Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why all the fuss about e-readers??

Architects LOVE books. I have talked about this before. In fact, pretty much every creative I know loves books. As an admitted bibliophile, I have personally spend hundreds if not thousands of hours combing through used book stores to find rare and out of print titles on my favorite subjects. There is something very comforting and romantic about curling up with a great book and cracking it open to discover what lies within. For me, it is something that started when I was very young and it has been a romance that has lasted my entire life.

I have also talked before about great companies and how great companies embrace great Design to change our world. Last week, Barnes and Noble announced that it had developed a new e-reader called "the Nook" to take on Amazon's Kindle head to head in a battle for the e-consumer. Amazon is also fighting Walmart over prices of digital book downloads. You would think that a person who loves books AND design would be excited about the potential of bringing a new distribution network to book lovers. Unfortunately, I don't see what the big deal is.

First and foremost, I believe that e-readers are a fad. The reason being is that book publishing (when done properly) is an Art. How many times have I been attracted to a book simply because of the cover design or the font on the spine? Choosing a good book is like choosing a good friend, even if the relationship is only temporary. When a great narrative is married with a great layout and produced on a high quality medium the results are extraordinary. I have built a collection of books that I hope to pass on after I have gone and I revisit most volumes fairly often. (I will say that many of my books are non-fiction and are not read in the traditional sense. I use many of them on a regular basis for their imagery and inspiration.) As a great book is a work of art, the classics constantly appreciate in value. A vintage first edition of any major work accompanied by its dust jacket is always a prized possession. How can an e-book compare to this?

The e-book is the 'McMansion' of the literary world. Just another way to try and deliver more for less. The problem is that the consumer ends up with no tangible product for the money. Why would I pay $10 for a new digital novel when I could buy a hard copy in a used book store for $5 a month after it comes out? The argument for e-books is that you can carry hundreds of books in your pocket. I don't know about you, but I only tend to read one novel at a time, maybe two. If I have ever brought a book with me on a train or to the beach, it has often been a conversation starter with a random stranger asking if the book was any good or sharing a story about a part that they liked. What is the new alternative? A nation full of people staring down at a screen all reading the same book?

We live in the most technologically advanced society the world has ever known. We have conveniences that our parents could never have dreamed of. With all these gifts however, we are losing our ability to feel and communicate as humans are meant to do. School age children learn to type before they know how to write in script (Do kids even learn script anymore? Or is called cursive?). We have taken experiences that are meant to be emotional and we make them mechanical. For this reason, I don't believe the traditional book will ever go away. Like everything else of quality, they may increase in price, but hopefully this will make it such that only the great books get published. One can only hope.

1 comment:

  1. I also have a long-standing relationship with books and reading has been a life long passion for me too. So I was extremely excited when I first heard about e-readers. For a book-lover such as myself, the ability to take one small device around with me that could contain hundreds of my favourite titles was a dream come true. My boyfriend bought me the Sony e-reader for Christmas and it did not disappoint. Don't get me wrong though, I will never abandon my love of real paper books. There is nothing like the touch and smell of a new book. But I appreciate my e-reader for a whole different set of reasons, mainly the convenience. If I finish a book I can go on-line immediately and get another with no need to leave the house. It makes reading in bed a whole lot easier too as the device is so small and easier to handle than most books. And if I am going on holiday I don't need to carefully choose one or two books to take in my hand luggage, I can take hundreds of books to suit my every mood.
    Certainly an e-reader is a different experience and one that I have embraced. But real books will always have a place in my heart and on my book shelf.