Jennifer Astle

March 9, 2009

The Revolution Will Be Digitized: Books Meet Technology

kindleThere is no doubt that as a society we are bombarded by media from the moment we wake until the moment our heads hit the pillow (or longer, if you fall asleep with the television on).  News, movies, television, magazines, YouTube, Facebook, billboards, it’s everywhere.  But what of books?

Quite possibly the oldest, and longest lasting form of media, books face an uphill battle in the face of quick media like blogs, Twitter, and social network status updates.  Not to mention, many books are transformed into films or television spin-offs that make visual access more efficient than reading a few hundred pages.

Where does this leave the future of books?  E-books are a huge phenomenon barely heard of only a few years ago.  Amazon guru and Kindle backer, Jeff Bezos, would have you reading all of your books in digital format on his device, which retails for about $350.  That, of course, does not include the cost of the books themselves, which can be downloaded for an average of $10 for each of the roughly 250,000 titles offered on the electronic medium. Kindle is even available on your iPod.

The Huffington Post advocates for the digitization of books, arguing that the electronic medium makes it possible to read in the dark, like while at a bar or in bed, without having to turn on a light or lug a heavy volume around with you.

But does that satisfy the same feeling as thumbing through page after page as you read?  Are we trying to improve something that was perfect in it’s original form?  I take great pride in looking at my bookcases and seeing the collection of books, both fiction and non-fiction, that I have accumulated throughout the years.  Despite being broke in my days as a student, I rarely re-sold textbooks  to the bookstore for credit.  There is something to be said of the tangible quality of holding a book in your hands.

On the other hand, imagine the possibilities if devices such as Kindle were commonplace in schools.  Imagine the possibilities of equipping students with a device pre-loaded with books, texts, and resources.  Imagine if a student need only buy the device (or have it donated) and could read ahead, easily reference back to materials, and access new literature instantly, all in one place.  The possibilities are endless.  University students would love this idea.  Purchase a Kindle for $350 (not that much more than the cost of a textbook or two), and offer texts, journal subscriptions, and other reference materail at a discounted rate.  Universities could even include the device as part of tuition.

So while I am wary of the digitization of books for a variety of reasons, I also see the value. But personally, if I like a book, I will buy it…in it’s good old fashioned form.  Sorry trees.


1 Comment »

  1. Personally, I can’t see a long term future for devices such as Kindle. eBooks have not as far as I know, so far been the “new way forward” they were hailed as and the fact is your old fashioned paper pages are the preferred medium of the vast majority of people.

    Short, even only relatively short, pieces of writing are loved when presented electronically, but there is something that is intrinsically satisfying to many people about turning pages, looking back through them, turning down the corner of the page they were at and so much more. A phrase comes to mind, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it!” and to my mind that’s what the new electronic versions of books that are currently available are seeking to do. Furthermore, they are seeking to do it for their own ends, not for the benefit of the consumer.

    However, there are rumours of a “book” complete with pages that look and feel more or less like normal book pages that can be electronically printed, erased and re-printed with a new text. If that happens and it becomes cheap enough, then maybe it will work. Until then, I think the old system, or some re-hash of it, will remain.

    To me, Kindle is clunky. I wish it wasn’t so for my own sake as well as for the benefit of many other authors who struggle to find publishers, but I fear it’s a perception that won’t go away, as far as most people are concerned.

    Something will undoubtedly come along, but I’m afraid that, as far as I am aware, it isn’t around yet.

    Comment by CJ — March 9, 2009 @ 10:58 pm

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