Books: One Man’s Nostalgia; Another Man’s Junk
I love wandering the shelves of Barnes and Nobles. I really do. Those of us who dwell within the walls of places that sell and distribute books can tell you that, in addition to the special bliss of having and holding them, it can also be a hefty, crowded, inconvenient life that’s also an affront to the average bank account. Many B&W centers have disappeared over the years in large part to the internet and the opportunity to purchase books for tablets of some sort. However, book ownership (or “hoarders” as some who enjoy their books on digital mediums) is something I consider to be inspiring. Its no different than the person who has a vast collection of wines. Or, a person who has a vast following on Twitter. Someone with thousands of books is someone you want to talk to and get to know. That’s no different than the person who has a 100K followers on Twitter (hopefully, they aren’t paid for). Many might say that the days of perusing for books surrounded by overstuffed chairs and Starbucks coffee may have or is near its end. But, I think there is still an opportunity for the physical book to make its triumphant return to prominence in a more niche setting.
Believe it or not, younger readers are still reading, and in print: 92 percent of 18‑29 year‑old book readers in the US read in print in 2013, above the average for the population as a whole. Three‑quarters of millennials read a print book, but only 37 percent read an eBook. Four‑fifths of 18‑29 year old Americans have read at least one print book, and their median reading of five titles is the same as for other age groups.
And, while digital readers and the content that you can get on them is convenient and (one might argue) easily accessible, it is also hard to “own”. Digital takes the ponderous and isolated nature of physical things and make them light and movable. Physical things are difficult to copy at scale, while digital things in open environments can replicate effortlessly. Physical is largely immutable, digital can be malleable. Physical is isolated, digital is networked. This is where digital rights management (DRM) — a closed, proprietary layer of many digital reading stacks — hurts books most and undermines almost all that latent value proposition in digital. It artificially imposes the heaviness and isolation of physical books on their digital counterparts, which should be loose, networked objects. DRM constraints over our rights as readers make it feel like we’re renting our digital books, not owning them.
And, there in lies my conundrum.
With all these digital platforms for books how does one take that content with them from platform to platform? Sharing of digital reading content partnerships that falter only to re-emerge in another form are frustrating and confusing all on its own. Individually, these niggles might seem small and inconsequential, but over time they gnaw, erode trust, and perhaps inspire one to move back to print.
Perhaps the worldwide adoption of the digital public library is around the corner and this will become a mute point. Or, maybe we’ll develop Neo like abilities and we can will remember books from front to back with the greatest of ease…
… But, nothing compares to me opening my first book given “Where The Sidewalk Ends” and seeing all the things I scribbled in it as a child. How do you download that feeling?