“Are printed books really going to become obsolete?”
That’s the simple question I posed to launch a discussion on one of the many writing-oriented groups I belong to on LinkedIn. I was curious how others thought and felt about the possible demise of printed books with the tsunami of eBook readers and the millions of eBooks being washed ashore with it. I know where I stand: I do not want the printed book to die off today, tomorrow, or ever. Borrowing from an old Neil Young song, I want to be able to be able to confidently proclaim from the top of my stack of physical books, “Hey hey my my, the printed book will never die!”
I have to admit, I’ve always been a step behind – well maybe five steps behind – the latest technological advancement or transformation. Less than 20 years ago, when I lived near the center of the quaint town of Rhinebeck, New York, I refused to start using ATM machines because I did not want to give up the simple act of walking two blocks from my home, opening those over-sized bank doors, and having a face-to-face exchange with an actual person behind a counter. Over the years I also have maintained a preference for clocks and watches with round faces and phones that stay in one place and don’t even tell me who’s calling before I discover that for myself. Oh, I did relent and get a cell phone for travelling, but all I do on it is talk. I know, I’m totally out of touch. Sure I use a computer for my work as author, ghostwriter, editor, and book coach, but when I teach my class on Writing Your Life Story, I urge my students to execute our writing exercises by hand – and I’m pleased to witness their willingness to do it!
Am I just a Luddite, determined to ward off the evil influence of machinery and technology in the name of living in some simple utopia? I’m not that old, though my 10 year old son may argue otherwise. Of course, during those moments when I’m losing the battle of figuring out the right functions on my DVD player, going all-out Luddite may seem like a good cause. And I certainly didn’t rebel when my son found himself in a Waldorf school where kids are strongly discouraged from using almost any kind of media and technology until…well, they’re out of Waldorf. I do use technology, and I do not cherish the memory of starting out as journalist in the mid-’70s when you still churned out stories on typewriters.
I have even crossed the line recently when I released an eBook version of my book Your Life Is a Book And It’s Time to Write It through Smashwords. Of course, I had to ask for a helper to navigate the simple formatting and I gave my helper a hard time when he still expected me to do some of the follow-up, pre-button pushing, book-making work.
But here’s the thing about eBooks: if I give in and do most of my work-related and personal reading there, it means I have to spend that much more time in front of some kind of electronic gadget with a screen. I already devote long hours to staring into my laptop and monitor. When it’s time to read a book, I want to shut the darn thing off for awhile and hold something physical in my two hands. I want a break from technology….Okay, maybe I am a Luddite.
I could name other, more practical reasons for my preference for REAL books over eBooks. It’s easier to skim-read. I get to utilize all the snazzy bookmarks I’ve picked up over the years. I can count out my printed books, unlike eBooks, to last more than a year or two before some new technology breakthrough has rendered them useless.
I read some other fascinating reasons to not give up on printed books on that LinkedIn discussion I started. Confidentiality prevents me from providing all the names and specific content (though people who really like and understand technology could probably find it), but I will share one compelling factor cited: the unique smell of a printed book in an old library, used bookstore, or your own bookshelves. Come on, will an eBook ever deliver that smell?
All in all, I was encouraged by my informal survey. Most respondents, while admitting they really do like and use their Kindle or some other E-Reader gizmo, made clear that they still like and prefer a printed book, at least some of the time. They don’t want to see the printed book become extinct, and they believe that it won’t…at least not for awhile.
I hope they’re right. It’s not my wish to seek a ban on all E-Readers. I will fight for the cause of keeping printed books alive, but I won’t fight against the right for E-Readers and the humans attached to them to live on in a peaceful co-existence. In a spirit of good will, I’ll even provide a link to my book in eBook form:
Uh-oh. Hope I haven’t sabotaged my own campaign. Will you join me?
– Kevin Quirk is the author, ghostwriter, editor, or book coach for dozens of printed books…and maybe a few eBooks as well.