Friday, February 5, 2010

Inherent Value of Print-on-Paper Books

In a post last week, "Will the iPad and Kindle Kill Traditional Textbooks?" I promised to address elements that traditional texts have that e-books don't. First off, let me explain that I'm going to refer here to traditional print-on-paper books as books, to differentiate them from e-books.

I admit that I've thought often that eventually, books will go out of style because people will become more and more comfortable with e-books, and they'll pass on that comfort level to their children, who'll pass it on to their children, and so on.

And to an extent that surely will happen. But my mistake, until I finally figured it out (well, duh) was in assuming that increased comfort with a new medium means the elimination of the medium on which it's based.

Nunh-uh.

We've had books for several hundred years now and will continue to have them long into the future, and for good reason. One reason, principally, and it's not because they provide information, though of course they do.

And it isn't because of the pretty pictures some books have or the marvelous prose others have.

It's because they feel good.

I don't mean to oversimplify a complex relationship between a reader and a book, not at all. But when you come down to it, when you take the content out of the picture—because after all, readers can obtain content in a bunch of different ways, what with books, TV, the web, newspapers, and so forth—when you take history out of it, when you take price, portability, and all the rest out of, there remains a feel to books that people find engaging, comfortable, useful, and highly personal.

Ask someone, anyone, why they like books and you'll get an answer similar to the one a physician gave me just this morning. "I don't know," he said, "there's just something about a book. I just love the feel of a book."

As he said that last sentence, he held his hands out in front of him as if to demonstrate, forefingers to thumbs, that the touch of books was key. Tactile, he seemed to want to say, books are tactile.

That feeling of holding something so tactile carries with it an emotional bond that everyone can sense. It's something completely different that the press a button tactility of a Kindle. It's different than an iPad with its touch screen.

That experience is different and much more personal with a book than an e-book, and I believe it will be forever so. It just feels right.