Why books aren’t disappearing (and neither is this blog…)

Advances in technology are typically accompanied by wildly inaccurate predictions that an existing way of doing things will become obsolete. Yet the old ways cling on resolutely. So you’ll find large numbers of people using bicycles as one of their travel options even though they have a car, or handwriting letters although they could use a computer.

As a youngster I remember hearing that advances in computing would mean the arrival of the `paperless office’ and that advances in automation would mean the worker of the future would be freed from the more routine parts of their job and able to spend more time on leisure activities.

That worked out, didn’t it?

The arrival of the Kindle and other ebook readers had the publishing industry scratching it’s collective head to see whether it had a future.  What place would there be for their organisations in a world when a writer’s words could flow digitally from their keyboard to a reader’s with no need to print them on paper, bind them and transport them to bookshops?

Well, if the latest figures from the Publishers’s Association are accurate, it seems as though traditional publishing does have a future.

The organisation says children’s fiction helped drive UK book sales to a record £3.5bn last year, with the 6% rise coming despite the waning popularity of ebooks, which saw sales fall by 3% to £538m last year.

So if we are falling out of love with ebooks, what’s the reason?

Maybe it’s just the fact that the novelty has worn off. When my wife first got a Kindle we indulged in a flurry of downloads with very little discrimination, just because it was so easy  These days she only downloads a new book if she really wants to read it, or she’s preparing for a journey when the convenience of having your library on a small device that slips into a bag comes into its own.

Some people talk about the smell and feel of books making them special. I’ve never really been one for sniffing my reading material, but it’s true that every book feels different. From the size and number of pages, to the feel and weight of the paper, each has its own unique tactile quality.

Once it’s on an electronic device, every book looks and feels much the same apart from the `cover’ image. In digitising them we strip out some of the personality.

Another reason could be that, as more and more of our work and leisure time is spent in front of a screen, a leisure activity which takes us away from the screen is welcome. Tablets, smartphones and the like may be welcome distractions for children, but many parents are concerned about the amount of time their offspring spend in front of them. Cuddling up for a bedtime story read off a screen doesn’t have quite the same emotional connection.

BBC News


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