I have a Kindle. It is very practical – I carry thirty-three books on me at all times, and if I want a book, within five minutes I have it on my screen. Such immediacy shows how digital publishing has to be the way forward. This is necessary in an international world of media. But while Ebook sales outstrip paperback, they do not signal an end to print. Unlike the letter with an email, an Ebook is not such a direct replacement.
The rise of Ebooks is often considered an ecological benefit. Publishing in print uses two per cent of the world’s paper. While this remains a significant burden upon natural resources, compared to newspapers, the argument for digitalisation is less convincing. If publishers followed Penguin and printed (as the company has done since 2006) on recycled paper from their own forests, the ethics behind print would be less prevalent.
I do not think the argument for Ebooks stand with trees, but rather with bookshelves. The benefit of an Ebook is that they take up no physical space, enabling a cleaner existence in the home. The room feels less enclosed, and so a modern, open plan look is established.
And yet, visually, a bookshelf glorifies literary achievements and, less pretentiously, marks a person’s interests: a greater indicator about them than several posed photographs. The restriction of an Ebook is that they reveal nothing about you, and while this shrouds one with a convenient mystery – particularly on trains – sentimentality is hard to overcome. By removing the bookcase, are we creating a sterile world?
On a practical basis, a bookcase organises your books under your own preference – a Kindle cannot offer this. As a Kindle user myself, I believe that there is a difference between what I purchase as an Ebook, and what I purchase in print. This is at the root of how Ebooks will always co-exist with print. An Ebook cannot be shared or have a resale value. Will an undergraduate be so willing to buy a reading list in digital format?
An Ebook represents function: its genius lies in its practicality. As a piece of technology it will be developed to better suit our needs better, while print will remain static. But function has limitations, and I believe the two formats will serve separate purposes in people’s lives. Different books are better suited to a particular format. The Kindle isolates your reading to you, and yet you cannot give an Ebook as a present – a PDF file on an elaborate memory stick lacks the warmth of the intention. Ebooks may be the future in respects to markets, but not to the extent that second hand books shops or libraries will close.