A small dispute has arisen within the bibliophile population these past five years, following the development of certain technologies and trends in the reading scene. Namely, with the rise of the Kindle, e-books and digital literature, are books and book printing about to go the way of the record, the horse and cart and the vacuum tube?
Human history in recent decades has been viewed within the context of the narrative of progress, the idea that humans are inevitably and irresistibly walking down a slowly ascending slope from the Past towards the Future, with technology as the driving force. As we move down this path, older technologies are invariably replaced with newer technologies. Bows and arrows are replaced with guns, VHS is replaced with DVD, and cassette tapes are replaced with MP3 files. Following this worldview, it’s been suggested by technophiles that the book will eventually be replaced by digital written media.
Naturally, given the tendency of bibliophiles to be somewhat nostalgic and traditional, this has caused something of a stir amongst the literate community, and a rather heated debate has erupted between the two camps.
But is the book threatened, really? Will book printing give way to PDFs?
Certainly the shift towards e-books is not just a fad. Digital media is here and it’s going to remain with us indefinitely. We are, after all, becoming a society increasingly orientated around digital information and computer technology. The generations being born have done so saturated by the internet, and it will be a central fixture in their lives. With online streaming and downloads an established part of popular culture, it’s inevitable that books will be uploaded and shared online too, to be read on hand-held devices such as Kindles, tablets and mobile phones. Why would they not be?
However in the same vein, that’s not to say book printing is doomed. To draw a comparison, let’s look at radio and TV. As television rose to prominence in Western society, it became popular to assume radio would become a thing of the past. As it is, radio is still doing fairly well, no doubt assisted by the fact that it’s impossible to watch TV and drive a car at the same time. While the image of a family gathering around the wireless to listen to the BBC broadcast is most definitely no longer reflective of modern trends, nobody can truly say radio is dead. Radios are still regularly made and sold, radio stations are still common throughout the country, and hearing someone say “I heard that on the radio” does not immediately mark that individual down as an eccentric.
There’s no reason why book printing could not see a similar future. It may not be as prevalent as it used to be, but it won’t be slaughtered by any means, and will continue more or less as always.
What’s more, current stats with regards to book printing. While full data is not yet available, figures in the USA so far suggest that hardback book printing sales have risen by no less than 11.5% last year. Meanwhile, sales of e-books have stalled. This does not, as Tim Waterstone confidentially asserted, a decline in the e-book, but it certainly shows that there’s no serious decline in book printing.
While it’s impossible to say for certain just what exactly the future will hold, it seems likely that book printing will remain relatively healthy for many decades yet. At the end of the day, e-books still have little irritancies and drawbacks that physical books do not have. Books do not need to be charged, read more naturally, and allow you to flick easily through pages. These, and simple traditionalism, will help keep books in the vogue.
For more information about book printing, visit the website of Orbital Print.