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Thursday, February 2, 2017

How Important Is The Printed Book?



“For many centuries, books have been emblems of our culture and regarded as one of the defining characteristics of civilization,” says author David Pearson in his 2008 book, Books as History:  The Importance of Books Beyond Their Texts.  

“They have been symbolically central to many religions and they have been identified with learning and sound moral virtues…Books are tremendously familiar objects, and easy to find.  New ones are being produced all the time, and our libraries and bookshops are full of them providing access to information, knowledge and cultural heritage.  As historical artefacts go, they are still relatively cheap to acquire and abundant to supply.”

This most unique book, beautifully presented with images on glossy paper, challenges the idea that books are interesting beyond being portals of content, and that they have much more to offer as cultural and historical artifacts.

In the foreword to the revised 2011 edition, it outlined why such a book was written: “Books as history has two main themes:  Primarily it is about the various ways in which books can be interesting as artifacts, as objects with individual histories and design characteristics, beyond whatever value they have in the texts they convey.  The ways in which books are made, owned, written in, mutilated, and bound all add something to the documentary heritage which is central to the record of human civilization. The second theme is, around the importance of seeing this, at a time when the world of books is in flux, and the need for them is questioned as their traditional functions are increasingly undertaken by electronic media.  Books may cease to be read but let us recognize that we may have other reasons to value them."

There has been a race or a competition between digital books and printed books, and between digital anything and printed materials and even between the free Internet and the paid book.  Though many more people still appear to be more comfortable with reading a printed book over consuming it on a device, that still could change.  The answer will not be that digital nor print goes away and only one is used exclusively, but the question is:  How can a balance be ensured so that the printed book never leaves us?

Books can be seen as something other than a housing of knowledge or ideas.  It can go beyond the transmission of mere text.  “A beautifully produced book,” says Pearson, “or a splendidly illustrated one, will often be readily regarded as a work of art in its own right.”  

He adds:  “The potential of books as forms of art goes beyond the juxtaposition of text and pictures, or the use of pleasing typography in good layouts; people have sought to apply a creative vision to all the various elements that make up a book, to achieve a genuine fusion of words, images and design in a synthesis that relies partly on the physical format of the book for its effectiveness.”

It seems in the past few years the book industry has settled into a new norm.  Ebook sales have declined a little and paper books have increased a little over the past three years.  The Great Recession is over and the ebook revolution has stalled.  People still value printed books, brick-and-mortar bookstores, and old-fashioned libraries. But this is by no means a finish line.  The order can easily be upset by any number of factors, trends, values, or economic reasons.

The advent of the Internet is the big challenge, not just to printed books and physical stores, but to the book itself.  Free content flourishes online, from web sites, blogs, podcasts, and articles from the news media.  Will people continue to read long-length books?  Will they continue to pay for them?

Though other media has come on the scene, such as radio and television, neither proved to injure books.  In fact, they supplement one another and co-exist effectively.  But can the book still survive the immediacy, availability, and massive scale of free content provided by the Internet?

Pearson concludes as follows:  “The death of the book is resisted and denied at least as much as it is forecast, partly on the grounds of empirical observation and partly on more sentimental ones.  People like books, and many current users of such a familiar and trusted part of the fabric of life are instinctively hostile to the notion that they become less necessary.  More concretely, it is argued that we are still seeing a steady increase in the numbers of books published and purchased year on year, that the e-books of today are clumsy substitutes, and that the long-term stability of electronic media has yet to be proven.  The death of the book could be like the paperless office, a false prophecy which will not come to be.”

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs 

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