The Future of THE Book – SamHenry vs Stephen King

Posted on October 7, 2010

Forbes and CNN both interviewed Stephen King recently.  In both interviews, the key moment for this former librarian and information scientist was when they asked him about the future of the book as we  have known it since the Chinese invented movable type.  They were asking the first major author to bypass traditional book publishing and to distribute one of his works of fiction exclusively in an e-book format.  Watch the video.

Now to the heart of the matter.  The physical book as we know it now will, in the mind of SamHenry, never disappear. Books published today will become collectible both  as a treasured medium or as an  artifact to trade and make a living.  Why?

  1. Even now, there are people who don’t really collect or read old books, they just want to decorate with them.  They like the looks of a shelf of old books.  It lends cache and atmosphere to a room.  It lends prestige to the owner since it may signal the possession of true intellect coupled with an honest sense of history both of the book and its content.
  2. There WILL always be people who feel they just can’t get comfortable with a Kindle.  It strains the eyes, it is not as comfortable to hold.
  3. Even today, there are people, fewer each year to be sure, that are devoted to even older methods of printing than are practiced now.  They love good paper carefully moistened to receive an impression from the bite of an old press – a really old press – one a couple of hundred years old or more.  Running your hand over the page of one of these books is the most satisfying experience a book lover can have.  You feel the texture of the fine old rag paper; you feel the deep impression of the type as your eyes feast on choice of type face, jacket and title page design.  It is the most beautiful format in which a book can be produced.
  4. Let’s get practical.  The lights go out for a week during an ice storm, your ipad gets hacked or terrorists knock out a grid.  Bye bye electronic format.  Thank god many academic libraries and the Library of Congress to be sure have copies of “the real thing” stored away in preservation vaults deep in the hearts of mountains and other places.
  5. You drop your ipad or the Kindle falls in the toilet as King says. That’s the end game – no pun intended to practitioners of bathroom reading.
  6. We can hope that the less advantaged among us can afford a Kindle or a book on DVD or that they have a library close enough and safe enough to visit.
  7. It will be the end of Borders and Barns & Noble.  No more browsing in a place that sells good latte or that has comfortable nooks to settle into and read.  No more socializing and great places for lectures and readings.  Gone.  Can we feel good about a Kindle Cafe?

Most assuredly in the larger picture, we will need to encourage economies of cost, space and materials as well as enhance accessibility to multiple sources for knowledge through use of electronic delivery of books, journal articles and etc.  We need to move on to paperless delivery of reading materials.  But make no mistake, eventually Stephen King will write a horror story about an e-book book that jumps out of the net, morphs into paper and print and murders people with Kindles.

©On My Watch…the writings of SamHenry.   Registration pending.