Andrea Ballatore and Simone Natale write whatever is the opposite of an obituary for the old-fashioned, print book. The piece was occasioned by the news that ebook sales among the UK's top-five booksellers actually fell in 2015. This news, the authors suggest, show that predictions that print books were doomed by the rise of the e-book were hype.
Predictions about the end of print books are nothing new, and belong to a broader genre in which the introduction of a new medium presages the disappearance of an old one. TV, it was thought, was sure to kill radio, for example.
The hype notwithstanding, predictions that e-books would kill print books are not self-evidently implausible. After all, it would seem that e-books provide all the functions that books do, and more! Why would people stick with print books in the face of such competition?
Ballatore and Natale suggest that people become fond of old technology in a nostalgic vein. People develop a connoisseurship for the feel of print books or even the musty smell they sometimes develop.
This notion reminds me of Bruce Sterling's notion of "museum culture", that is, a period in the progress of technology when old gear becomes sought after for its retro value rather than its functionality. Sterling thought that this stage was the last gasp before total obsolescence.
In my own experience, I usually prefer print books for reading and e-versions for reference. Print books retain superior functionality in terms of reading. They are simple to use, never crash, are easy on the eyes, and are pleasant to interact with. And, they are cheap! I can usually borrow any book I want from some library or other for free.
I find e-book readers are often comparatively clumsy and complex. I personally have little use for the extra features that e-readers offer to enhance the reading experience, and I do not enjoy the notion that my reading habits are being tracked.
Finally, print books do not constantly remind me that there are other things that I could be doing, something my iPad is very good at.
One feature of e-books that makes them superior is their search functions. It is easy to look up a passage or section whose location I cannot recall exactly, which is most of the time. However, that is a function that I normally want after I have finished reading a book, not during that process.
So, in my book, e-books have not killed off print books not because of nostalgia but because the former are not competitive when it comes to affordability and technotonicity, which are significant considerations when it comes to reading.
(The Dead Sea: Woman reading a book/Wikimedia commons)