Scrolling through my Twitter newsfeed the other day, which I’m ashamed to admit is how I consume most of my news, I came across this brief opinion piece from the Guardian smugly declaring print books have triumphed in their war with e-books. According to the article’s author, rebuker of the “technodazzled” Simon Jenkins, it’s all over. Down goes Frazier. Radio killed the video star. He confidently declares, referring to print books, “the old bruisers have seen off another challenge.” Jenkins cites a slight decline in e-book sales last year coupled with a slight uptick in print sales as a clear-cut indicator that digital’s threat to print’s throne has been permanently thwarted. I have two issues with this take.
Issue the first: A one-year sales dip in no way means readers as a whole are forever disenchanted with e-books. Such talk seems to me like the wildly premature conclusion of a print lover who so desperately wants his preferred medium to remain dominant he’ll jump on any shred of favorable evidence that will allow him to say “told ya so” and dance on his perceived enemy’s grave. Perhaps the latest sales trends are a sign of a long-term cooling of e-book enthusiasm (I personally don’t think so), but to at this early stage declare the “novelty [has] passed” and ask questions like, “What went wrong?” as if we’ve reached the point of a digital autopsy is jumping the gun. E-books could still very well ultimately reign supreme in the book kingdom, especially if stubborn publishers start bringing prices down to more palatable levels below those of hardcover books. At the library, where price is not a barrier to consumption, e-book circulation has actually been on the rise over the past few years. BPL cardholders checked out 8,178 e-books and e-audiobooks in our ’13-’14 fiscal year, 10,457 in ’14-’15, and are on pace to check out 11,016 e-items in ’15-’16. This of course doesn’t mean that digital is overtaking print in Benbrook; our print circulation numbers are far higher and have also been increasing. It does, however, indicate interest in and adoption of e-books is alive and well around here, and I’d bet that’s the case in plenty of other areas, too.
Issue the second: Why does the relationship between print and digital have to be an adversarial one? Why does one have to vanquish the other? A wise bumper sticker once said “coexist,” and I don’t see why e-books and print books (and more importantly, readers of each) can’t do just that. There will always be* old school print romanticizers who, like Jenkins, believe “a book is beauty…a shelf, a wall, a home.” There will always be digital device-wielding technojunkies who welcome the pervasion of technology in all areas of life, including reading. And there will hopefully always be people who live in both worlds, play both sides. I fall in the latter category. While, like Jenkins, I see great value in taking “a break from another damned screen” and will always hold print in high regard, I’m also a proud Kindle owner who’s a fan of the travel-friendliness and physical storage savings the device affords. I’m supportive of books in both formats, and I don’t want either to die. Coexist, man.
*I hope. I really like those people.