The gauntlet was thrown down on Monday to the WordPress community, and we are to lay out our positions on the battle between ebooks and the fast dying breed of physical, printed books. This is a fairly straightforward issue in this writer’s opinion. As things are, whether it be 10 or 50 years from now, the physical book will cease to be in mainstream circulation, driven off by the incredible convenience of the Kindle or similar device.
There are three clear emotional positions to take on the matter however, the first being that you are a die-hard, hard copy lover to whom the ebook is a sad and loveless thing. Where is the joy in your cherished book collection being contained in grey sliver of plastic not larger than even a small collection of short stories? The attractiveness of a beautiful bookcase filled with quality works is hard to ignore, if you care even a little for literature.
The opposite position doesn’t necessarily carry a dislike for the physical book, but certainly can. Ever had a book melt on you? To be more precise, has the glue binding for your copy of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” ever vanished in the southern French sun, to subsequently allow a stiff breeze to blow half of it into the nearby swimming pool? Ever tried to read a book on the crowded public transport, forcing strange contortions upon yourself just to balance the copy and turn the page?
Then the ebook is probably your friend. If I’m going on holiday for two weeks, I may well want a good few books for the trip and the obvious logic of carrying a little over 200 grams of Kindle, instead of potentially several kilograms of book, is there. If there’s a hint of WiFi at my destination I need not be concerned with a misfired purchase, being able to peruse a sample before near instantaneously downloading the whole thing at my discretion.
Detractors from the device are evident, of course. My paperback has only a limited sensitivity to water and won’t run out of battery because I forgot to turn it off. I’m not overly concerned with dropping my printed texts off a balcony and neither would I be concerned with their theft. An ebook fetches a better price than my tatty old copy of Tom McCarthy’s “Remainder”. And perhaps egotistically, no one can see that I’m reading that arty, thoughtful novel on the ebook.
Ultimately, I see no need for this to be a Marmite issue, there’s no need to camp out so firmly on one side or the other, nor be conflicted at all. I think the two could exist in harmony, with the right conditions. A brief look at the thoughts of my fellow bloggers will reveal that both are acceptable or preferable in different circumstances. We all want to maintain and expand our bookshelves, for the visual and tactile pleasures inherent…
But we can’t deny the convenience of the ebook. And with bookstores shutting down left, right and centre it seems that convenience is winning the battle. I, like many, love bookstores, it’s upsetting to see them go and this probably drives most individual’s dislike of the ebook. I personally don’t see why they can’t fight the fight of literacy and enlightenment together. Don’t challenge me on the logistics yet, as I haven’t worked them out, but why not have a digital purchase be complementary with every physical purchase?
The lesser price of a digital purchase is down to the lack of printing and shipping expenses, and primarily covers the intellectual property value. Why then, if purchasing the more expensive physical copy, should I not receive a digital version given that I’ve already paid for the intellectual property as well as everything else? Could this not give the High Street bookstore a reprieve from the onslaught of the electronic age?
I don’t think the printed book will ever cease to exist completely. More likely it is going the way of the record, cherished by a certain clique of enthusiasts but otherwise ignored by iPod fanatics. It doesn’t have to be a tragic thing in that regard. If anything, like the record it might create a new degree of self-satisfaction and superiority for being a traditionalist. Hard to imagine your average literati would complain about that.