Here is some text from an interview given earlier this year by an American, Jason Merkoski (who previously worked for Amazon and on the Kindle) on his thoughts on books and their future, or lack thereof...
I go back to it and read it every time I want to make myself a little bit angry.
Don't get me wrong, I think Jason Merkoski has some interesting points to make - he is challenging lots of preconceived ideas about technology and our usage of it, and that can be a very good thing. It's more his statements of fact about books that riles me somewhat.
Jason Merkoski commenting on the great advantages of e-books:
In 20 years, the space of one generation, print books will be as rare as vinyl LPs. You’ll still be able to find them in artsy hipster stores, but that’s about it. So the great advantage of e-books is also their curse; e-books will be the only game in town if you want to read a book. It’s sobering, and a bit sad. That said, e-books can do what print books can’t. They’ll allow you to fit an entire library into the space of one book. They’ll allow you to search for anything in an instant, save your thoughts forever, share them with the world, and connect with other readers right there, inside the book. The book of the future will live and breathe.
Oh look! What's this? It is my home library.
Will it have disappeared in twenty years to be replaced by a Kindle?
Will my living room morph into an eerie empty space with bare white walls? And with me, perched on a ghost chair next to a ghost table with an electronic device as my cosy companion?
I hope not! (I'm sure that ghost furniture shows up fingerprints. That would have to be SOOOO annoying!)
Anyway, it turns out I have been busy buying quite a number of books in the last week. Maybe that's made me a little extra sensitive. Maybe I'm yearning for a bit of justification for spending money on what, apparently, is soon to be an outmoded product?
But therein lies the problem I have with Jason Merkoski's bland pronouncements.
He treats books as mere products.
Books (and I apologise, sort of, for shouting here) are NOT PRODUCTS!!! They are FAR MORE than that.
Books are friends. They are gifts that represent the givers. They are bright and touchable. They can be pieces of your history. They bring colour and life to your life and to your home and your rooms.
I picked up this rather glorious pile in a Dymocks sale. It cost me $65. It appears to be remaindered titles (that weren't selling well or enough of, I'm guessing). Some of these titles I've been wanting for ages! They are all works of art - beautiful covers, excellent photography and rich thick paper. Were they worth their original high price tags? Maybe. Maybe not.
Would they work as e-versions?
I picked up this cute pile from a local op shop. It cost me $6.50. They are all in great condition. One is the Goulburn Cookery Book, a 1973 facsimile edition of the original 1899 version. No one is going to make an electronic version of it in a hurry. I don't think there's much call for a shoulder of mutton with rice these days.
The flower fairies album is a lovely gardener's record book. Would anyone bother with an electronic version of this? Hard to imagine those committed to an excel spreadsheet feeling the need for spring fairy illustrations...
Here Jason comments on what will be lost:
I found a book at my grandmother’s house that was inscribed by my great-grandfather. I learned what his original last name was — before he changed it. That was an interesting link to my past. We’re going to lose that sort of trace of ourselves if we go all digital.
Some of my most treasured older books are signed by my great-grandparents. Or were Sunday School prizes presented to my parents. It is a direct link with their past. It is a tangible record of our family history.
I also own quite a few signed copies of favourite books. Kate Morton recently wrote in one of her titles for me: "Enjoy getting lost in the Forgotten Garden". I thought that was fantastic.
I'm taking my girls to a book signing this weekend. They are super excited and so am I. Hard to imagine us doing that if all our copies were electronic.
Oh, but on this Jason Merkoski and I are in agreement.
He admitted that “E-books aren’t ready for children yet.”
Giving children an e-book at this point might not be that much better than plunking them down in front of a TV, especially if they’re reading the e-book on a multifunction device with instant messages, games and other distractions. Better they should be outside and engaged with the world.
What are your views on e-books?
Are you ready to confidently predict the death of the paper copy?