To play music back in the day, a record player and the record were required. Then, came cassette tapes, followed by CDs, and now there are MP3 players. Apple’s iPod, Microsoft’s Zune, and SanDisk’s Sanza are just three different types of MP3 players out of many. To listen to records, you needed a lot of space in which to put the stereo equipment, but now it all fits in your pocket.
If you can do it with music, then why not books? Shouldn’t books fit in your pocket? Instead of iPods there is the Kindle, in competition with Barnes and Noble’s Nook. And don’t you worry, Apple, of course, is following close behind with some sort of “super iPhone.” Books are heavy and can be difficult to lug around. When you think about it, it only makes sense to digitalize books. Picture this: You’re sitting at the airport, waiting for your flight, and you finish one of the paperbacks you happened to stick in your bag. Luckily, you brought another, but the flight gets delayed overnight and sitting in your hotel room you finish that book too. You are left frustrated not only because of the airport system, but also because you are now bored. With an electronic reading device, this situation would not happen, because hundreds of books can fit on that little thing.
This blog is not meant to be an advertisement for electronic reading devices, but when you think of books the way you think of music these devises really only make sense. At first, some did not like the idea of downloading music, especially because artists got tired of the music getting pirated, and that got in the way of making money. This idea is also behind digitalizing books. Publishing companies and authors are worried about not getting the money they usually would from selling a hardcover book, but somehow things like this will get worked out. Of course, there will probably still be some pirating of books as there is with music, but ways to prevent this will be established. Music artists still make money, and now downloading music helps promote those artists. This is done by recording how many times a song has been downloaded within a week and so getting it on the “Top 20.” This also makes it easier to share the tunes, thereby creating more fans. These same concepts can work with authors. How many times a book got downloaded will help promote authors, popularizing them and getting more fans interested. You’ll be able to share a book with a friend by sharing the PDA, and you still get to keep your copy.
But what will happen to bookstores, to books in general? Have no fear, bookstores will stay here! I highly doubt that once electronic book readers become more popular there will be a mass book burning. Think about it. Barnes and Noble, a bookstore, has its own electronic reading device. They are not worried about losing their stores; instead they are enhancing them. CD stores have not disappeared, and there are still record stores around too. Yes, vinyl records are a sort of novelty these days, but perhaps this sort of thing will happen with books too. Libraries will still be used and hardcopies will still be needed. But things are advancing—people are moving faster and technology also needs to be fast. If hundreds of books can be at your fingertips why should this be considered a bad thing?
Perhaps instead of being worried about digitalizing books we should be embracing it. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have my MP3 player instead of my clunky, hard to carry around booklet of CDs just to have a variety-CD player. My back has all sorts of problems from having had to lug around heavy textbooks in high school and college. An electronic reader would help save me a lot of pain.
So instead of fearing the electronic reader, be excited for it. In 1999 people worried that Y2K would destroy the world and that all computers would crash. This, people, was ridiculous, and did not happen. Nobody is going to be able to completely destroy books. There is a magic to picking up a book, the way it smells and feels. Books will remain important. But with electronic readers, books will become more accessible and easy to carry around. What’s more comfortable, running in the park with your headphones and MP3 player or running while carrying around your vinyl record player? Books will not disappear, they’ll just be easier to carry around.