I watched Alan Yentob pontificating about the future of books on last night’s ‘Imagine’ programme and . . . blah blah blah. It didn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know and haven’t been talking/worrying about for some time now. There were those who spoke out for the printed word and there were those who ’embrace’ the future, arguing that it’s about the content, not the delivery system. Of course, they went back to the old nugget about how people resisted the change from vinyl to CD and mp3, but I don’t really see them as the same thing. It’s not a fair analogy. The physical act of listening to music is the same whether it comes from vinyl, CD or mp3. The sound might be different, but the act of listening is the same.
But when we read, we have a physical interaction with the object that delivers the words to us.
We hold the book or ereader in our hand in order to receive the content. We musn’t fool ourselves that the delivery system isn’t important, because why else would Amazon have remodelled its readers over the past few years? Why else would it launch its alluring colour-screen Kindle Fire? Why else would there be competing ereaders offering different functionality? Why else would readers be able to customize and individualise the physical appearance of the ereader? Of course it’s about the delivery system. In this technological age we all love to ooh and aah over the latest gadget. We like it to look cool and we want to be hip and keep up with the times. If it was only about the content and not the delivery system, wouldn’t the audio book have taken over long ago? Wouldn’t we just listen instead of reading? So, there you go – I don’t agree with that argument. It’s about the content AND the delivery system.
But I’m not all ‘bah humbug!’ about the new technology. In the long run it makes no difference if people read on paper or on screen. For me, though, the book is king. I spend all day looking at screens, so picking up a printed book is a pleasure I would be disappointed to have to live without. I don’t want everything to be electronic. The thought of it makes me shiver. My life is already filled with alerts and notifications and bleeps and pings and I don’t need any more. (I’m also pleased to say that my children – who are very much part of the technological age – both love books in their printed form.)
The real issue for me is that electronic books are intangible. We can’t touch them. We can’t really own them – as far as I can work out, you buy a license to read a book, which means you don’t actually own it. The consumer owns the ereader, but licenses the ebook. So, can that license be revoked? Can your Kindle refuse to let you read your book? And because of this, I see people losing touch with the value of the words contained within, just as many people have lost touch with the value of music. They want it cheap or they want it free. And that’s what worries me most.
Ereader, printed book, however you choose to read is good. I’m sure there can be room for everyone. But let’s not lose touch with the value of what we’re reading.