Friday, November 11, 2011

The Future of Books? Small-scale

When Borders first hit trouble earlier this year, then went under, much ink was spilled about What This Means For Books. Theories abounded. "This is a sign of the times. People download e-books to their iPads, they don't leave the house to buy some clumsy dead-tree product," some said.
"Chillax," said others. "Borders was a poorly run company, and this is what happens when you do a bad job, even if your product is a home run."
"Nuh-uh. You wait. This was just the first round. In ten years, we'll download them directly to our brains."
This article at Business Week Magazine has another theory as to what we may expect post-Borders, a theory to compete with "direct-to-brain downloads" and "just one less shitty company in the world." The article posits that as large corporations get out of bookselling, mom-and-pop business owners will get back into it, and we'll see things return to a smaller, saner size.

It's a nice thought, very nice. It's harder to determine if it will happen. I think there's been a lot of backlash against the whole concept of e-books right from the start. Many people just love the idea of books, the way they smell, and feel. As this article points out, people don't like giving soulless downloads as gifts, and may not plan ahead enough to use an online retailer exclusively.

I don't think e-books and e-readers have a clear advantage over books. You interact with them entirely differently. The Sedentary Vagabond bought herself an e-reader with birthday money, and has pointed out that you can't tell where you are in a book at any given moment. If you hold a 300-page book in your hand and open it up randomly, it's easy to determine if you're almost done, or jsut starting out. I'd assume, too, that you have to keep an e-reader charged, that they will (or can) break if you drop them, and that you can't take them into the bathtub with you.

Of course, I can see their appeal. I like the idea of being able to obtain any book you want instantly. It's also nice that they won't clutter up your home, although they will clutter up your machine and you'll have to start making some hard choices at some point. But another thing about books is that they're oddly social in a way. When you read something good, you want to talk about it. Even when you read something bad, you may want to tell the world how terrible it is. Bookstores are places set aside for books, with frequent author readings, book club meetings, and just a good atmosphere, and I think that e-books can never entirely kill them off for that reason.