menu

Long live the (printed) book

A recent article Angling Trade (March 2011) featured an interesting article about books and how they factor into the fly fishing industry.  The article, titled “Now Read This” by Chris Santella, takes a look at how books factor into the revenue stream of fly fishing industry. It also examines the technology trends in e-book readers and how that is changing the book industry, and to some degree the fly fishing book segment of the market.

I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to books.  While I acknowledge the benefits of e-readers I still prefer the organic appeal of a printed book.  I like the smell, the texture, the physical cover art and the tactile ability to dog-ear a page when I can’t find my book mark.  I am not a complete technology dinosaur, mind you, and even bought my wife a Kindle for her birthday this year.  It’s a neat little device.  But I don’t want one.

Some of my reservation stems from the fact that as an author of printed books, I feel just a little threatened by ebooks. Not enough to cause me to lose sleep over it, but enough to make me to pay at least some attention to the trend.

For kids books, however, e-readers such as Amazon’s Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook are not the platform. Even as they build color technology into the readers, the screen display is too small to provide the experience of a large format, illustrated picture book (emphasis on picture).  There are e-publishers who specialize in creating books for the Apple iPad, but even that screen is small by comparison to an 8.5 x 11 or larger format of a printed book. Like any piece of software, an e-book does have the ability to build in interactive features to further enhance a child’s reading/learning experience, and I even went so far as to talk to one such publisher for the iPad. I was disappointed that the publisher wanted to limited the length of their childre’s titles to 15 pages and build in gratuitous animations that were limited in scope and didn’t add anything of significant value to the book. As a former software artist/animator I suggested interactive, animated games and lessons. The publisher said it would be too expensive to build those features. And that is the extent of my experience with e-book publishers for kids.  If I’m going to have my books published on the e-platform, I do not want them to be scaled down or devalued in order to fit a certain software development template.

Then I stumbled upon a Publisher’s Weekly article by Bill Henderson that speaks to another aspect of e-books that many may not have considered: the negative environmental aspect of producing these battery-operated devices.

Some think that the e-reader will save trees. Soon, according to a recent New York Times article, we will possess over 100 million e-readers. What a savings in our forests, right? Wrong.

We often think of the traditional publishing industry as a waste of trees, water and energy sources; chemicals and inks used in printing as bad stuff.  Well, more and more printers are greening up their printing practices by using non-toxic inks and bleach-free recycled paper stocks, etc.  I don’t know enough about the global practices of the printing idustry, but the manufacture of e-readers makes the printing process, to me, seem rather benign by comparison. From the Publisher’s Weekly article:

Here’s what an e-reader is: a battery-operated slab, about a pound, one-half inch thick, perhaps with an aluminum border, rubberized back, plastic, metal, silicon, a bit of gold, plus rare metals such as columbite-tantalite (Google it) ripped from the earth, often in war-torn Africa. To make one e-reader requires 33 pounds of minerals, plus 79 gallons of water to refine the minerals and produce the battery and printed writing. The production of other e-reading devices such as cellphones, iPads, and whatever new gizmo will pop up in the years ahead is similar. “The adverse health impacts [on the general public] from making one e-reader are estimated to be 70 times greater than those for making a single book,” says the Times.

Like I said, I’ll stick to printed books. I like reading them and writing them.

So go into your local fly shop and ask for Olive the Little Woolly Bugger, Olive and The Big Stream, and Olive Goes for a Wild Ride.  They should have them in stock, and if they don’t they can get them through their distributor.  Just don’t expect to find the Olive series in an e-reader format anytime soon.

That’s my story and I shall stick to it, all the way to the poor house.

 


2 thoughts on “Long live the (printed) book”

  1. danny bloom says:

    The recent onslaught of e-readers was announced with a veneer of the best of intentions. The book needed improving, said one maven, who also sells diapers and soup online. An MIT visionary predicted that in five years we will read almost no paper books—just digital devices. The book would become a relic, a collector’s item, the e-experts agreed. And of course with the death of the book, our bookstores and libraries would wither and die.

    The e-experts said that in the future all information and literature would be available on the device of the moment (sure to be replaced by the device of the next moment). You may never have to leave the comfort of home or bed. The latest bestseller—indeed, millions of out-of-print books (you didn’t know you needed that many)—could be had at the click of a button. This was billed as an improvement.

    Lots of people are making lots of money telling us this is for our own good. Tweeting away, we never stop to think. In fact, we may be losing the ability to think.

    In The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Norton, 2010), Nicholas Carr notes that after years of digital addiction, his friends can’t read in depth anymore. Their very brains are changing, physically. They are becoming “chronic scatterbrains… even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb.”

    Carr continues: “For the last five centuries, ever since Gutenberg made reading a popular pursuit, the linear, literary mind has been at the center of art, science, and society. As supple as it is subtle, it’s been the imaginative mind of the Renaissance, the rational mind of the Enlightenment, the inventive mind of the Industrial Revolution, even the subversive mind on Modernism. It may soon be yesterday’s mind.”

    Because our brains can no longer think beyond a tweet, we can’t write well. And we can’t read well either. The idea of reading—let alone writing—War and Peace, Bleak House, or Absalom, Absalom! is fading into an impossible dream.

    In any case, what serious writer would create exclusively for an e-reader? It’s like farting into the wind. Writers hope, mostly in vain, that their work will endure for a few years or even centuries, in handsome printed and bound volumes. Why bother at all if your words are to be digitized into instantly accessible and disposable battery-dependent gas?

    Some think that the e-reader will save trees. Soon, according to a recent New York Times article, we will possess over 100 million e-readers. What a savings in our forests, right? Wrong.

    Here’s what an e-reader is: a battery-operated slab, about a pound, one-half inch thick, perhaps with an aluminum border, rubberized back, plastic, metal, silicon, a bit of gold, plus rare metals such as columbite-tantalite (Google it) ripped from the earth, often in war-torn Africa. To make one e-reader requires 33 pounds of minerals, plus 79 gallons of water to refine the minerals and produce the battery and printed writing. The production of other e-reading devices such as cellphones, iPads, and whatever new gizmo will pop up in the years ahead is similar. “The adverse health impacts [on the general public] from making one e-reader are estimated to be 70 times greater than those for making a single book,” says the Times.

    Then you figure that the 100 million e-readers will be outmoded in short order, to be replaced by 100 million new and improved devices in the years ahead that will likewise be replaced by new models ad infinitum, and you realize an environmental disaster is at hand. We will have lost a chunk of our planet as we lose our minds to the digital juggernaut.

    Here’s what it takes to make a book, which, if it is any good, will be shared by many readers and preserved and appreciated in personal, public, and university libraries that survive the gigantic digital book burning: recycled paper, a dash of minerals, and two gallons of water. Batteries not necessary. If trees are harvested, they can be replanted.

    I co-edited Book Love—a collection of observations on writing, reading, and the tradition of printed and bound books—for those who still love books. Books are our history and our future. If they survive, we will, too. Books, readers, writers—on this tripod we keep the faith.

  2. danny bloom says:

    Imagine a newspaper article in the year 2025 — datelined “Boston” and pehaps
    headlined ”MRI brain imaging lab studies differences in screen, paper
    reading,” — that begins like this:

    “Ellen Marker studies reading. But not off screens or in
    paper books.

    Her research is done in a Boston laboratory.

    ”The pioneering neuroscientist analyzes brains in their most enthusiastic
    reading state, hoping to understand the differences between reading
    off screens and reading on paper surfaces.

    Marker feels that her studies will show reading on paper
    is superior to reading off screens in terms of
    retention, processing, analysis and critical thinking.

    But first, let’s see what the scans will be like.

    Marker asks a reporter to put himself into an fMRI machine so she and his

    team can study which areas of the brain are activated by reading text
    on paper compared to reading the same text on a computer screen or a
    Kindle e-reader.

    And this is why this reporter is here. Today this reporter will donate
    his brain scans to science.

    Among the things that Marker has discovered so far is that reading on
    paper might be
    something we as a civilization should not ever give up.

    “Even though reading on screens is useful and convenient, and I do it
    all the time, I feel that
    reading on paper is somethine we should never cede to the digital
    revolution,” Marker says. “We need both.”

    On the day I climb into the brain imaging cocoon, I am thinking about
    what it all might mean.
    But since I am just a guinea pig and not a scientist, I will have to
    wait for the results.

    I enter a sterile lab, and Marker and her four associates greet me,
    all in white lab coats.
    As they hand me my a pale blue gown to change into, I have
    second thoughts — “How can I read while lying down horizontally my
    back, not my preferred reading mode?” — but decide to push myself.

    Science needs me!

    The scientists load me into the machine and I’m off.

    Next step: They strap my head down, because any movement distorts the
    brain imaging. Ever try to read a book without facial movements?

    I feel as if I’m being shoved into the middle of a toilet paper roll,
    the walls so close my eyelashes almost graze them.

    Then I hear a voice through the earphones I’m wearing. It’s Dr Marker.

    “You okay in there?” she asks.

    Graduate student Dan Smith, 52, tells me to relax before
    running around to join the other scientists in the control room.

    With the invention of the fMRI only 20 years ago, along came the
    ability to look at brain activity. Marker says that by understanding a
    function as gigantic as reading, how the reading brain does its magic
    dance, a response that hijacks all of
    one’s attention, she might also learn how reading on screens could be
    inferior to reading on paper.

    “The more we understand how the brain works,” she says, “the more we
    will be able to help people modulate its activity.”

    As the machine switches on, it sounds like a jackhammer. I follow
    Marker’s instructions and as I do, the group watches my brain on
    their computer monitors. I willl read passages from a novel, and then
    later I will read
    the same passages on a Kindle. I just hope the Kindle does not blow up
    inside the brain scan machine!

    Research and teaching take up most of Marker’s time, but when she has a
    spare moment, she thinks about what all this might mean for the future
    of humankind.

    During my first hour in the fMRI machine, researchers map my brain’s
    reading paths
    to find out which parts correlate to
    which regions of the brain.

    “You have 10 minutes,” Marker says through my earphones near the end
    of our test. “Keep reading.”

    On the
    other side of the glass pane, the scientists can see my brain lighting
    up as I read on paper and as I read on a screen. Regions light up in
    different ways, Marker says.

    Komisaruk discusses what her research could do for the future of
    humankind. “We need to know
    if reading on screens is going to be good if it replaces all our
    reading on paper.”

    Marker’s lab has paid me a
    $100 subject fee, so I want to give them their money’s worth.

    After all, it’s not easy to get funding for this stuff — Marker
    says she spends at least half of her time applying for grants.

    “There’s no premium on studying paper reading modes versus
    screen-reading modes in this society,” she tells me
    as Smith murmurs, “What do you expect? The gadgetheads want to take over.”

    When the tests are over, Market tells me the data takes two hours to
    convert, but it can take much longer to
    make sense of it.

    “We’ll be at this for a while,” she says.

    One of the biggest conundrums turns out to be a nagging
    question for all mankind: What if reading on screens is not good
    for retention of data, emotional connections and critical thinking skills?

    Marker begins slipping more and more
    into her thoughts. “Neurons, little bags of chemicals, create
    awareness,” he says, “but how? How does the brain create the mind?
    What is reading, really?”

    I see that at the heart of all her research, there is a
    philosopher trying not only to understand reading, but also figure out
    the nuts and bolts that make up the human experience.

    “It’s the hard question I want to answer,” she says. “What creates
    consciousness?

    “I find that,” she adds, “and I find the Nobel Prize.”

    Of course, the above is a fantasy, an imagined newspaper article from
    the future.

    But what if it turns out that reading on screens is inferior to
    reading on paper and all
    print newspapers go belly up? What then? And it could happen.

    But just as nobody heeded the calls that radiation and cancer might impact cell

    phone use, will the profit-seeking makers of device e-readers listen to people
    like the imaginary Dr Marker above, or
    even care if she is right?

    Not in 2011.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *