Thursday, January 06, 2011
When Books Do Things E-Books Can't
But then I had this thought . . . will hardback books become a novelty down the road?
Paperbacks are common and cheap to produce as far as books go. They'll be around a while. We don't worry about messing them up or bending the pages. Hardbacks, however, are expensive. We fear scratching the cover, ripping the jacket. and wouldn't dream of dog-earing a page or writing in the margin.
Once up a time, book making was an art. Gilded pages, stitched insides, cloth covers. They were heavy, which made us feel honored to hold them, read them, become wiser spending time with them. What's to stop people from developing very special editions with remarkable quality - for a high premium? I'm not talking book sets in cardboard boxes. I'm talking something that takes us back in time, a product that makes for a remarkable investment, a book that makes us stop and think what we're holding in our hands before we read it. We used to feel that way about books. Today they are a dime a dozen. I can see all hardback books heading in this direction.
In the LA Times article "Making books do things e-books can't — and vice versa," Jonathan Karp, the publisher of Simon & Schuster, says in this piece that the challenge for his industry is to find ways to serve customers for both printed and digital editions. I'm not sure publishers are serving two masters, as they say. All we hear about is ebook sales going through the roof. I just hope the pendulum doesn't sway too far the other direction, away from print, must like our politics tends to do from one administration to the other.
The article goes on about the diversity of publishing these days. Type runs off the page for impact. Daggers are inserted into text for effect. In e-books, visual is fast becoming almost 3-D, and animation has brought, literally, new life to children's books. I expect to see advertisements jumping out and grabbing you, offering you a sample of whatever they are selling. Just like the i-Pad isn't necessarily a reading tool for the average buyer, e-reading will become more of an experience than an appreciation for writing. I mean, how do you focus on and absorb the words when the page is moving around?
Ever held an old book? I have a Rural Sociology book, salvaged when someone was cleaning out his office - dated in the 19-teens - almost a hundred years ago. You gingerly pick it up. You read it more thoroughly. An old book, classic or not, takes us back, slows us down. Some people specialize in these books for that rich experience.
So, I predict that one day, the old-fashioned, hand-crafted, hardback book will be a treasure. A collector's item. A gift that everyone says "wow" over when the wrapping falls away. A book that we sit down and reverently weigh in our laps, hand brushing over the page as we turn it.
I just hope we can sit still longer enough to take the time to read it.