My mum used to say: “Read books. If you do, the world is yours”. So ever since I read books, hoping that one day I will be the queen of the world (not there yet!)
And so, years later, the stack of “books I want to read” that sits precariously on the edge of a bookshelf in our living room just about eclipses 10,000 pages.
It would be a lot easier to manage if I just downloaded all those books to my Kindle, wouldn’t it? None are hard to find editions that would be unavailable in a digital format but…there’s something about print that I can’t give up. There’s something about holding a book in your hand and the visceral act of physically turning a page that, for me at least, can’t be matched with pixels on a screen. Yet the writing appears to be on the wall: “eBooks are slowly subsuming the printed format as the preferred vehicle on which people read books”.
For those who prefer their books printed in ink on paper, like myself, that sounds depressing. But perhaps there is reason to hope that eBooks and print books could have a bright future together, because for all the great things eBooks accomplish — convenience & portability — there are still some fundamental qualities they will simply never possess.
That is not to say that electronic books can’t be beautiful — eBooks are still relatively new and designers have yet to fully realise their potential. But for paper books, we’re already there. The book cover evolved over the centuries, it had to grab our attention from its place on the shelf. For that reason, the best designed covers were often beautiful art pieces. Just look at the covers of the Roads.co books, designed by the Dublin based designers-duo, Conor & David, I love them!
I know people who say that eBooks are great for people who care only about the contents or who are ashamed of what they’re reading (uuu harsh!) But for people who truly love books (me, me!) print is the only medium that will satisfy because they offer a more robust experience. With eBooks I feel you often just get a meal on the same white plate as all the other meals, but a nice cover is like having dinnerware selected to suit the food. The story is still the main thing you’re there for, but the choices around it — the paper stock, the selection of fonts — they add their own subtle flavors to the experience of that story. Sorry, that’s the foodie coming out of me now 😉
Printed books are collectible.
There are books that I need sitting on my shelf. I need a copy of Nostromo by Joseph Conrad. That book is important to me. I also feel the draw of books as collectible objects. I’ve purchased printed books I first read on my Kindle because I wanted them in a more tangible form. Having a hardcover on my shelf is like having a print by one of my favorite artists on the wall. I greatly believe that print might have a future similar to vinyl, which by the way Kuba and I collect as well.I guess, for us, physical objects are beginning to feel more precious, more like gifts. And so I hope to see publishing going the same way. Yes, possibly the cheaply produced mass market printings on poor quality paper will lose to digital publishing. But we will gain a new appreciation for well-designed, higher-quality publications like the ones folks at the Roads.co are putting out.
Books are nostalgic.
My favourite books define me someway and digital versions don’t seem to impart connections that are quite as deep. Books as physical objects matter to me because in a way they evoke the past. For example, a note falls out of the book that I scribbled to myself in 2006 when I was in Greece reminds me to learn Greek, which I have not yet done, and to go back to Greece. This piece of the experience doesn’t translate to the electronic format.
To sum up this lengthy post, I think books are cool! I love print, always will. I also love digital, always will. But they will continue to be different experiences. I genuinely believe that eBooks will not replace paper books because there is just part of the experience you can’t reproduce; the smell, the feel, even the weight. The experience of reading any book on my Kindle is vastly different than the experience of reading the printed version. The story is the same but the medium affects the way I read it. It’s not totally unlike the difference between watching the movie Once and watching it performed live on stage. It’s a different texture and that alone warrants their existence. So the choice between eBooks and printed books is not a zero sum game. Print books do not have to disappear for eBooks to flourish and eBooks don’t have to be the only choice.
“Printed books are for people who love printed books. Digital books are for those who love digital books,” someone once told me.
Maybe it’s really just that simple.