a great piece, originally posted on Ebook Friendly on 19 Aug 2013
“Will books die?” Many people still ask themselves this question, and 99% of them mean “will ebooks replace paper books?”
There is no solid justification for this common fear. During our lifetime print books will be kept in a form we know now. They are almost perfect. There is not too much to improve. Maybe they will be printed on a lighter and more ecological paper. Maybe their smell will be slightly different. Maybe they will get a vintage look in a bit different way.
Now, let’s talk about ebooks. Are they going to be kept during our lifetime in a form we know now? “Not so sure”? Or maybe “absolutely not”.
Digital books are a part of the world which is changing fast. I started reading ebooks in 2008, using Stanza application on my iPhone. It was one of the most wonderful experiences in my life. Stanza was how I imagined electronic books at that time – and in the future. There was no other image for ebooks.
Is anyone using Stanza now? Or maybe you switched to the app that supports syncing between all your devices, and is updated regularly? Anyway, Stanza, the app that proved Steve Jobs was wrong saying “people don’t read anymore“, is not available in the iTunes Store any longer.
Stanza app was launched in July 2008 – now discontinued / Image: Beat Cat
Recently I switched from reading on a Kindle app to Google Books, because Google’s app offers instant translation. I decided to drop a perfectly personalized interface of Kindle app: Caecilia font, medium size, with sepia mode.
In ten or twenty years nobody will have a clear picture of how Kindle or Google Play Books app looked like back in 2013. A discussion about what is better to read, tablet or e-reader, will be familiar to historians, because most probably there won’t be any tablets or e-readers around. A universal device, one-instead-of-them-all, will serve tasks of today’s smartphones, tablets, e-readers, and gaming consoles.
Now “page turn” is being replaced by “page swipe” or “page scroll”, but soon the latter ones may be replaced by “page blink”. And this refers to ebooks only, because in print books good old “page turn” will be “page turn” and there is no force to change it.
“Ebooks”. I don’t think we will even use this word in ten years. Books are books, and already now we have a freedom to choose the format: print, audio, digital. Nobody is using the word “e-music” to describe a digital download. We still use the word “mobile” when we want to describe portable devices. Most of devices are now portable. The word “mobile” will fade out from the language sooner than we think.
In ten years digital books won’t be called “ebooks”, they won’t be read on current devices, in current users interfaces. And this is because the medium is not fixed, but evolving.
Paper books are their own medium. A single print book doesn’t change over time. You can’t put it away on a bookshelf, remembering it was printed on Book Cream 80g paper, and take it again after two years to realize that it has now Bulky Paperback 90g.
When you open a digital book you stopped reading a year ago, you’ll land exactly at the point you had finished, but will it be the same book? The content yes, but the medium – I strongly doubt it.
“To read this book, please upgrade your system to the newest version.”
“Sorry, your device is not supported any longer.”
“The software is updating, please wait.”
Ebooks as we know them will disappear soon. But this should cause not fear, but nostalgia, at most. Our lives move to Google, Facebook and Amazon servers, and we have to upgrade our skills as technology evolves (it means: faster and faster). There is no time to get used to the font selection of Kindle application or Google Play’s browser book reader.
In digital times the only thing that doesn’t change is the change. The common habit is the hunt for change (“why hasn’t this app upgraded to fit the new operating system?”). But that’s perfectly fine. What we have to preserve is the content, not the medium.