The Printed Book Is NOT Going Away

This essay appeared in October, but it’s more than worth repeating here at the end of the year.  This part is especially on point:

When you read a physical book, or you read an e-book, the physical experience of reading that book is different. It looks different. It feels different. It even smells different. Your memory of having read it will be different. Unlike music, food, or paintings, you can choose what head-hole to put a novel in: You can put it in your eyes (by reading it) or in your ears (by listening to the audiobook). You can read it on a screen, on which each “page” pops up in a kind of context-free procession toward infinity, with no physical referents as to how many pages have already passed and how many are yet to come. All books—all text—start to feel the same, as though dredged up from a vast grey ocean of pixels. Or you can read the exact same book—the same words, the same story, the same ideas, the same emotions—on paper, bound between covers, where you physically sense the heft of what you’ve read and of what you have yet to encounter. Where you can close the book with a satisfying thud when you are finished. Those are two very different experiences of the same book.

Long live printed volumes.

One thought on “The Printed Book Is NOT Going Away

  1. I’ve been reluctant to jump on the e-pub bandwagon but … I think that for musicians the benefits of a Kindle format can be worthwhile. We live in an era where the works of Brahms, Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart and Bach are all public domain and with a Kindle Fire you can play music while also studying a PDF score. This is pretty handy if you’re exploring early 19th century sonatas for classical guitar, as I’ve been doing. There are sonatas by Wenzel Matiegka that may never exist in hard copy print editions because the works are public domain and in pdf format on the internet already. I wouldn’t have known about Matiegka, who did some fine guitar transcriptions of Haydn, if modern PDF and e-pub formats weren’t available.

    The caveat for ebooks for me is that people may not realize that they’re kind of like CDs, you’ve bought a license for use that at some point could be revoked. It’s not just that Kindle batteries die, it’s that, as an article in the Atlantic put it, you don’t really OWN what’s on your Kindle, it’s more like you’re renting it for an indefinite period. Even a PDF you download from, say, IMSLP org is yours to use but e-books are licenses that can potentially be revoked.


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