Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Future of Books - A discussion

It is just amazing - sometimes a single blog post invokes comments that could be used to write an elaboration on some really momentous theme.

This is exactly the case with David Weinberger post "Will books survive - A scorecard...".

In the post David enumerates 13 features real books feature. He called the tradional books as pBooks in contrast to eBook.

These features are: Readability, Convenience, Annotatability, Affordability, Social flags, Aesthetic objects, Sentimental objects, Historic objects, Historical objects, Specialized objects, Possessions, Single-mindedness, Religious objects.

David then gives his justification about all these features and how they contribute to physical Books survival.

There was increadible discussion after. The opinions varied from such that heralded the death of pBooks or at least a degradation of their importance. Comparisons to vinyl records (superseeded by MP3s) or candles (by electric bulbs) were on the one end, while the glorification of them as objects of liturgy - on the other end (I must admit I was rather in the later pew :-) ).

There are many interesting thoughts, let me just to cite a few here:

Robert Schamalbach, a school librarian supported my remark about distraction we get with eBooks as opposed to the dedication induced by physical books.

Janm pointed out how important is the serendipity real Books bring to our life. That's true. I have always this feeling in little Parisian bookstores I often spend hours ...

Andromenda said important note about childreen books - they hardly be replaced by eBooks.

fjpoblam gave short but funny statement: " “pbooks” are available when the plug and the battery and the screen fail. Period."

Now, I must also admit that I strongly believe in the long live of paper books. I support most of David assertions about particular features. However I stressed the three of them:

1) No distractibility. You described this feature in “Single-mindedness” . We all know that there is shadow part of our Web experience – it is the amount of distraction we get there. I’m sure that no one of us would spent, say 8 hours with the eBook without following a link, without – plainly – distraction. pbooks allow for more concentration, without strong-mindedness :-)

2) The special notion of bookshelves, libraries, bookstores. Maybe hard to explain, but when you are in Paris, please go to Shakespeare & Company on La Bucherie street.
Such places and the special atmosphere of books there will not cease to exist ….

3) Religious importance. We cannot imagine Shabbat prayers without Torah scroll.
However, there is something more important. Books became the objects in ceremonies, objects of special meaning and importance. They became parts of liturgy for numerous religions of the world. Something is in them that is not replaceable by eBooks.
It is not any magic or fetishism – books have significance for our prayers, no matter it is in synagogue, church or mosk. The word of G-d was transmitted physically and this physicality still matters….

However, there is a special kind of eBooks I hope will grow in importance and I hope in future, all books will have their respective audio versions. I wrote:

Its personal – often think about a particular type of eBook – the Audio Book.
For me this is much more important than typical eBook, because it opens new
possibilities for reading – you can read while driving, biking, walking. When you clean our house, wait in a line to store’s checkout and in many other places and situations you would never consider reading. In theory, any eBook can not only be read but also listened to – and for me this is something. Wherever I go I promote them.

So - Thanks do David for starting such a beautiful discussion. I must admit though, that contrary to my convictions, most of debaters claimed that pBooks will not survive ...

Now - what do you think ?

BTW, It is quite common for David to ignite amazing fiery discussions. I can't forget the one about Umberto Eco and his idea of importance of lists and collections for creating culture...

And another one about Google's filtering and the meaning of their search results...


  1. Mirek, thanks for the kind words. And, more important, thanks for your contributions to those discussions.

    To be clear: While I think there will be some demand for physical books, I don't think in twenty years or so that they'll be anything like the cultural icons they are now. There will still be special collections and some odd uses for them, but we won't be a book culture the way we are now. I think. And for better or worse.

  2. David, thanks for the comment - well, maybe you are right. But I have a bit more conservative view, for all reasons we discussed on your blog and now here.

    I may add some thoughts later, 'am just in Warsaw and doing something quite different :-)


  3. I promised to add some thoughts here.
    I tried to conceptualize what I believe in about books and here are some thoughts:

    I think the analogy between vinyl and MP3 is not the right one when it comes to pBooks and eBooks. Rather, the analogy between the concert, the live music and MP3 is more appropriate.

    It is all about the PRIMARY EXPERIENCE.
    I claim that the primary experience with literature comes with paper books. It has been primary long before Gutenberg invention, and it was during all years of printing press enhancement - and it hasn't change today.

    It is like with music, CDs and MP3s and iPods and ... did not make concerts - the primary musical experience - anachronic...

    In fact electronic books are here for decades. Printing industry no longer uses lead typesetting. That also did not change the essence of literature's primary medium - the paper books.

    For this reason I do not think they will disappear or will share the similar place as vinyls.
    I rather think we will have much faster distribution of pBooks. Called sometimes hybrid printing, is now quite famous because of OnDemandBooks.

    As always - I may be wrong - but I believe in what I just said....