Why Everything You Think About Ebooks is a Filthy Lie

So this is going to be a blog about book technology. And I want to kick it off by talking about the title … The Smell of Books. In the last few years I have read hundreds of pages of blogs and newspapers about ebooks. I’ve also been working in a publishing company, where people love to read books, love to talk about books and love to own books. There is a significant proportion of early adopters out there who love the very idea of ebooks and e-publishing, and criticise ebooks only in the way they might criticise any of their beloved gadgets.

And then there is everyone else.

I’d like to start with three misconceptions you might have about ebooks and why you’re stupid for thinking them.

The Smell of Books

The amount of newsprint that has been wasted on the latest prehistoric pundit slash columnist road testing an ebook reader and decrying it as ‘not the same’ as a paper book is absolutely shameful. Their biggest crime, of course, is talking about the smell.

The experience of reading on an ebook reader (or any kind of electronic reading) is self-evidently not the same as a paper book. Nobody is trying to make it so. The advantages of electronic reading are manifold (you can expect me to expound on these reasons in blogs to come), but they do not include any of the following: being able to hand down a worn electronic copy of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea to your grandson on his 21st birthday; sitting in a bubble bath reading Wuthering Heights to your girlfriend; or showing off to your friends how many of the Russians you have read.

From My Cold, Dead Hands

Nobody is trying to replace paper books with ebooks. Least of all traditional publishing companies. Most publishing companies are still making 95% or more of their profit from paper books, and most people still want to read dead trees. I cannot envision a point in my lifetime where there will no longer be paper books at all. There is no need to take a stand – you will only overbalance and fall over.

Why Try to Reinvent the Wheel?

Books have been in their current form for a long time. They are beloved objects of beauty. They are perfectly suited to all reading activities. Only two of the previous three statements are true. There are plenty of annoying things about dead tree books. Ever tried to haul a copy of Infinite Jest around over the course of the month or more it takes you to read? Ever got stuck reading Gravity’s Rainbow because you didn’t know what Poisson distribution was? Ever lived in a small town with a tiny library and no bookstore and couldn’t find the latest Dan Brown?

Ebooks have a place in the future of book selling, publishing and reading. It’s time to prepare yourself. Just because you don’t like the idea of them doesn’t mean you might not like them. Just because you don’t like them doesn’t mean they’re not here to stay.

[Image courtesy of smellofbooks.com]