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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Is it the end of books as we know them?


I've been reading a lot lately (and having a few face to face discussions) about whether the digital revolution will mean an end to real books, magazines etc. and it is something I find really interesting. I am a book lover - I love the feel of them, the smell of them, the covers, turning the page....I have a whole library of books (particularly drawing ones) which I couldn't imagine in any other form. However, I also love all the digital options - not only e-readers and tablets but also online publications - my particular favourite is issuu. Issuu allows you to publish as a 'flipping' book so the whole experience is similar to turning the page of a real book but it also has options to embed/ download/ print/ email etc. and more recently to make the publication interactive. I've created a number of publications (some on sidebar) - most recently an issuu publication of the catalogue for my current shows. I also had this printed in the traditional way - so it only took a few clicks to turn the print file into a digital publication - the best of both worlds. My issuu stats show that quite a few people have accessed these publications. (I appreciate these are very low in comparison to many on the site - but even so it's a considerable amount of people who wouldn't otherwise see them). The digital route certainly enables access to a much wider audience.
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I have a great many books and I was thinking about which I would want to keep. My books are divided into art books and all the rest and I must admit most of my non-art books and text based reference books could happily be stored and read digitally (with the possible exception of cookery books - I can't imagine having any digital reading in the kitchen - however as I spend very little time either in the kitchen or using cookery books it's not likely to be a problem!). My art books are a different matter- I tend not to read these chronologically page by page and I still prefer 'dipping into' a real book and moving backwards and forwards between a number of pages. Also there is a size issue with digital reading - portable digital readers such as tablets are relatively small and many of my art books are much larger - the images would not be seen as a whole, at an equivalent size, in a digital form. Some of the books have unusual binding - one has a number of booklets within a card case which could never be replicated digitally. Magazines and newspapers in contrast seem to translate really well to digital - a few years ago I had a massive clear out - including 25 years worth of a-n magazines!! - these took up a considerable amount of room. If they'd been digital I'd probably have kept them as storing them would not have used precious space (whether I would have actually re-read them though is another question). There are also lots of possibilities for interactive or additional information with digital  in a way which would be impossible with real books which inevitably have a limited capacity.
I think the deciding part for me is whether handling an actual book increases the pleasure of the reading experience. I have a number of very old books (including 'What Katy Did' with an embossed cover and a label in the front, written in beautiful script, documenting it's presentation as a prize to the person who gave it to me) which I couldn't part with. I also have a number of very old paperback classics with standard covers which I could happily exchange for a digital version. I wonder if, in the future, books which are beautiful, tactile or special in some way will survive and as a result the physical act of handling and reading as well as the aesthetics of an actual book will become something treasured. Although we may have fewer 'real' books those we do have will be really precious?.

2 comments:

  1. I don't think so, I can't imagine it, particularly if we are talking about common books, 'cos we can't learn without books as "we already know them". Actually they're really important in our lives.

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  2. I agree books are important - I just wonder how many books suffer from being in a digital format? We can still learn from reading books this way. I think it's a personal thing and depends how important the tactile experience is. I know people who hate the whole idea of digital readers and others who will probably never pick up a 'real' book again. I'm probably somewhere in the middle - I can see real advantages of digital readers but can't imagine never handling a physical book again.

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