Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On Digital Books

In class, we were assigned to write pamphlets based on Thomas Paine's Common Sense on a topic we were passionate about. I wrote mine on the growing e-book trend and why books must stay in print. A snippet from my pamphlet is below. You may view a PDF version here.

     Have you ever felt the wonder of spending time in a bookstore or library, surrounded by painstakingly crafted stories? Or felt the rush of excitement when opening a package to find that book you’ve been waiting for? The generations of the future may miss out on these experiences that define many people’s experience of reading. Even today, many readers choose instead to scroll through a list of titles and read their books on an e-reading device.
      A “book” has always been understood to refer to a physical object. The word “book” comes from the Germanic languages and are “[g]enerally thought to be etymologically connected with the name of the beech-tree, Old English bóc , béce , Old Norse bók < (see beech n.), the suggestion being that inscriptions were first made on beechen tablets, or cut in the bark of beechtrees” (Oxford English Dictionary). When we hear the word “book,” we think of a precious object that we can cradle in our hands.
      Yet now there are some who would do away with our books—who would, in a sense, have us burn them—in favor of digital technology. In the new era, they say, we will read only on computerized machines. They point to data showing the rapid growth in digital readership. According to the Association of American Publishers, “For the year to date (January/February 2011 vs January/February 2010)… e-Books grew 169.4% to $164.1M while the combined categories of print books fell 24.8% to $441.7M” ( Because of the falling sales of print books, several publishers, including romance publisher Dorchester Publishing, have began publishing exclusively to e-readers. (Publisher’s Weekly) Additionally, many authors are bypassing the traditional publishing system and self-publishing their books for computer, Nook, iPad, Kindle, and other e-reading devices (Business Info Guide).
     Those who laud this movement to digital media are sadly mistaken. Getting rid of print completely is not a positive change, but unless we do something, it will indeed be the future.


  1. Hannah I side with you, both because of the issues you raise, and because of the flaws I see in Dustin's argument. The greatest of which is the supposedly environmental-friendliness of digital publishing. Although the Ipad may be marketed as recyclable, in practice they will go straight to landfill I should think. And what of the rare earth metals needed to manufacture smart electronics? There is not an inexhaustible supply of these materials. It is possible print is greener than we've been told.

  2. You raise an interesting point, but I feel that the "environmentally friendliness" of both books and iPads is hard to judge without data. Yes, books use a lot of paper, and yes, iPads need rare earth metals, but it is difficult to compare the two when one does not know the numbers. Environmental impact, however, is only one part of the argument between print and digital books. I think it unfair to make a decision based entirely on the "green-ness" of one side or the other.