There is absolutely no sense and no reason why written literature should be married to paper, but, nonetheless, I loathe their impending divorce with unbridled passion. Neither the promise of carrying 1,000s of searchable e-books in my pocket nor the promise of almost instant access to 100,000s of other e-books can sway me; my mind simply won’t let go of the idea that the natural spouse, chaperone and paramour for literature is, quite frankly, paper.
My music collection, news reading, address book, social calendar, and even shopping slipped into the digital age with barely a missed heartbeat. As did my television, telephone, camera, and the reams of paperwork demanded by the bureaucracy of contemporary living. Although my radio listening is currently stuck in a halfway house—with 1/2 my radio coming over the internet and the other half still coming over the analogue airwaves—that’s due to the ineptitude of the radio industry rather than any intrinsic technical or social grounds. However, for my collection of books the very idea of going digital fills me with a resonate abhorrence, a sure sign that a taut and far-ranging emotional battle looms with the onset of e-literature.
But even as I build up my resolve for the battle ahead, I can feel in my bones it’s a fight that cannot be won. As the digital champions make patently clear, e-books will take up so much less space than their cullulose forbears that they will single-handedly empty all world’s bookcases, freeing up enough wallspace to cover the great wall of china. Travelling to work, or on holiday? Then why not take your entire library with you. Instead of searching one reference book at a time, why not search all your reference books in one go? Read it on your computer, or someone else’s computer, or on your phone, or on your well-designed, not to mention desirable e-reader, or perhaps even your iPad. E-books also make it far easier and cheaper to publish than ever before, but While that might suit vanity publishing it seems unlikely to make many inroads into literature, which requires dedication and exertion that vanity alone can’t provide.
However, even though Amazon have announced e-books for their Kindle e-reader are now outselling hardback books, it’s still early days for e-books. As the early adopters are learning, there all manner of questions that assail the reader. With e-books being published in more than 10 e-book formats
, each with differnt features, consumers need to decide which format they should go with? To make matters worse there’s all manner of competing e-readers
on the market with each e-reader working with different set of formats. While consumers will find their preferred e-reader to be a matter of individual taste, since tastes and technology change consumers should be wary of their e-book library locking them into a single e-reader vendor.
For those with even the smallest of book collections, the cost of moving from paper books to e-books will be significant, with e-books often costing the same or even more than their paper counterparts. Although casual readers are unlikely to bother to buy their existing books as e-books, for those with a modicum of collector’s pride the idea of having 1/2 their collection in paper and the rest as e-books is likely to be irksome.
One issue that will never entirely go away, is that e-readers require electrical power to be used. While this might not be much of a concern to those with the always-on lifetsyles of the digitally developed world—except, perhaps, when taking long journeys or when reading near water—to the rest of the world power is a luxury rather than a commodity, making e-books yet another facet of the world’s widening digital divide.
Some of these issues will lessen in time. Ever increasing battery life will weaken one of the key arguments against e-readers, and as the e-book marketplace matures only a handful of formats will survive, making it easier to move books from e-reader to e-reader. But for some the ability to read the words in a book is only half the story. E-readers remove the tactile relationship that readers have with a book. From the turning of the pages, through to the folding the corner to remember a place, for some using the format of a book itself is an important part of the reading process. Some readers love permantenly scribbling their thoughts in the margin, or passing a cherished book on to someone else once they’ve finished, all of which have only pale imitations in the digital world.
As it’s only a matter of time before the divorce of written literature and paper is complete, it looks like a long, traumatic transition phase is inevitable for us children of the book. But until such time arrives, we should all continue to enjoy the feel of paper between our fingers, the intricate smells of second-hand books, and the endless pleasure of reading books in all those places e-books will never dare to go, like the bath.