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Amazon vs Hachette: Who should win the battle?

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The Future of the Book

It is hard not to notice that everything in this world is slowly but surely becoming digitally instantaneous. Information we see online is the most obvious and indisputable proof, for it is available at the click of a button. This transformation unfortunately makes it extremely challenging for the publishing industry to secure the longevity of their business (Woll & Raccah, 2014). One of the most prominent concerns is the competition between printed books and eBooks. Ever since the eBook came along, reading on the go has gotten even easier. Whether you’re a daily commuter or traveling the skies, seeing people with an e-reader in their hands instead of a printed book or a newspaper is no longer an uncommon sight. It is clear that eBooks and e-readers have made their mark on the publishing world. This phenomenon, however, provokes most of us to wonder and question where the future of the old fashioned printed books might be. In this paper, I want to put forward a viewpoint that challenges the belief of technological optimists, who feel certain that the existence of a dedicated device for reading, will dominate the traditional way of how we are consume information. I will argue instead that print books will not die; it can and will survive along side e-books, for both are complementary. While there are numerous factors to consider when discussing the matters between eBooks and printed books, to state my argument clearly in this paper, I want focus strictly on two aspects that revolve around books in print form. These aspects include the quality of printed books that digital bits can’t replace or imitate and the usage of printed books in an educational setting. By looking at a printed novel and three researches while making comparisons to books in digital form simultaneously, and by pin pointing both the advantages and disadvantages of the two media, I will conclude that, it is we who choose what forms of medium that best suit our activities and needs, and both versions can work along side to make our life easier, efficient, and better. Technology alone cannot make decisions for us; we are the ones with power to decide the future of the printed books. Even if printed books ever die, it is because our culture changed, not because digital was invented.

The first aspect that revolves around printed books is the guarantee of its quality. In print, you see more focus on design. In the last few years, we’ve seen an increase in special editions, beautifully designed, and smartly curated series, and books that really have to be read on paper due to unique layouts or interior art. For instance, the book S. written by Doug Dorst and conceived by J.J. Abrams is an unusual novel in its format. The book composes a story within a story in which portrays a fictional novel written by a fictional author, and hand-written notes filling the book’s margins as a dialogue between two college students hoping to uncover the novel’s secret. The book itself is a work of art. It comes in cardboard sleeve with the book inside that appears as if it is taken off from the shelves of a library, and it even has a musty old-book smell. The book looks old with its cover battered and its pages yellowed and stained. Inside its back cover are “RETURN ON OR BEFORE” and “received” date stamps, along with a stamp advising borrowers to “KEEP THIS BOOK CLEAN.” Furthermore, what makes the book unique and unlike most novels we are normally accustomed to, is the scatteration of loose supplementary materials tucked in between pages. Those materials are high in quality ephemera such as postcards, real napkin map illustration, hand-written notes, newspaper, decoder ring etc. that can fall out of the pages adding to the mystery. The design of the book is extremely extraordinary; it is constructed with intentions to give its readers a very different yet new and exciting reading experience. According to Tsouderos, who reviewed S., the book can be a bit of a challenge to read, but he claims that, “it is fun, and the book feels alive in ways that a digital version would not.” (2013, ¶ 16) Interestingly though, S. is also available electronically on Apple iBook and audibly on Amazon Kindle. Some reviews of the book from Amazon.ca suggest that both versions are unpopular. To quote from P. Wood on Amazon, who listened to the story of S., “ the audio version is completely missing the point of the book. You want to read this due to all the cool inserts, margin notes, etc. You’ll miss out on the experience by listening to it…”(Electronic posting, January 6, 2014) Similarly to another anonymous reviewer on iTunes, who experienced reading S. electronically, comments that, “…I love my electro-gadgets…but it is between the pages of the tactile version that one can truly appreciate the work that has gone into the making of this adventure…Seriously. Buy the book.” (Electronic posting, January 9, 2014) One could only feel the excitement when holding the book as a physical thing, and the possessor of wonder that the physical book gives to the reader cannot be translated into digital bits. Digital version of this piece of art simply cannot imitate and replace the sensation that the book gives to its readers. How readers want to experience the book, without the touch and feel of the artifacts tucked in book pages, seeing physical handwritten notes on the margins, and smelling the musty old-book scent, in the end, is up to the readers’ preference. The electronic version of this book, in this case, did not earn more precedence in comparison to the traditional printed book.

Besides the assurance on the quality, printed books also have a significant role in educational setting. For instance, in their Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient research, Woody, Daniel, and Baker (2010) concluded that despite the ubiquity of computers and interactive technology in the lives of undergraduate students, most of them preferred textbooks over eBooks for learning, and their preference is not altered by familiarity with the medium. One respondent in Rose’s (2011) research describes it well; he states that “…to comprehend something fully is to “take ownership of it…”and that, “…[he] must hold it in [his] hands, scribble notes in the margins, underline, highlight, and star important bit” (p. 519) Another respondent further speaks in his opinion that “…with online reading, I don’t physically have it. I can’t make notes on it, it doesn’t feel as here as, you know, it’s kind of there, it’s on the computer…” (p. 519) In the absence of the ability to make the text physically their own, one even goes on further to say that “…sometimes copying and pasting important passages to a Word document… my notes have only a provisional utility. Over time, their usefulness erodes.” (p. 520) These respondents speak to a very important consideration is that learning, retaining, and concentrating becomes difficult when they are in front of a computer or utilizing other handheld devices such as Apple iPad, Samsung tablet, etc. for academic purposes. How useful are technologies for educational purpose here, is questionable. There are various distractions. Facebook, various blogs sites, and other social media platforms are only a click of a button away. A respondent in Rose’s (2011) research says that when somebody goes “dadoop”, the sound of a text message, he will try to ignore it until he gets to the end of the paragraph, but often times, even though he is reading, he is still thinking in his head, “what do they want?” Most of the time, students waste more time not reading than reading, with e-mail and talking to other people. If students are not distracted they would read more than if they were sitting right in front of a computer or utilizing devices that give them to web and other applications.

On October 11, 2010, the University of California conducted the “University of California Libraries Academic e-Book Usage Study” survey, which gives a broader sense of the reasons behind one’s preference on certain medium over another. Depending on the answer to specific conditional questions, respondents were presented questions about their e-book use. 2569 individuals submitted responses, and they were asked to identify their area of study or research, and the majority indicated life and health sciences, followed by physical sciences and engineering. The demographic, evidently, have a significant influence on their choice of medium. However, despite what subject the students are focused on and depending on the users’ preference, convenience and usefulness are perceived as primary attributes of both print books and eBooks. In other words, it is whichever medium serves and gives its users advantage, in turn determines the appropriate and preferred utilization of the medium. In Chan et al. (2011), one graduate student in the humanities and social sciences department describes it well. He states that, “… print books are better in some situations, while e-books are better in others…”(p.11). It is evident that each medium has their role. EBooks, for instance, are great for assessing the book, relatively quick searches or fact checking, checking bibliography for citations, and reading selected chapters or the introduction, it also allows for moving graphics, clips, and interactive links. It is also lighter, easier to carry as one device represents any amount of academic printed books. As stated by a graduate student in the department of business and law, eBook “…reduce[s] the amount of search needed by the students or researchers…a benefit not available via hard copies.” (p.15) However, when students are required to do intensive reading or to finish reading the entire book, the graduate student adds, “[he] prefer[s] paper formats” (p.11) because it is simply, as stated by another undergraduate student in the social sciences department, “…easier to memorize things that are in [his] hand and that [he is] physically underlining, highlighting, etc.…” (p.15) In addition to students in social sciences department, those major in the sciences and engineering too prefers printed books over eBook, for paper keep them focused and away from distractions that may arise from computer usage and eBook makes it extremely hard for them to pay careful attention to long passages. Indeed, it is undeniable that the potential advantage of eBooks is the greater flexibility and accessibility of over paper-based texts. However, it is important to evaluate electronic texts as learning tools before recommending or requiring their use as a substitute for print books. All mediums have their place; if one type of medium does not work, the other is there to help provide convenience for the user, and if the other cannot serve the purpose of making one’s life easier, the previous medium may help. Both could be used interchangeably, they are not to replace one another.

It is always important to think about how a book is produced. Printed books go through a set of procedure within the publishing company that slowly adds value to the books. It takes at least three years for one book to be published. Woll (2014) claims that authors need at least 12 months to write his manuscript, and the editing process in which the book is read and reviewed for acceptability, edited, designed, and approved need at least another 12 months. These procedures are important and are obliged in the process of a book production. Certainly, however way the book is designed, whether it is in print form or digital form, both constitute an indirect way of communication between the author and the reader. However, the experiences and emotions we receive in return are extremely different. Therefore, printed books will not die. It will continue to flourish alongside electronic books for it is unique and useful in its own ways and cannot be replaced. If printed books ever die, it is only because our culture changed, not because digital was invented.

References

Chan, L., Felicia, P., Michele, P., Brian, Q., & Jacqueline, W. (2011). UC libraries academic e-book usage survey. (Comparison Report). The University of California:

Rose, E. (2011). The phenomenology of on-screen reading: University students’ lived experience of digitised text.42(3), 515. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.01043.x

Tsouderos, T. (2013) Review: ‘S.’ by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst: With ‘S.,’ Dorst and Abrams revel in all the tangible, unifying glories of the old-fashioned printed book. Retrieved September 19, 2024 from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-11-28/features/chi-jj-abrams-s-review-20131128_1_j-j-abrams-printers-row-journal-theseus

Woll, T., Yates, J., & Raccah, D. (2014). Publishing for Profit: Successful Bottom-line Management for Book Publishers. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press.

Woody, W. D., Daniel, D. B., & Baker, C. A. (2010). E-books or textbooks: Students prefer textbooks. Computers & Education, 55(3), 945-948. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1016/j.compedu.2010.04.005

 

 

 

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