Nothing like a good old-fashioned paperback book. One you can wrap the pages around as you read them, make a mark in the margins, dog-ear the corners and make it your own. It fits in a raincoat pocket so you can pull it out on the bus ride home, or while standing in line at Starbucks. These old relics live on the dashboard of your car, on the back of the commode, or in your lunchbox. They are cheap enough and durable enough to last through several reads by a number of folks as they are handed from one to another.
Hardback books are wonderful in their own way. These are the musty dinosaurs of yesterday, nestled on Grandma’s shelves in her library and kitchen. These books hold the ideas and accomplishments of days past, all worthy of recording on print, forever enshrined between hard covers of cloth and leather. Most of the really great books are printed on archival-quality fine acid-free paper and stitched into traditional signatures. Coffee table books have long adorned living rooms with renditions of art and photography published in limited editions.
Books and magazines have always been an important part of our lives from the time we sat on our mother’s lap to read a good fairy tale until the time we graduated from college. Textbooks, manuals, dictionaries, encyclopedias, guidebooks, trade journals, hobbies, sports and news publications. The list goes on and on.
Why do these books exist? Why have we thought them important enough to produce and preserve them for the last few centuries? My opinion is that we felt the knowledge was something we needed to preserve in order for others to benefit. Knowledge always has worth and anything with value quickly becomes a commodity.
Commodities become the basis for entire industries, whether the goods are truly needed or not. Sometime it is a mere fad that drives an industry, such as furs or feathers. Other times it is basic needs like food, medicine or tools. But no matter the spark that creates the demand, once it has gained a foothold a commodity becomes entrenched in our way of life. Old habits are slow to die, even when there are good reasons to change. So it is with the information industry.
For the last twenty years or so, nearly every child in America has grown up with a mouse in their hand and an inherent knowledge of how to navigate and use computers. They can’t remember a world without the web. They get their timely information online. Most hardly ever pick up a newspaper. Their books are electronic. Their information is up to the minute and cross-referenced to several sources. They are plugged into a world that didn’t even exist only a few years ago.
So what does that mean to the future of traditional printed books? It means that they will eventually go the way of the horse and buggy. There is a better way to store and view data than ever before. Printed books are expensive to produce and impossible to edit without printing a revised edition. They are not searchable, the information cannot be easily copied and reformatted and they cannot be instantly transmitted to a point around the world. They require shelf space and need to be dusted. They wear out from use. You need to hold the book in your hands to get access to the information… and how many books can you carry with you at a time?
The child of today and tomorrow will only see books as a curiosity, an impractical novelty with little use other than an example of how it used to be. He will prefer to get his information online, and will have access to more knowledge than his parents ever dreamed of. This overwhelming sea of knowledge lays the foundation for a whole different set of challenges that I will try to address in my next Blog.
I would like to hear some other ideas on the subject.
Until next time,
About Time Publishing