io9 comment thread on the durability of the printed book

io9 hosted an interesting discussion about the dogged persistence of print. Arguments included:

  • Many people just prefer the sensual experience of print (tactile, scent, heft)
  • E-books aren’t yet available in all markets
  • Print books don’t rely on power (a point also made by Margaret Atwood)
  • You can drop/spill things on print books
  • Libraries actually find it cheaper/easier to acquire loan print books
  • Trading/reselling/loaning of e-books is restricted
  • Electronic distributors can discontinue/edit your library
  • Availability of titles remains limit in electronic format
  • Some books (graphic novels for example) work much better on paper
  • People have ‘a special place in their heart’ for print books
  • Formats change — will an e-book be easily accessible in 100 years (Umberto Eco also makes this point — how many computer games from the 80s are now easily playable?)
  • Giving an e-book as a gift versus a wrapped physical book
  • An e-book won’t stop a bullet. UPDATE: the Paris Review just featured a genuine book-stopping-bullet news item(!)

Probably my favourite comment on the physicality and sensual pleasure of printed books came from nickmagoo

I have something like 7,000 books. I collect them, I sell them, I buy them, I read them, I give them as gifts, I treasure them as works of art, I dig them. Some I buy for purely aesthetic reasons – can an ereader in anyway convey the beauty of holding and perusing a book illustrated by the likes of NC Wyeth, Aristide Maillol, or Maxfield Parrish? No. Can an ereader exude the dense, almost truffle-esque mustiness of old books? No. The 3 dimensionality of a “real” book also comes into play – I appreciate the ease of use of a digital copy for folks, sure, but I find myself going back to earlier pages quite often when reading, whether to remind myself of a character or rethinking a previously introduced concept that suddenly takes on a new meaning, and it’s just easier to do flipping through a hard copy. Books, real honest to dog books, are simply awesome, literally and figuratively.


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