Thursday, February 10, 2011

Books VS. E-Books: Fight!

Husna Haq of the Christian Science Monitor put out this article detailing "5 signs that e-books are here to stay," three of which are various themes on 'look how popular they are'.

I haven't heard anyone say that they weren't.

Granted, I for one have expressed a preference for the physical object, way back when I first introduced the Rapid-Fire Book Club. But the advantages of the e-book are so clear- the small size, the portability, the amount of reading material that can be packed into it, the lower cost of producing the product, the speed with which one can obtain a book that they've just heard about or the latest bestseller- that its usefulness is undeniable. I welcome its presence. Anything that gets people reading, or reading more.

But the physical books aren't going away either. Books and e-books can coexist peacefully, which has rather escaped the bulk of people who've written on the topic; most have suggested or implied some sort of existential fight to the death.

So here, in response, are five reasons books aren't going away:

1. Books can be broken and still be readable.

If you drop a steak knife on an e-book, and it pierces and hits the wrong piece of circuitry, you can't read it anymore. You've got a doorstop on your hands. If you drop that same steak knife on a book, you've got a little hole in each individual page. You can still read what's on that page, or worst-case, read around it and make out what the busted part said. You can do a lot of damage to that book and still read it. Even if you tear the book apart page-by-page, with enough work you can put the pages back in order, and still read the book.

2. Pre-existing infrastructure.

Even if you were to not publish one more physical book, you've still got just gobs of them laying around, and not many people are inclined to destroy them. Nor are they going to be subject to some sort of obsolescence-related cancellation of service. You won't open a book anytime soon and see 'This book's service period has expired. Thank you for understanding.'

3. The Internet has a backlog.

Despite the enormous potential of making reading material available online, with this, with Google Books, there are still titles that are going to slip through the net, books you for one reason or another simply cannot obtain in electronic form. You can't flip a switch and make 'books' online. You have to individually introduce each individual book to an online audience. Considering the sheer amount of titles that have been put out over the course of history, that's a task that will take time to complete, if it is ever completed at all.

How much time? You gamers out there, think back to all the times you've tried to achieve hundred-percent completion. Especially think back to those last frustrating percentage points. Now imagine that in real life, on a global scale, over hundreds, maybe thousands of years, and nobody's around to tell you when you've reached 100%. Good luck.

4. Ease of searching.

Oh, yes. Ease of searching. If you know going in what book you're going after, the e-book, Amazon, anything online is perfect. Type in the name, boom, there it is. And here are a couple related books as well.

There's a caveat, though. You have to know exactly what you want, and if you want a certain category, you can only view a limited number of books at a time- ten on a page, perhaps. And they're bound to only be the most popular in whatever category you're looking at.

But popular books and good books aren't the same thing. If you walk into a bookstore, it is a visual no online source can match. Dozens, hundreds of books, maybe even thousands in the right place within one glance. As many as you can handle, popular, obscure, books you've never heard of, books you never knew you wanted until that exact moment, and the only way they're not related is if the staff has been spectacularly incompetent.

5. Intangibles.

As was stated last March, there's a certain mojo that a book has that an e-book simply cannot replicate. There's more of the feeling that the book is a book, as opposed to a glorified online article. There's more gravitas to it. There's the experience of being in the bookstore itself- the slow-paced meandering along the shelves, the browsing, all the knowledge and literature around you being enlightening yet humbling simply by being abundant in close proximity.

That's also something the Internet can't replicate, not really. We all know how large the Internet is, but you're only looking at one or two glimpses of it at a time. You get the Internet in little bite-sized chunks.

Now walk into a large bookstore. The scale hits you like a ton of bricks. You can look straight ahead and see just how much reading material is in there. You hear references, once in a while, to obtaining the content of 'the entire Internet' somehow. You don't hear similar references about someone reading everything in a bookstore or everything in a library, despite there being much less overall content in a bookstore or library. People are much more aware of the likelihood, or lack thereof, of absorbing the entire content of a bookstore or library, than they are about doing the same with the Internet. It just seems larger.

But for another audience of potential readers, bite-size is the right size. And that's the primary factor: the two types of books attract two different kinds of people. Again to use video games as a proxy, you've got one hardcore crowd that wants Halo and Call of Duty, and another more casual crowd that prefers Peggle and Wii Sports. They both like games. Just not the same kind of games. In the same sense, both the book and e-book people like books; they just have different preferences as to hoe they want to have them. And others like having both: get the books, but when the bookshelf gets overrun, put the overage on the e-book.

In other words, they coexist.

No comments: