Why Books Are Still One Of Our Most Durable Technologies Ever

Illustration for article titled Why Books Are Still One Of Our Most Durable Technologies Ever

With limited free time for reading, tight publishing markets, and the rise of e-readers, people have been sounding the death knoll for the book for quite some time. But they haven't died. Not even close. So what is it that makes them so enduring?


In response to a question about the technologies that inspire the most undeserved levels of nostalgia, a discussion began about whether e-readers could ever replace physical books, and why they hadn't managed to yet:


There are actually a lot of reasons that physical books are still around. Globally and historically speaking, its staying power is immense. And a huge chunk of the world doesn't have access to digital alternatives. But even so, I don't think books will ever phase out completely and certainly not anytime soon. There are still a lot of folks in technologically advanced societies who prefer physical books, especially for certain formats (like comics, for example).


-I think that libraries, at least, will find it easier to purchase physical copies of books to loan for many, many years to come. Our county library buys a few copies of most new books, but it can only afford to loan one ebook at a time for only the most popular titles.

-I can and do drop books, spill things on them, etc. E-readers are durable, but they're basically going to take the punishment of every book, ever.

-There is no ability to resell, trade, and loan ebooks yet.

Jane of the Frosts

Or Amazon decides that you don't get to see that ebook on your kindle any more.

Many commenters also pointed out that, while they actually preferred e-readers for some kinds of reading, there were certain books that just worked better in a paper format:

David Alexander McDonald

Nope. I have an ereader and a tablet and software on the computer, and despite my increasing use of all that, I still buy books. I have very good reasons for buying books, and lining my walls with bookcases for them.

1) Not every book is available in electronic format. Despite Google, Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, and others, many books never will be, especially for fringe interests.

2) Even when they *are* available electronically, many books translate very poorly to electronic formats. Some translate poorly to monochrome formats (such as comics, outside of manga and some of the black and whites; part of the problem, too, is screen size; I can read a regular comic on a 10" colour tablet, but not easily on a 7", even with formatting for tablet as some distributors so. Certain comics work well when designed for digital, though.) I have a lot of books that would suck mightily as ebooks, and I have experience to back me up.

Particularly problematic are books that are heavy on art or photographs — to keep the file sizes down, the images are usually compromised.


Re: comics, there are a lot of folks that would disagree with you on that, especially because those benefits depend on what device you're viewing on. Even comics artists will tell you that work meant for the page will not necessarily translate digitally (I know because I went to a panel a few months ago where everyone agreed that was true). Also, anything that involves non-conventional formatting, which you see a lot in poetry, for instance, will often be better accomplished in a physical format than in a digital one.

Do you have a preference for digital or physical books, and, if so, why? Does your preference vary depending on what you're reading at the time? Tell us about it in the comments.

Image: Eric Mueller



I have a tablet and can read books on a computer. Having said that, I MUCH prefer reading the physical media. I have periodicals that came out as far back as 1734 (The Gentleman's Magazine), and newspapers dating back to 1801. Books that came out as early as 1832 (and a page from a study on The Ovid from 1549).

And all I have to do to have those pieces of history in my hand is just pull them out and read.

Nobody to examine my books and decide to delete them because they are currently arguing with their publisher; just me, and my books.