Monday, April 26, 2004

Long Live the Book!

Unless you've been living under a rock you've probably been hearing for years that books as we know them are obsolete, that ebooks will take over our paper books, and won't it be great to have 1,000 books stored on a disc instead of on a shelf? Don't sound the death knell yet. As the Boston Globe reports (via bookninja):

Today, many would-be replacements of books have vanished, while conventional print marches on. The Association of American Publishers recently reported a 36 percent increase in book sales since 1997 -- modest performance by the standards of DVDs and videogames, but bubble-proof.
Declaring the death of the book is not new. Folks were doing it back in 1895 when Thomas Edison's phonograph became a success. The Globe asks if books were supposed to disappear, why haven't they? What went right? Their speculations:
First, books have multiplied partly because they have become less and less important as information storage technologies. As our dependence on them has shrunk, their number and variety has increased, and their status has been if anything enhanced by the attention that the Web has showered on them through online bookselling and discussion groups. Second, books have flourished because despite massive increases in computing power, electronic media often were less efficient than they appeared. The CD-ROM seemed the medium of the future by the early 1990s. But beyond reference publishing and specialized offerings, the CD-ROM let the publishing industry down. Without standardized user interfaces or convenient authoring tools, they were time-consuming both to produce and to use and not readily browsed in retail stores. (When did you last see one in a bookshop, except embedded in a thick technical tome?) Third, and most surprisingly, books survive because technology has made it much easier to write and publish them. Beginning in the 1980s, even the simplest word-processing programs enabled part-time writers to compose and especially to revise without fretting over white-out fluid, scissors, and rubber cement. And publishers started to accept authors' word processing disks, ultimately reducing composition costs despite initial glitches.
So all you doomsayers out there can just keep the dire predictions to yourselves. Besides, we bibliophiles are too busy propping up our sagging shelves and trying to squeeze in just-one-more-book to listen to you anyway.