Paper books are dead. Long live paper books!

BlogHer Original Post

Ever since Amazon introduced the first Kindle -- or was it back when Sony introduced their e-reader? -- it's become de rigueur for bibliophiles and writers alike to wring their hands and bemoan the end of books as we know them. Technology will stamp out the joy of holding a book in your hands! You'll never feel the spine crack open under your fingertips! You'll miss that new-book smell!

Also, the sky the falling. Just in case you were wondering.

The fact is, e-readers are still pricey and there's no data to suggest that "real" books will be disappearing any time soon. Nor is their any shortage of people willing to argue that this new technology is Very Bad Indeed. But what is new (to me, anyway) is this article by Emily Walshe in the Christian Science Monitor calling the Kindle "A Trojan horse for free thought."

Web 2.0 and its culture of collaboration supposedly unleashed a sharing society. But we can share only what we own. And as more and more content gets digitized, commercialized, and monopolized, our cultural integrity is threatened. The free and balanced flow of information that gives shape to democratic society is jeopardized.

The Kindle is threatening our cultural integrity? Yes, says Walshe, because:

[...] Kindle is the kind of technology that challenges media freedom and restricts media pluralism. It exacerbates what historian William Leach calls "the landscape of the temporary": a hyper mobile and rootless society that prefers access to ownership. Such a society is vulnerable to the dangers of selective censorship and control.

And all this time, I just thought it was an e-reader.

The piece is a thought-provoking read, though I'm not sure that I agree with the reasoning. I've never believed e-books are an either/or proposition; I'd no more throw over conventional books for an e-reader than I could swear never to write by hand again simply because I use a computer.

The Huffington Post's Geri Spieler agrees:

Will the E-book replace ink and paper books?
No.
[...]
However, do expect over the next ten years to see a hybrid industry of books both in print and digital formats. We likely will see books published in two versions at two different costs to serve more markets.

Author Lynn Raye Harris recently discussed statistics of ebook revenues (not insubstantial, but still less than 1% of total sales), noting that she still wants a Kindle in spite of her preference for paper. She concludes:

Hmm, still very interesting that this technology isn't spreading the way people once declared it would. As I saw on a Tweet from Stephen Fry recently, (paraphrasing) Kindles and ebooks won't replace real books any more than elevators replaced stairs. It's simply another tool to use, that's all.

Danielle at Give me something to write about! tells of her reluctant acceptance:

I love the smell of a new book, and the little crack that you get when you open a textbook for the first time. I love the warmth of a used bookstore, and the potential of a big chain store like Barnes & Noble. [...]

However, I bought my first e-book last week, and it's proven to be a good investment. [...] I've got it on my Palm Pilot, and I've actually been reading in places that I wouldn't normally take a book - at Cracker Barrel or other restaurants while I'm waiting for friends to arrive, in the OR while I'm waiting for the patients to arrive, in bed (okay, I read real books in bed most of the time). It's just been a very convenient way to read.

E-books will never replace real books for me, but as a whole, I'm no longer condemning them.

Amy Hanek guest-blogged at The Back Cover, also citing the now-familiar words of many dedicated readers, but adding another point:

I would also argue that I'm a tactile reader. I love the smell and feel of brand new and older books. Feeling the weight of a book in your hand also lends a certain air of responsibility. I fear Kindles could just never compare to what I consider the real thing.

But then, I wonder. I think of my husband and son who are not really fond of reading. And what about every other non-reader in the world? Would this tidy little gadget make reading an adventure finally worth embarking on?

I don't think there's a book-lover alive who would fault e-books or snazzy devices on which to read them if they enticed reluctant readers to enjoy the written word, is there?

Jen DeLano of The Daily Oyster isn't ready to embrace the Kindle, though. In "Kindle me Not" she says:

The Kindle 2 looked slick - you can download almost any book in a matter of seconds. Talk about instant gratification. I want, "She was a good reader" on my tombstone. However, I can't really flag pages for future reference. Also, after finishing a book I might want to share with Marc, I'd have to lend him my Kindle. What fun is that? We already struggle over the Nintendo DS, "Where did you put it?" "Are you finished with that Soduko yet?" "I've got the highest score in the 20 math calculations, ha!" Does the Kindle record how long it takes to read a book? That could be trouble for this hyper competitive duo.

Then, even if he were to get a Kindle 2 for himself, that wouldn't solve the problem of sharing a good book - as the books aren't transferable. What happens when the Kindle 3 comes out? Can I transfer all my Kindle 2 books? Probably not. This device is sounding less & less appealing.

And finally, if you need a giggle after pondering the Kindle's significance and whether or not the traditional book is in danger, definitely check out The Curator for the top ten reasons real books are better than e-books. (My favorite is #2: "A real book will dry out and still be functional if you accidentally drop it in the toilet.")

So, is the room in the world for "real" books and e-books to peacefully coexist? Or should we truly be worried that devices like the Kindle are, as Walshe asserts, "threatening our cultural integrity?"

BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir also blogs about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.

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