The death of the book has been greatly exaggerated…

A multi-volume Latin dictionary (Egidio Forcel...
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I see that yet another pundit is predicting the death of the physical book. His argument seems to be that books will go the same way as music and movies and become completely digitized. Well, I say that person does not understand that people interact with books in very different ways than they do with music and movies.

Book lovers enjoy doing two things with their books after they have finished reading them: displaying them and sharing them. Until e-books easily support these behaviors, the physical book will remain alive and kicking.

When I am finished reading a book, I may choose to do any of the following:

  • Put it on my bookshelf to be rediscovered by me or someone else years later.
  • Give it to a friend or family member to read.
  • Swap it in a book exchange.
  • Donate it to my library.
  • Sell it to a used bookstore.
  • Leave it somewhere for someone to pick up.

As far as I know, I can do none of these things with e-books.

Books have an aesthetic quality to them that goes beyond just the cover design. When I arrange my books on a shelf, I am making a statement about myself. I am showing what impacted me and what has value for me through the books I choose to display. It gives me pleasure to look at them and show them to others. Conversations are started. Sharing ensues.

And that’s the other thing about books: They contain information and ideas that want to get out there. That’s why their authors wrote them in the first place. Books are almost living things that need to move through the world. Confining them to an electronic device, and licensing them to only one reader, defeats their entire purpose.

People who claim that physical books are dead don’t love books in this way. They must not feel compelled to share them or display them. But there are plenty of people who do love books, and as long as they are buying them, I don’t think the book in its perfect, printed, 560-year-old form will vanish anytime soon.

Here is the original statement by Nicolas Negroponte: The physical book is dead in five years. Here is another rebuttal, sent to me by Brian O’Leary via Twitter. And here are some ideas for what to do with your books, if you do declare them dead (via The New York Times Sunday Magazine.)

Note: Cross-post.
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