Monday, 20 May 2013

Print shop

I promise I have some book reviews coming up for you in the next few days (Fidel Castro, Helen Simonson and The Simpsons are all on the menu), but for tonight, here's a quick nugget of news to contribute to the debate of 'print versus digital'.

After publishing Riding The Bullet as an ebook only in the year 2000, Stephen King has pulled off a complete volte-face with the publication of his latest book, Joyland, which will be released only as a print copy. He hasn't ruled out the possibility of digital copies being available in future, but for now has said that he would prefer people to get off their backsides and go to an actual bookshop.

King's wishes may be a little desperate given the rise of e-tailing: many fans probably won't get off the sofa and go to the bookshop round the corner when they can still order the paper copy of the book online. However, King's polemical point about wanting people to appreciate the physicality of a print book is still strong and valid. I received a Kindle for Christmas in 2011, and while I greatly value the fact that I no longer have to cart a ton of books with me on my commute or on holiday, as well as the low price of certain ebooks, I do not feel that reading on an ebook reader is a comparable experience to reading physical books (and I think I'd say that regardless of what ebook reader I had).

Why? These reasons can seem superficial, but they all add up to a big part of the experience of reading 'real' books. Being unable to see the thickness of the book, or feel its weight, reduces my ability to perceive how much of the book I have read, which can lead to aimlessly skipping through pages to see where the next chapter starts. And no, having the percentage gauge at the bottom of the screen doesn't help. I also miss, to a degree, the cover art of a book, in the same way that vintage record fans find CDs inferior. (However, I used to have this problem with MP3s too, suggesting that my mourning for the loss of book cover art may decline over time.) There are also still several formatting issues with ebooks that are yet to be resolved and which just don't (or at least rarely do) occur in printed books. Finally, there's the lack of sensory experience in ebooks that is provided by regular publications - not just the feeling of the weight and the look of the illustrations, but also the smell of the pages, the sound that they make when you turn them, and the rough grain of their texture beneath your fingertips (although I'll grant you that the absence of papercuts incurred by reading ebooks is something to be grateful for).

I can therefore completely understand Stephen King's reticence when it comes to encouraging the digital revolution. But at least his success means that even if he does choose to eventually publish Joyland digitally, it is far likely to be for ideological reasons - and not for financial ones.

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