E-books and the Concept of a Book

I ran across an interesting video the other day, Brian Felson’s conversation with book designer Joel Friedlander. The title was How eBooks Do Violence to the Concept of a Book and it wasn’t as confrontational as you might think. Felson is the CEO of Bookbaby and they are in the business of formatting and distributing e-books, so he has a dog in that hunt. The thrust of Joel’s comment was that new technology always tries initially to look like the old stuff it replaces, then catches its breath and moves into its own space.

It’s an excellent point. The first automobiles were ‘horseless carriages’ and essentially just an engine mounted in a carriage. Then came the Model T and now the hot cars of today. Hollywood began by filming stage plays.

I am not yet a fan of e-books, although all my books are offered in that format as well as print. I like to feel a book in my hands and turn pages and having invested the time in reading a book, I still like to put it up on the shelf and feel myself surrounded by books. Now, a Kindle or iPad can store upwards of three thousand books in a machine. No ‘library’ in the common sense of the term, but I guess you can still settle down with an e-reader in front of a crackling fire. I own a Kindle, but don’t use it much. I’ve seen friends’ iPads and admit the reading experience is much friendlier, but haven’t yet laid out the cash.

Now that I’ve established my point of view, here’s why I will no doubt someday become an e-reader owner. First, they will evolve as the Model T did to the BMW Z3, morphing into a number of designs from carryable to models for stay at home readers. Plus, e-books are also instantly delivered and cheaper, but the clincher will probably be the agony of lugging cases of books from home to home. Last time I moved it took 26 cases to transport 900 books and they are still not properly ordered on the shelves four years after the move. E-books can be cross-referenced on an e-reader as they’re purchased. Pretty smooth.

I’m a cautious and probably future owner, but not yet convinced enough to dive into the pool. And even then, I’ll probably continue to lug around the books I already own, just for the sheer joy of their ambiance.