Friday, May 21, 2010

Print Will Always Be Undead

I don't usually post twice in a day, especially on a Friday, but JA Konrath wrote a cute little "play" about the death of print. You can read it at the Huffington Post.

Remember folks, Konrath is here to sell books. He makes money selling books. He makes his living writing and selling books. And yes, he's doing well.

But he's still here to sell you books, and he doesn't give a shit if you buy a paperback or an e-version of his latest. Wait...maybe he does. I think the profit margin on e-books is better. But I digress...

Print is obsolete?

Hardly.

The aforementioned "play" is full of implied comparisons which fall apart under any real scrutiny. Just look at the other members of "Obsolete Anonymous": VHS tapes, LPs (which are actually making a bit of a comeback), cassettes, the Phone Company, CDs...

All of which require a piece of technology to decode content. Print isn't the same (except for e-books...but I'll get to that momentarily). What is the technology that decodes text content? Don't say the printing press, 'cause that's not quite it. Go on. Think about it.

Try.

I'll wait...

It's your brain. That ugly lump of grey matter in your skull. It decodes the marks on paper (or a screen) and makes sense of them, not some kind of device, player, or receiver. Print books aren't the same as the other "obsolete" technologies because our brains are always going to be there. People will still read print. Two hundred years from now, a person can find a book in a hermetically sealed plastic bag, and the book will still be readable. Sure, said person may struggle with a few changes in syntax and spelling, but he/she can decode it without a special device. A CD in two hundred years will be a worthless lump of plastic because the technology needed to decode it is gone. And a Kindle file won't even exist (digital dark age, baby).

Print books are not the same as CDs, LPs, VHS, etc. because they don't require special, dated technology to decode and enjoy.

Yes, more people will have e-readers in the future.* Yes, there may be a shift in publishing and the print book industry. Yes, more books will go to print on demand. These things happen. Um, don't you think the shift to readily available and cheaper pulp paper made a difference to the print publishing industry in the last century? These things happen and the world has a way of changing rather quickly.

Our brains, unfortunately do not. Go on predicting the "death of print". I'll still be reading ink on paper when I'm eighty.

*anybody care to talk about how the consumer is being fleeced on this one? Instead of the old model (buy content and decode myself), we are rushing headlong into a model like the music industry or movies (buy content and buy a device--which will one day become obsolete--to decode content for me). Hey, but somebody's getting rich, right?

It's just not me.

15 comments:

onipar... said...

GREAT post! I agree 100% with everything you said. And for all the people who are ready to jump into digital age of reading headfirst, there are still plenty who aren't.

Beyond the logical arguments you've already made, there will also always be those who just prefer the feel and look and smell of a real book. Or those who can't justify having to spend a couple hundred dollars just so they can spend another $10 for each book, all for the convenience of being able to tote around a hundred books in one small package.

And don't know about you, but I can only read one or two books at a time anyway. ;-)

Cate Gardner said...

Very well put, Aaron. Print will never die in this house.

Barry Napier said...

Seriously...yeah, about to get tired of Mr. Konrath's bragging and assumptions...

Aaron Polson said...

Anthony - I don't even own a cell phone. I'm only 35. I can't be the only one, right?

Cate - "Play the Man, Master Ridley..." er, sorry. Quoting Fahrenheit 451...

Barry - He's making money, and I can't fault that. Too bad a good chunk of the public happen to be lemmings.

onipar... said...

Actually, I'm 30 and didn't own a cellphone until a couple months ago. I already regret having purchased it.

Jamie Eyberg said...

yeah, I would like to see the library at the Vatican go to all digital. it won't happen. They are still looking at books there that were made before Guttenberg invented the press for mass consumption.

I, weirdly enough, use my phone as a phone, nothing else.

Natalie L. Sin said...

Wait, so the current program used to run my eyeballs works with eBooks, too? That will save me time!

Robert said...

I think print will always be around in some form, but I love having an e-reader on my phone. Just the other night my wife wanted to go to the mall to look at clothes, and so there I was, following her through the store reading a chapter of LITTLE BROTHER right on my phone. Don't get me wrong, I still like book-books too, but in the end reading is reading. If I can download a book in a few seconds and start reading right away as opposed to driving to the bookstore or waiting for the book to be shipped to me, then why not? Of course, this will change on the book, depending on who the author is and so forth, but I will admit I've become to embrace e-books for what they are and what they can do.

Aaron Polson said...

Jamie - Imagine that: a phone which is just a phone...

Natalie - More time for Cheetos!

Robert - And I love the opportunity for content to reach readers in a new way. Nothing wrong with that. My main problem with the "print is dead" argument is that we are comparing different kinds of content. Maybe I'm a little slow, but it hit me while reading Konrath's Huffington Post piece, but books are not VHS tapes.

Jarmara Falconer said...

What would I put on my bookshelves if I didn't have printed books?

katey said...

Ah man, no kidding. Thing is that there are simply more ways to consume information now. And people will continue to use them all.

There are different sorts of books too, honestly. Some books you need to have. Some you just want to read, either as a test run or because they're brain-candy. The latter are the best electronically.

K.Hinny said...

Hey Aaron, I thought I got here on Friday, but apparently I didn't!

As for books/print being dead, I have to tell you that my stores sales are up for the first time in three years. I think that it's great publishers are starting to explore/expand their horizon's, but I still love having a book in my hand.

I don't know what the future holds for print bc I'm not savvy and while I try to keep informed, it never really happens, but either way I love my books.

K.C. Shaw said...

Saying printed books are going away eventually is like saying people aren't going to go to live musical concerts now that they can listen to newfangled wireless radios.

My ereader is useful, but not in all situations. I'll always have paper books.

Aaron Polson said...

Jarmara - Um...you'd call them "Stuffshelves" and that would be silly?

Katey - Mmmmm...consume. Good point.

Hinny - Good for the sales--that heartens all writers, I think.

K.C. - I can get a radio without wires?

Danielle Ferries said...

I agree too. Print will never die in my house either. It can't, there are too many books piled everywhere :)