E-books versus print – a false dichotomy?

I’ve seen some really interesting articles in the last few days appearing to indicate that, regardless of the zeitgeist’s general consensus, print is NOT dead. 

Here are links to three articles – two from Publishers Weekly and one from The Telegraph – that seem to offer a vision of the future contrary to the usual predictions of a paperless, print-is-doomed, brickless/mortarless publishing industry.  I think the links below will remain live, but in case they don’t, I’m also providing enough info that you should be able to find them with an online search.

1. “BISG Report Finds More E-book Buyers Buying Print Books,” Publishers Weekly, August 2, 2012. 

2. “Bookstore Sales up in First Half of 2012,” Publishers Weekly, August 20, 2012.

3. “Amazon to deliver parcels to UK cornerships,” The Telegraph, August 17, 2012.  (I can’t get this direct link to The Telegraph to stick, so I’m sending you to a Publishers Weekly roundup page, where this article is the second link from the top on the list of stories.)

The future of publishing suggested by these articles is fascinating: a hybrid that blurs the lines between e-books and traditional bookselling, combining the best features of each.  This month is the first time in years that I’ve noticed so many hints of good news regarding the future of books (print), bookstores, and non-virtual storefronts in general. 

I love Amazon, and if I’m looking for a specific title, it’s my go-to place.  Why waste time wandering around a bookstore looking for a book when I can complete that transaction instantly online?  Nor do I like to waste gas driving to a bookstore only to discover that the book I want is currently out of stock.

On the other hand, Amazon comes nowhere close to matching the tactile experience of a bricks-and-mortar bookstore.  It’s not that I never discover new titles on Amazon, because I do, but an entirely different type of serendipty arises from browsing the stacks.  You pick up books, feel their weight, and page through them – an experience bearing little resemblance to Amazon’s “Click to LOOK INSIDE!” feature (which remains nonetheless a great way for online shoppers get to acquainted with a book).  Unless I am zeroing in on one particular book, I greatly prefer just wandering though my local bookstore to clicking through images on a screen.

Besides, I can also sip a Starbucks latte if I’m shopping at a Barnes & Noble bookstore 🙂

In the end, all the forecasts about changing technologies and new modes of delivery tend to obscure this most important fact:  We just want good things to read.  Content is everything.  The format we select doesn’t matter beyond the context in which it is used.  In some cases we want a print edition of a text, and in others, we want the audio or electronic version. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if purchasing a print copy of a book included the option of getting the electronic version for free?  That way you could have the actual book as your primary reading experience, but you could also have the portability and searchability of the e-book.  Or maybe you could have the audio version to listen to in the car or during your workout.  I hope in the end we’ll continue to have many choices among formats instead of getting stuck with whatever technology “wins” and subsequently dominates the marketplace.  

Technology should not shape the way we read.  The way we read should shape the technology.  (Actually, each greatly influences the other, but you know what I mean 🙂 )

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. My blog is a space for playing with ideas about creativity, innovation, lifelong learning, and the nature of "insight."
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2 Responses to E-books versus print – a false dichotomy?

  1. Pingback: Bricks, Mortar, Paper, Ink « Perfectly Imperfect

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