Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Value Of Printed Books In A Digital World

Image result for books images

The book world is healthy, growing, and as much a part of society as ever before.

That’s my belief -- and the facts bear it out despite misconceptions like “no one reads books anymore,” or “print is dead” or “people listen to podcasts and watch videos but don’t read.”

Books have changed with the times. They can be found in many formats – print, ebook, audiobook. They can be bought anywhere – bookstores, gift shops, big box stores, online, from authors directly, at events.  They are affordable, accessible, and continue to entertain, enlighten, encourage, and inform the masses.

A new book sheds light on the realities, myths, or not-so-well-known factoids about the book today, What We Talk About When We Talk About Books, by Leah Price. The sub-title says it all – The History and Future of Reading. Price, a distinguished professor of English at Rutgers University, founded the Initiative for the Book.

Digital-age pundits act as if the book is fast-becoming an anachronism, to go to the dustbin with typewriters, video cameras, and vinyl records. But the book not only survives – it thrives!

In 2011, more ebooks were sold than hardcovers, but by 2016, hardbacks outstripped ebooks and print sales have risen in each of the past four years.

Price, a book historian, tells us:

  • In 2012, 60% of 6-17 year-olds surveyed, predicted they’d always prefer print to ebooks. By 2016 that number climbed to 65%.
  • “We fetishize books because we imagine that they can protect us from our distractability, our sloth, the weakness of will that the earliest monks called Acedia.”
  • There’s a growing non-profit, Get Into Reading, that “gathers people who are socially marginalized in some way – whether because they’re unemployed, imprisoned, ill, or just old – to listen to each other read poems and short stories aloud.”
  • Better World Books, since 2002, sells used books on Amazon so funds can be raised for literary -- focused non-profits.
  • The Give A Book program in the UK “donates new books to primary school children and kids in foster care, as well as to readers who are ill, imprisoned, or old.”
  • Librotraficante “distributes banned books in low-income communities, creating oases in book deserts.”
Most fascinating in her book was a section on bibliotherapy, a phenomenon taking place in Wales, where doctors are issuing tens of thousands of book prescriptions annually.  “Libraries gained new patrons when doctors send patients through their doors. Literature reaches new readers every time a patient picks up a novel or memoir in route to the circulation desk.”

What an interesting idea. The medicalization of reading seems logical and helpful. Could your local doctor be giving book club recommendations, from novels to self-help books? Why not?!

Studies in Wales show that one-on-one counseling outperforms – narrowly-bibliotherapy. Te book option is inexpensive. And is a great supplement to professional care.

But a century ago, reading books wasn’t always seen as a cure but a problem, especially when it came to young minds and certain books. I’ll leave you with this colorful excerpt from Price’s interesting book:

“If certain genres of book counted as mind-altering substances, why not regulate their sale? Decades before alcohol and tobacco were ruled off-limits to the young, novels were forbidden to under-sixteens.  In 1883, the New York State Legislature debated whether to fine “any person who shall  sell, loan, or give to any minor under sixteen years of age any dime novel or book of fiction, without first obtaining the written consent of the parent or guardian of such a minor.  Unsuccessful in New York, a similar law passed three years later in Massachusetts, forbidding minors from buying “criminal news, police reports, or accounts of criminal deeds, or pictures and stories of lust and crime.”  Teenagers needed to be protected. The 1901 expert who worried that it sapped “the power of concentration, of attention, of memory (for a boy) to mope about the house and to be eternally bending his back and straining his eyes over the printed pages of a book” blamed print for the very vices that reading is now expected to combat A 1916 commentator added that “those     children who prefer to stay at home and read a good book when all the others are out and playing can be suspected of using reading as a sedative.  To childproof your house, the bookcase needed to be locked as firmly as the medicine cabinet.”

Today, on the contrary, the absence of printed stories is seen as a threat.

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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