Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Death of the Book

A while back I had an idea for a piece about the so-called “death of the book” that was supposedly on the horizon. Many well-known digiterati had said that with advances in portable computing, it was only a matter of time before the book, and indeed printed literature as we knew it, would all disappear.

And this was before the arrival, or even the announcement of the iPad.

However, like Mark Twain, I was prepared to say that the rumors of the book’s impending death were greatly exaggerated.

First of all, there’s the price factor. Sure, some of us in certain socio-economic classes can afford the latest new electronic toy when it first comes out, but for most people $400 for an Amazon Kindle is a stretch. And then to take this to the beach where it’ll get sand and water on it? No thanks, I’m leaving mine in the car where it’s safe, and reading a good old inexpensive and expendable paperback with me while I’m sunning myself.

True, after enough of the digiterati buy these devices to make the price drop, everyone and his brother will have one, and it won’t seem like you’re courting disaster to take it on the beach with you. I never would’ve taken my $400 first-generation iPod on the beach with me at Cape May. My $150 Nano (which, by the way, holds way more music than my first one did) goes with me everywhere. Perhaps one day the Kindles, Nooks, and iPad will reach this level of saturation and price point.

But the main reason I was prepared to say that the book would be with us for a long time is because I’ve heard this all before. Film was supposed to herald the end of live theater, records would bring about the end of live music, television would bring about the end of movies and radio. In the end, none of those things happened. In fact, it’s a special treat to see a live theater or musical performance. So it is with the plain old printed book. Other things may come along that are fancier and seem like they might take its place, but I’m betting that the book will be around for a good long time. I'm also betting that as time goes on, we'll see that the printed book has certain advantages over its digital cousins.

As I said, I was going to write a piece on this, but never got around to it. And then I saw Anna Quindlen’s piece Turning the Page in the March 26th issue Newsweek in which she said:
Americans, however, tend to bring an either-or mentality to most things, from politics to prose. The invention of television led to predictions about the demise of radio. The making of movies was to be the death knell of live theater; recorded music, the end of concerts. All these forms still exist—sometimes overshadowed by their siblings, but not smothered by them.
Dang! She took the words right out of my mouth – and sent them out to a much wider audience than I could ever hope to reach.

And it’s an audience that she reached mostly…by print.

No comments:

Post a Comment