R.I.P Books

The life of printed books seems dangerously close to a digital death. But how will that affect the readers or stories past, and where are we headed from here?

Scott Jacob | Contributing WriterScreen Shot 2013-11-06 at 11.34.45 AM
Strolling down the lamp-lit streets of Paris, drifting past the delicate beauty that is Notre Dame in a sprinkling rain, one will find a historical bookshop called Shakespeare and Company.

Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald frequented this shop, finding solace in its close-knit corners, dusty shelves and vast array of printed literature. This store was more than a place of commerce; rather, it was a place where any individual could find connectivity, radical education and inspiration, each bundle of paper bound by glue and the author’s passion.

Today, technology has become a behemoth of the consumer market, and due to the emphasis that has been placed on convenience, now e-readers, tablets and smartphones have formatted the method of printed books. This development begs the question of whether or not printed books are a necessary mode of production.

Rocket eBook and SoftBook were released in 1998 but found little success due to short battery life and high pricing. What ultimately drove the evolution of the e-reader was the development of e-ink, a small charge applied to ink that is suspended in liquid and brought to the surface of a screen on command. This feature brought the second major release of e-readers in the form of the Sony LIBre. With the appearance of realistic ink on a page, this new development set a precedent for all future e-readers.

From there, the popularity of e-readers sparked new innovation and competition. In 2010 the Kindle 3 was released, and the e-reader seemed to gain a corner of the book market. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, bookstore sales dropped by 2.1 percent in the first seven months of 2013, and 9.5 percent alone in July.

Declining sales for printed books force the literary world to look back into the foundational reason of why people enjoy the concept of a story.book market. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, bookstore sales dropped by 2.1 percent in the first seven months of 2013, and 9.5 percent alone in July.

Michael Durston is an assistant bookseller at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, Calif., one of the few book- stores still thriving in a difficult retail era for books.

“A lot of people who come in here just simply love their books,” Durston said. “ The e-reader stuff is moving so quickly, and we do have a small electronic reader section, but the attitude of a majority of our customers is ‘I would rather just buy a tangible book.’”

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Vroman’s Bookstore was found- ed in 1894 by Adam Clark Vroman, and since then has worked at build- ing a solid customer base among the people of its birthplace in Pasadena. Although Vroman’s stays in business due to the belief that printed literature is a necessary expenditure, Durston does not attempt to vilify the presence of digital contributions.

“The digital realm came about when everything was feeling a little crowded,” he said. “Instead of miles and miles of underground old books, there can be an electronic compilation.”

Returning to the visceral impact of a story is vital to grasping the argument for maintaining the production of print.

“The printed book has played a tremendous role in the past,” Dr. Adrienne King, an English professor at Sacramento City College, said. “For most of us (especially, those of my generation), it was the window to the world.”

Previous generations grew up without the constant bombardment of electronic stimulation; if they desired entertainment, advice, or enlightenment, they picked up the words of another who was an expert in that field.

Holding a copy of a novel, a research compilation or a work of non-fiction can act as a direct link to the past. Stories of personal value are amplified when the tattered cover, faded pictures and comfortable smell bring memories of a vibrant, nostalgic recollection into one’s present space.

“I also take great delight in owning books,” King said. “It fills me with comfort and pride to enter my home office, where there are shelves upon shelves of books. I know that I will never be lonely, for while I have read many in my collection, there are so many yet to be read and this excites me!”

Those who own collections or keep a library will tell you there is a much more personal connection to printed copies of the written word. When each book contains fresh ideas, complex characters and alternate universes, it is as if one can be earnestly understood by an author’s creation.

The various critical comments and marks made in a book can ultimately show the evolution of an ideology, something that is lost in an electronic device. While an e-reader has the capability of highlighting lines of text, the device also filters out a majority of the reader’s character by not allowing personal, in-depth comments.

The perennial relevance of printed literature will be preserved by those who attach an emotional weight to the tangible proof of an author’s in- carnation of a story. Individuals who have grown up searching for identity, hope and a means for change in the words of a book will desire that same passion for the subsequent generations as well.

“I raised my children the same way I had been raised – with printed books,” King said. “However, with the advent of so many technological resources that can now be accessed, I suppose, there is much more reliance on the Internet, e-books, etc., so perhaps, fewer children are growing up with the attachment to printed books than I had as a child (or I provided for my children).”

Through the smoke of a downturned economy and the recent technological developments made in book publishing, printed books remain a way for individuals to leave a legacy.

If we said goodbye to the art of the printed word, it would unfortunately also mean the end of the graphic design and innovative artistic work involved in publication. Literary col- lections like Penguin’s Clothbound Classics or Harper Perennial’s Modern Classics serve as excellent examples of how multifaceted the printed word can be by offering consumers not only a book to feed their minds, but a piece of artwork to grace their bookshelves.

Senior graphic design major at Saint Mary’s College in Calif., Garrett Kieth, argues the importance of the mutual relationship between art, literature and the technology supporting it saying:

“Through my education, and the rigorous, often time[s] tedious, work of sitting in front of a computer and hashing out designs, I have found that there can be a beautiful link between the art of cover design and technology in the sense that accuracy and vibrancy can be amplified using computer programs.”

Intricate designs, lofty material and radiant lettering can not only bring out the innermost being of a book but also provide insight into the owner. Human beings buy books that reflect their own ambitions, and as such, the stacks of books they come to possess act as an accumulation of who they are. Each novel embodies a piece of his or her soul; the books on the shelf eventually turn into a mirror. When the owner’s body gets weaker and fades, there will still be a depiction of their character for the next generation to discover and engage with.

“Literature reveals so much in terms of a people – it is our mark on civilization,” King said. “As such, I sincerely believe there is still a need to collect tangible books for children and future generations. Printed pieces of paper can be misplaced, the Internet can crash, but the printed book will last.”

An eventual death of printed literature may seem feasible to some, but in the end it will all come down to a group of consumers and the yearning to leave a lasting legacy of the written word.

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