I was sitting with a group of friends shortly after BEA, so naturally the talk turned to the topic of books.
This group consisted of various types of reading personalities. Some, like myself, read anything and everything; our most precious moments come when we can grab a book, stroll down to the beach (without our cell phones), and get lost in a book for hours. Others like to read the “latest and greatest” so that they’ll have something to talk about during work or social occasions. Still others spend so much time reading for work or school that they find that their recreational reading has almost diminished. And those in a fourth group immerse themselves in a topic and read everything they can on sharks, running, health, etc.
We began to talk about e-books and their applications. Since I was the only one in the business of book publishing, my friends asked for my opinion of the e-book. They seemed surprised when I said I think that, in many instances, the e-title or online book is far superior to its printed kin. Immediately they jumped to the conclusion that my comment meant that traditional books would disappear, which is not what I meant.
They began to tell me why they like printed books and I found their comments so eye-opening that I decided to share them.
Paeans to Print
“There’s nothing like cracking open a brand new book and inhaling the scent of the paper and print,” said one of the guys in the group. Hmmm. I tried it, and yes, most new books definitely have a new book aroma like a new car aroma. “How can you do this with an e- or online book?” he asked.
“I like the way the new books feel,” said another. When I asked her to explain, she said that some of the new books with the suede-like covers make you want to walk directly to the cash register and purchase them–no matter what’s inside the book. “How can you do this with an e- or online book?” she asked.
A third member of the group, who, I must admit, doesn’t commit too much time to reading, says that when he purchases a book what matters is size. When asked to explain further, this friend said that he goes to a bookstore section and looks for books on specific topics. If there’s a 150-page book that seems to provide the same information as a 350-page book, he buys the shorter one. “How can I determine this with an e- or online book?” he asked.
Yet another said that there’s this indescribable thrill when you’re turning the pages and find that you have maybe 15 or 20 pages left until the book will be over. She said, “It’s a sort of sense of accomplishment. I know that I can finish that book that night and get ready to start on another. How can you do that with an e- or online book?” she asked.
And, finally, my jokester friend commented, “When I fall asleep reading my paperback in bed, I don’t even feel the light thump it makes on my chest. I just wake up an hour or so later, remove the book, and turn the lights out. Sometimes,” he added, “I actually wake up in the morning with my book still resting on my chest! Now, those e-book readers,” he continued, “would probably do some harm to me or themselves if I dropped them when I fell asleep–not to mention if I fell asleep at the computer. I could really do harm to my entire body by falling off the chair!”
When New Media Enter the Mix
Then I got my chance to explain. I feel that e-books and online books can enter our world and actually be better than print-on-paper versions. But I also feel that the printed books we all read will be around forever, just better defining the niche they serve. It’s like the radio, movies, and television. Each time one of those new media appeared, everyone said that earlier media would fail and disappear. As we all know, that has not been the case. In each instance, an older medium of communication has evolved and sometimes come to fill a slightly different role than it did when it first hit the scene. But they all do continue–and will continue–to entertain and inform, just like books, e-books, and online versions.
The question for us to answer, however, is what is the best medium for the presentation of our titles.