Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Why the future of physical books is important to me.

We live in a rapidly growing technological era. Almost everything has become digital these days, from touring a home to applying for jobs to watching movies, playing games, and even reading books. And especially now that the pandemic is raging outdoors, we have all been forced to stay inside and confront the expanding digital nature of the world we live in. It seems like nearly everyone agrees that digital means better, cheaper, more efficient, and in some ways it does. But what does this increased digitization mean for the future of physical books?

Sure, an ebook might cost a few dollars less than a hard copy, but potentially saving a little money might mean sacrificing the full experience integral to reading a printed book. Reading is about more than just the storyit's about feeling the gorgeous glossy cover of a special edition, holding the book close to your chest during a heartwarming scene, hearing the spine crack and knowing you're the first person to open an anticipated new release, and opening the book wide to inhale the musky scent of paper and ink. You can breathe in the scent of your e-reader, but it won't smell the same as the well-read pages of a beloved novel. 

Reading in an all-encompassing experience that is very dear to me; it has always been as much about the tangible book as it is about enjoying the actual story inside the covers. 

I love to look at all my books lined up on my bookshelves, reaching from floor to ceiling and wall to wall. I love to change up how I organize them, sometimes by genre, sometimes by author, and sometimes by color. I love to hand a book to a visiting friend and say, "You will adore this story! Take it and read it." Those are all special moments to me that I can't replicate with ebooks. Scrolling through my ebook collection is not nearly as fulfilling as wandering the isles of a bookstore or library, where the titles and colors on the spines beckon me to come closer and take a peek inside the pages.  

Now don't misunderstandI don't dislike ebooks. I think they're great for the price and for traveling, and I have read a few of them myself during situations when pulling out my paperback wasn't feasible. But I sincerely hope that ebooks never completely overtake physical books, as they could never fully replicate the experience of reading a physical book. 

It has become increasingly harder for brick-and-mortar bookstores to remain open. I know of many that have closed and others that are struggling as more and more people turn to the digital alternative or even toward buying printed books online. My fear is that if too many people decide the experience of reading isn't worth the price of a hardback, then the stores will close their doors forever and the printing presses will cool. We must preserve the legacy of a tactile reading experience by keeping bookstores open and printed books relevant. 

I have thought for a long time that physical books should come with a kind of code, maybe a QR code, that allows readers to download the ebook with the physical book purchase. Buying a hard copy pays for rights to read the author's story, the publishing and printing process, and the transporting and selling of the book. Ebooks do not have to be printed or shipped, which is why they are often much less expensive. But if a reader could get the hardcover and the ebook for the price of just the hardcover, that might be an incentive for more people to shop at bookstores or at least buy the physical books. 

As the trend toward the digital increases and the trend toward the printed declines, I often wonder if physical books will eventually go extinct. I have faith in my reader friends to keep supporting the printing of tangible books, but I can't say how the future will unfold. I'd like to think that we readers are too stubborn to ever allow the ink wells to run dry and the printing presses to stop moving, but we don't know what a few more decades will bring. Thirty or fifty or a hundred years is a long time. Even one year is a long time, as evidenced by our current era. 

Holding a physical book in my hands while I read, turning the pages one by one, looking at my bookmark between the pages to see how far along I am—these are all special experiences that make reading more than just consuming a narrative. Fellow readers, you understand. The printed book is important to you too. I have hope in a future where my children can grow up with a library of books they can reach out and touch instead of a tablet, by which they will undoubtedly get distracted by whatever the internet has to offer. Books have so much to offer us individually and collectively, and we need to preserve their printed treasures. 

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