On January 28th 2011, at Amazon.com’s quarterly call, the US-based multinational electronic commerce company announced that the sale of ebooks have finally overtaken that of paperbacks.
This hardly comes as a surprise as it has been widely known that it was mostly the medium and not the content itself that was a problem with e-books. With the increasing popularity of tablets such as Apple’s iPad, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab and indeed, Amazon.com’s very own Kindle, it is but a matter of time that e-books will see its popularity increase. It has taken its time, but if there is one thing that an e-book doesn’t have, it’s shelf life; properly preserved in the ‘1’s and ‘0’s that are the DNA of everything digital, these e-books can literally last till the end of recorded, and perhaps beyond.
I read a fair bit, and most of what I read is still in paper form. One fine afternoon, over coffee, a friend asks, what does anyone want with a hunkering paperback when there are e-books available? Why would anyone pay for something they can easily obtain for a fraction of the price?
My initial reaction was that I have absolutely no idea! On further thought though, I could come up with a few reasons why there are still 100 million paperbacks for every 87 million Kindle e-books being sold. What is the case for the paperback?
It’s physical. This is the one point that e-books have zero ground of contention. E-books sell because they take up no space on your bookshelf, paperbacks for quite the opposite reason. One can pick up a paperback, feel as the pages brush past the fingertips, pack it into a luggage bag and there it will be, until the owner decides to move it. When you buy a book, you own it. Down to the very pulp that makes the paper, is yours and cannot be ‘Ctrl+C’, ‘Ctrl+P’ into someone else’s backpack. Its yours, to have and to hold, till death (or silverfish, or termites) do you part.
It’s personal. A college yearbook with memos from ‘the fellas’, an autographed biography from one’s personal hero, a piano score with pencil scrawls. The capacity for a paperback to be infinitely personal and its inability to be duplicated is what brings it novelty and value.
That said, one must admit that the generic paperback will eventually become obsolete. This is, however, nothing to get downcast about; changing forms is what books do and they do it well. Books have been written alternatively on stone, clay, tree bark, wax, tablets and papyrus, as volumes, codices, scrolls and individual leafs.
The Printed Book, as we know it, only saw light in 1455, shortly after the invention of the printing press. In the long run, the paperback will be replaced.
Is this the death of print media? It is perhaps in its initial state of demise, and without a doubt will eventually be replaced by a much more evolved form of distribution.
Silicon of cellulose, books will always capture the hearts and minds of man and child, that, will not change.