Jonathan Franzen made headlines around the world today when he launched an offensive on e-readers at the Hay Festival in Cartegena. “Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do.” There may be fewer of them but hard copy novels will still be around half a century from now and here’s why.
1. The new seldom completely drives out the old. In music there have been several formats supposedly superior to vinyl. CDs have been around for thirty years and music cassettes over fifty, but in the world where we can stream any music we like anywhere we want, CDs still sell and sales of vinyl are actually on the rise.
2. A book cover is a statement. We often want people to see what we are reading. I confess that as a callow and maybe shallow youth I deliberately browsed the author ‘Z’ section to find a book with which to impress. As it turned out I found Yevgeny Zamyatin’s ‘We’ to be an engrossing read and I highly recommend.
3. People like sharing. The passing on of books we love to those we care about is culturally ingrained. Whatever the digital rights management does or does not allow, the swapping of pixels and megabytes will never equate to a borrowed book.
4. Interior design. We need books for bookshelves. Interior design tastes prevail for sometimes hundreds of years. The bookshelf will be around in 50 years so books will have to stay put too. A bookshelf populated with anything other than books you have read or intend to is inauthentic.
5. Books are almost indestructible. Try putting a kindle under a table or chair leg and see how long it lasts. Actually don’t.
I’ve been reading ebooks for years and did so on an HP iPaq before the kindle or iPad have even been imagined, but they will never completely replace the physical book, for me, my children and no doubt theirs too. I imagine that even 100 years from now someone, somewhere will be feverishly turning the paper pages of Franzen’s Freedom.