Is It the End of Books as We Know Them?
BackBy Lindsay Edmonds Wickman
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve venerated books — yes, books.
I was that seventh-grader who painstakingly covered my textbooks with used grocery bags in an effort to protect them. And now I’m that adult who treats my book as if it were a one-of-a-kind antique that could shatter at any moment, never folding a page and never breaking a binding.
My passion for books may be rooted in the fact that I’m a writer, and every writer’s dream is to scribe a book that is as relevant to people in the future as J.R.R. Tolkien is today. But with everyone reading the news on BlackBerrys and iPhones, it begs the question: Will the book stand the test of time, or will it become a dinosaur of the past? While I know this technology transition ultimately is smarter and more economical, I still must drag my feet.
Already, many universities are digitizing textbooks, helping to ease lower back pain and make the cost of college less. But this change, probably more than any other, forces me to realize the age of books may be over. If those in academia can turn their backs on books, then won’t everyone else?
My first instinct was to bite my thumb — an insult from Shakespearean days — at Google Book Search, which allows users to search for scanned texts that are stored in a digital database. But then I thought: “Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way.”
Historically, books and education have been symbols of wealth, and Google is changing that dynamic by making books universal. With Book Search, you can preview a text and in some cases read the entire book online. Instead of paying a bookstore for Moby Dick, you can go to Book Search and read it for free. Maybe Google’s innovation will become the best tool to beat illiteracy and spur passion in others for the legendary texts of James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Butler Yeats.
But companies working toward a more digitized version of the book may be up against some obstacles. There’s a fear that what happened in the music business with piracy could replay itself in the book industry. In fact, in 2005, The Authors Guild, the largest society of published writers in the United States, filed a suit against Google over its “unauthorized scanning and copying of books through its Google Library program,” according to the guild’s Web site.
However, Google stated on its Web site that the Library Project — where the tech giant partners with libraries to scan “public domain and in-copyright books” for Book Search — actually protects copyright holders by ensuring that users only see “a card catalog-style entry” with basic book information.
I personally feel better about Google’s endeavor than I do about Amazon’s Kindle, a wireless reading device that is straight up trying to replace my beloved books. Plastered on Amazon’s Web site is the following quote from Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball and Liar’s Poker: “This is the future of book reading. It will be everywhere.”
I hope Lewis is wrong. I don’t want to see books tossed aside or displayed in museums as artifacts of an ancient culture. I want them to be just as relevant in the future as they are today, but I don’t see that happening considering the four-star rating for the $399 Kindle.
I know I’m probably alone in my stance, as my father-in-law just purchased a Kindle, and my husband is toying with the idea, too. But I’m not ready to get on that bandwagon yet. As far as I’m concerned, Amazon has taken away the bookstore, and now it’s taking away the book.
Looking into the future, I see more shuttered bookstores and books lying in basement storage boxes collecting cobwebs. I hinge my one hope on the resilience of books thus far, but I suppose it can be argued that the Kindle itself is just another transformation of the book.
Many of you in the IT community may disagree with my assessment of Amazon’s gadget. And you most likely will win the war on books, as I’m probably the only 20-something obsessed with them. I can only hope there is enough room for both e-books and physical books — at least for now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not resistant to change. I’m just resistant to reading my books on a Kindle. Where’s the fun in that?
– Lindsay Edmonds Wickman, email@example.com