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The Future of Books

Tech geeks and bandwagoners—ever ready to kill off the old customs and quickly adopt the next shiny new trend—have been calling the death of print media for years, but as much as they herald the reign of the e-reader, one thing remains certain:

Books aren’t going anywhere.

The Value of Digital Media

Even the most stoic of book-lovers must admit that e-books have great value. Not having to lug around giant textbooks to and from class and being able to do keyword searches through texts make the digital platform the natural home of reference works. We were just waiting for someone to invent it.

E-books and e-readers are certainly a great addition to the family of publication media—and pretending they’re not is an immature delusion—but that doesn’t mean that print books are yesterday’s news.

The Value of Print Media

As valuable as digital platforms are, there are some things they just can’t achieve. Things like art books and children’s picture books will remain in print, because their product is not translatable to the Kindle or iPad. It’d be like watching a film on your iPhone. Sure, you’re getting the content, but you’re not experiencing it the way it was created to be experienced.

iPads cannot adapt to the unique dimensions and textures that book-artists create. Tammy Oler at Zeitgeist NYC recently wrote about the struggles of coding poetry for digital consumption. For poets, line breaks can be an important part of how a work is interpreted, but because e-books adapt their size to the size of your e-reader or the level of your zoom, line breaks are mostly ignored.

The problem is, e-readers force the art to adapt to the medium rather than the medium adapting to the art. So as long as books remain art, they will remain in print.

Print media also provide ideal conditions for works like poetry that require meditation and contemplation that even paperbacks can’t provide. A nice cloth-bound hardcover with thick deckle-edge paper is the equivalent of dimming the lights while watching a movie. It’s an experience enhancer. It’s a mood-setter. It’s a way to obtain full immersion.

The Future of Books

The future of books is the present of music. 8-tracks died out, cassettes came and went, and CDs are on their way out, but vinyl records continue to thrive.

Just like vinyl, books will remain for the collector: someone concerned with aesthetics. The type of people who never bought paperbacks or avoided movie tie-in covers will continue to by print books, and as long as there’s a market, there will be a product.

Publishers will pay more attention to the quality of their product and not just what books are made, but how those books are made.

As e-readers imitate print books more and more closely (with their page-turn animations, and low glare screens), print books will start going back to their roots. Publishers will remember that it’s not just the text that’s valuable, but the book itself. A thousand years ago when monks would spend years copying over the contents of a single book, they would dedicate their time not only to correctly copying the text, but also to creating intricate illustrations, making quality time-lasting paper, and binding with exotic leathers, fore-edge paintings, or valuable woods inset with gems.

These were heirloom quality works meant to exist beyond the life of the purchaser. But the concept of heirloom doesn’t exist in the digital world. Everything is transient, meant to exist only until the next technological upgrade.