The debate over print books versus digital books continues. I came across a Wikipedia article on Johann Gutenberg recently and was struck by this entry:
“In the decades after Gutenberg, many conservative patrons looked down on cheap printed books; books produced by hand were considered more desirable.”
What strikes me about this statement is that some 550 years ago, the perceived value of books printed using the then new movable type was lower than that of books created BY HAND! Today, we are in the midst of another revolution in publishing, in which words appear within electronic devices, not on the printed page.
This begs the question “What will be the next evolution in publishing?”
People continue to debate digital versus print books, as though this is a new phenomenon. In reality, it’s no different than the debate over mechanically-printed versus created-by-hand books.
I doubt that I will ever lose my love for print books. But then I’ve grown up with them. Future generations may not hold them in high esteem, however. Rather, they may consider them a waste of natural resources. Why kill trees to produce books when they can be created virtually?
Such “our way is best” opinions miss the bigger picture. In 100 years, who knows how and into what new medium that books, newspapers and magazines will evolve?
In the days of the horse and buggy, most producers of buggies who saw themselves merely as buggy manufacturers eventually went out of business at the advent of the automobile. Those who adapted and viewed their businesses within the broader definition of “transportation” fared better.
If my buggy example seems far afield, consider this:
With the invention of fountain pens and, later, ballpoint pens, gel pens and felt-tip pens, the time-honored quill pen is no longer desirable except as a collector’s item. Writers submitted their manuscripts written by hand to publishers for decades. Along came typewriters making the process of setting words to paper faster and more efficient. Mark Twain is credited with having submitted the first typed manuscript to a publisher in this country.
Then came word processors and desktop computers with daisywheel or dot matrix printers. Publishers had to specify “letter quality” print when stacks of manuscripts arrived in their slush piles printed in faded, low resolution dot matrix type.
Now we have laptops and netbooks connected to inkjet printers or laser printers, which make editors’ eyes much happier. And then there are those hot-selling digital gadgets without which many of us would be lost: iPads, cell phones, and digital readers like Kindle and Nook. Who knows what else is just over the technological horizon? (Important: Before clicking on these product-related links, see my Material Connections page.)
For that matter, who knows where and how words will be written into and upon in 100 years? In terms of the age of our planet, it hasn’t been all that long since words were carved in stone.
As writers, we would be foolish to restrict ourselves to writing only for, say, the printed book market. If we did so, we would be no different than 15th century patrons who valued hand-created books over those mass-produced.
Words are our business. That means the spoken word as well as the written word. I don’t want to become a modern day buggy maker or quill maker or stone tablet creator. I am a wordsmith. But might I not better serve my market if I began to see myself as a communicator? Right now, the difference is negligible. But I have my eye on the future. Do you?
What do you think? Leave a comment below.