasure in the fact that the company has lost approx. $7 million since I was let go in 2003?
Oh, my heart hurts at the thought of giving up my books - I can't imagine. I know the world is going digital, but even if I find something on the computer I want to read, I always print it and then read. I think that a time is coming where books will become less and less popular, but I can't imagine they will ever be completely eliminated. I agree - you can't cuddle up with the computer...at least not yet. =P
I think that some books work better in electronic format, like math and science textbooks, history texts, etc. However in terms of reading for pleasure, I don't see how electronic texts can be better in terms of reader experience then the printed word. Books are an old but great form of technology! Portable, room to write in the margins, look good on a shelf, etc.