I am told that Friday’s column was a touch gloomy, dealing as it did with the sentiment that the book is doomed, and we will be watching this genre and that dwindle to electronic images on a screen without ever seeing print. And it is true, after all, that we can vlew the whole process from the other end of the lifeboat. That would be the “You bail, Jack. My end ain’t sinking.”
Even if one assumes the eBook will eventually take over from the Book, some books, surely, will continue to appeal to buyers. So instead of considering which types of books we are likely to see becoming extinct first, we can explain why certain kinds won’t be going anywhere for a while yet.
Pop Fiction Goes Last:.The people who read this stuff are a clannish bunch: hence all the conventions and fan clubs. They love to pass along their latest find to their friends. “Here, borrow my copy!” And the makers of eReaders frown on that sort of thing. They can’t make money on downloads if people are going to be passing texts around. You KNOW they’re going to come up with an eyeprint reader so that electronic romances or fantasy epics are For Your Eyes Only. MUCH easier to get your fan club membership drive going if you have paperbacks to hand out. And don’t forget comic books: how can you have a mint copy of a rare comic if just anybody can download it, fresh as a daisy, in eForm?
Scholarly Publishing Goes Last: Scholars are a superstitious lot: they like a printed page. How can they base a talk at a convention on a mistake Dr. Schuhfitz made in footnote 87, page 321 of her book if she, getting wind of it, can ease in electronically and correct the mistake, pretending the correct information was there all along? How can Professor Twelvetrees claim he discovered the Amazonian amatacat first, since his paper predates Dr. Tutkus’s paper by four days if Dr. Tutkus monkeys with the computer calendar setting. A printed page is hard evidence.
Children’s Books Go Last: You cannot write your name in brown crayon on a Kindle. You CAN curl up in a grandparent’s lap with a Nook, I suppose, and say “Punch the Buttons for Under the Bridge again.” That kind of assumes your grandparents know how to work the Nimbus 2000 Kindlegarten Primer, and that the bifocals can handle the page from the same angle you do. And, yes, there are programs that will do all the funny voices for you the way Grandpa does. But the computer will do it the first time you ask, which takes away the fun of nagging Grandpa to do it.
How To Books Go Last.Which do you really want to be holding when you’re standing kneedeep in water in the basement: an electronic device or volume 3 of the Popular Mechanics Guide to Plumbing? After all, you can still read the book when you pick it up out of the water.
You can’t wrap fish and chips in a Nook, and the unabridged dictionary will hold a door open far better than Wikipedia will. You’ll NEVER c lean out those old unread New yorkers if you let them pile up electronically. That Andy Warhol book I sold twice, the second time after the first buyer ripped out the inscription, but because Andy’s pen had leaked through the page still had a LITTLE of his autograph, would never have worked the same way with a Kindle. And did you ever squash a fly between the pages of an eBook?
The book is not licked yet, and I’m not the only person who thinks so. I was just reading the same thing by a bunch of experts quoted in an old issue of the New York Times I was reading online.