When Amazon.com a few weeks back released a statement saying that the e-book sales had passed their hardback sales, I felt a slight unease. Looking into it more thoroughly though it was just a small part of their statement that had been picked up, slightly modified and broadcast all over the news by overly eager journalists. Nothing wrong with that, but I couldn’t help but wonder how that could be. Having grown up with so many books around me that it was probably more forest inside the house than outside, and that says a lot when you spend most of your childhood in Sweden, this is a subject that have constantly been occupying my mind for the last few years. Will the atrocities called e-books outrun the traditional hardback? Surely not.
Looking closer at the data, Amazon.com used the example of James Patterson and his e-books having sold astonishing 1.14 million electronic copies worldwide, and Amazon’s version for their Kindle reading tablet standing for more than 860.000 of these sales alone. That the printsales for James Patterson totals around 205 million, therefore making the e-book sales represent somewhere around 0.4% of the total sales, wasn’t mentioned in the press release from Amazon. What was mentioned though was that they have data showing that the hardback sales also are rising, according to Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon. That part most journalists forgot to mention.
But what is all the fuss really about? Is the e-book getting ahead of the hardback sales? And if they are, what does it mean for the future of the private family library and the book reading habits of the general public? Hopefully it won’t mean too much of a change, and if it does it will most likely be for the better. Still I can’t help but wonder, won’t the smell of the books, the smell of a library and the feeling of turning pages in a new book be missed? Or the feeling of a secondhand hardback, leatherbound, in good condition with thick paper and heavy spine with perfect binding, can that really be replaced by pixels and sterile plastic? For me that really can’t be an option. And I would be the ideal buyer of this device, a person who should love its advantage of carrying hundreds of books in a flimsy plastic gadget. Constantly travelling, constantly in need of heaps of literature to keep me going during tedious shorthaul flights and boring train travels. But I don’t want it. I don’t want a Kindle or an iPad. At least not for reading books and newsapers. It’s taken me years to get used to reading newspapers online, but, though I’m now used to it, I still don’t like it. At all. It can’t compare with the tactile escape to the world of words and experiences from far away, a tryst with people and mesmerizing, sometimes provocative, thoughts. It can’t compare with the overview of news and interesting articles you get when opening a newspaper in the morning, the big and broad beauty of print ink and cheap paper in perfect marriage.
The computerized reading experience is an escape alright, but in the wrong direction. A reading experience is not just the words and their meaning, it is a way of living. Literature is a way of life of which the e-book will never be a part, I’m sorry to say. A book is a book which is a book, and it can never be a computer or an electronic device.
And by God let us all pray for it to stay that way.