Special thanks to Kris Vetter for the following post!
In the recent Guardian article titled “Books are back. Only technodazzled thought they would go away,” journalist and author Simon Jenkins pits print books against digital books. Even just the subtitle, “The hysterical cheerleaders of the e-book failed to account for human experience, and publishers blindly followed suite. But the novelty has worn off,” is intentionally harmful, in addition to being completely inaccurate.
Before diving in, let’s pause for a moment. Print books and digital books are not at war. I don’t know how this mindset got started. Maybe print publishers were initially threatened by digital books. Maybe die-hard print readers were scared their paper favorites would cease to exist. Or maybe it’s because emerging technologies have regularly been pitted against traditional technologies: radio vs. TV, theatre vs. movie, card games vs. video games. But just because another format of entertainment is introduced does not mean the traditional technologies are replaced. We still listen to the radio. We still attend plays and musical theatre. We still play card games. And we still read print books.
I would also like to politely disagree with Mr. Jenkins’ insinuation that print books are the only legitimate form of “book.” Digital books are just that—books in the digital format. Digital and print books are both books. They are written by the same author and supply readers with the same base content. If Stephen King wrote a 500-page manuscript and decided to publish it only as an eBook, you wouldn’t say that it wasn’t a book. The format does not control the definition.
Furthermore, Mr. Jenkins’ statement that eBooks “failed to account for human experience” is far from reality. I’m assuming Mr. Jenkins is a sighted person without any reading disabilities. As such, he can read easily in print format. However, digital books were revolutionary for many readers. Poor sighted readers are now able to increase the text size of their books at will, instead of buying larger and larger print versions of books (that may or may not even exist). Non-sighted readers can now use text-to-speech software to hear books independently without help from a second person, or hear books that may not be available as audio books. Readers with dyslexia can switch the font of any reflowable Kindle eBook to the specially-designed font OpenDyslexic to aid in reading comprehension and speed. Historically, digital books are rooted in accessibility. ePub, the most common eBook file format (excluding Amazon), is based on the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) standard, created by an international consortium for readers with print disabilities. It is thanks to this standard that the United States requires textbooks to be available to learners with disabilities. With the ability to change text size and font and to use text-to-speech (in addition to a variety of other helpful functions like night modes, search, dictionary definition), it sure seems like eBooks are fully accounting for the human experience.
I could go on and on discussing each point Mr. Jenkins made in his article, but the main thought I want you to take away from this blog post is that print books and digital books are not mutually exclusive. Print and digital are just two options that serve different readers. As long as people exhibit the desire to read, why would we care what format they read in? Who are we to decide the best format for someone?
Lerner’s entire Fall 2016 list will be available in print, pdf, epub, and mobi formats in an effort to serve all our readers.
One thought on “Print Books and Digital Books Are Not at War”
Thank you! This argument has been a long time coming. I sincerely hope that the digital fear mongering will soon be at an end.
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