Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Ideal Book

There exists a current of thought upholding the idea that the best book is still one that is printed on paper (see the back page of the Book Review a few weeks ago for an example). When I forget that I work in a library and have immediate, easy access to most of the printed books I want, I tend to agree. It's during my forays away from the library that I realize why some of the features of e-books are so attractive. And while I'm not ready to abandon printed books entirely, I can see how a hybrid model might be ideal.  

The concept of a book is largely irrelevant to networked devices, and one big reason that book-related words (page, library) are making the transition to the online world is because books are easy to use. (This is in addition to the reason that books have so far been a common frame of reference.) Taken a step further, e-books exist because printed books are so easy to use.

A hybrid book has the potential to be best of both worlds, in that it could exist both as a physical object and an online object. Most media are being forced to choose between one or the other type of existence, but I think books are fundamentally different and may not have to make that reckoning. Yes, the internet makes it unnecessary to print something out in order to interact with it. But at times, a printed version of a book -- not reliant on a power source or a network connection -- is the most desirable thing to have, no matter how smart your phone is.  (Or maybe I'm crazy. After all, I'm still buying CDs because I can digitize them and also have a nicely packaged version to put on my shelf. When I purchase digital music, I'm irritated that I don't get the object. Unless I make the effort of burning it to a blank CD. Which I don't, and which wouldn't be the same anyway.) 

So, is anyone selling a printed book with an access key that provides a digital copy for the consumer's preferred reading platform? Are textbooks doing this? Would the book-buying public be willing to pay slightly more to have both formats? I think a similar feature is available on certain Blu-Ray DVDs, but from my cursory reading this effort is meant to prod consumers toward the digital version rather than to support use of the disc.

3 comments:

  1. I have to admit, I'm beginning to shun physical media. I just personally feel "more free" if I own fewer items. If I bought a physical CD (which I haven't done in years) and ripped the music on my computer, my strong impulse would be to throw away the CD. To me, it seems like packaging.

    That said, I still do 95% of my book-reading using physical books, but that's just because it's not convenient to borrow e-books from the library--I'm used to being able to get whatever book I want.

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  2. It's funny because I've comfortably moved online with almost everything except books. Calendars, work-related files and documents, yes music, even films -- I expect all of those online. But not books, or at least not fully.

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  3. Textbooks have been offering online "extras" for some time, but I don't know whether they are much used or whether they're just an excuse to charge more money. (Cynical about textbooks? Me?) I'm not sure whether the whole book is often available--hmm.

    Anyway, for myself, I don't like the conditions under which e-books are offered, and I'm still a fan of the affordances of print (non-sequential navigation, anyone?). When it comes to the ownership/access question, one thing I know is that I am not, not, NOT paying for access on an individual basis. Paying for access collectively, through a library--great! Paying for ownership individually--sure, that's, you know, the whole concept of exchange. But paying on an individual basis for something I then don't own makes no sense to me. Call me paranoid.

    Netflix is an exception--I do love Netflix. But that's because TV isn't important to me in the same way books are, and if it went away tomorrow, the disappointment I'd feel wouldn't be even *vaguely* analogous to how I'd feel if I lost all my books, or heck, even one of them.

    But you're right to point out that I'm in a privileged position because I have easy, convenient access to libraries. Certainly, that affects the equation...

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