Photo: Apple, Inc
As the popularity of eBooks and eInk surges, I wonder about the impact on book publishing and ponder the pleasures of traditional paper books. Why would anyone want an electronic book? After all, a beautifully designed and produced paper book is so wonderful! It’s easy to carry around and very robust. The contrast ratio is excellent, with no batteries needed. The high resolution lets us see images clearly and details of the fonts are crisp. It is a delight to browse in a book, as you can flip the pages at any speed you like, stop at any point and open the spread, or turn a page at a time at a leisurely pace, reveling in the smooth and supple feel of the paper. You can enjoy a delicious moment as you open a new book and the smell of fresh ink and paper wafts around you. And all of this for such an amazingly small amount of money! Yes, this is a highly evolved medium, pleasing to the eye, to the touch and to the sense of smell.
The experience of reading an electronic book is not nearly as rich for sensual enjoyment, but it does offer unique and different advantages. Most often quoted is the example of the traveler struggling with a pile of heavy books that they need to study, compared to the single eBook with all of the equivalent material loaded into it. There are other advantages that are valuable for work or study. If you want to extract quotes, it’s easy to copy them into a file format that can be transferred to your personal computer. You can add annotations without feeling guilty about defacing the pages, and you can use search functions to find the bit that you want to see again. So yes, I already have a Kindle that I use for analysis and quote extraction, and I do want an iPad as well, but I expect to use it for different purposes. I look forward to relishing the pleasures of both physical and digital versions, feeling confident that books are here to stay.