Traditional books are here to stay. Some things are worth cutting down a tree for
Ben Macintyre writing in The Times.
On my bookshelves sits a rare first edition. At ten years old it is already an antique, but it is in excellent condition for it has hardly been read. It is a lump of moulded plastic, one of the first attempts to replicate the reading experience on a handheld screen. Back in 1998, on this page, I predicted that this little machine would become “the most revolutionary concept in publishing since the invention of the mass-market paperback in 1936”. The e-book, I prophesied, would change the way we read for ever.
Having written those words, I put my e-book away, and never turned it on again.
The death of the traditional book has been predicted, wrongly, from the very start of the digital revolution. This week, as British publishers announced the further digitisation of their lists, the demise of the book was announced yet again. The electronic book would replace the paper variety, many of us believed, as surely as the grey squirrel has driven out the red. Yet this has not happened: the printed book is the same object, in essence, that it always was. Music, film and television have all transferred rapidly to digital format; reading in short form - blogs, journalism, e-mail - has thrived on the web since its inception.
But long-form literature has proved stubbornly resistant. Alongside those of us writing premature obituaries for the paper book were the traditionalists, insisting that the act of reading is so sacred that no machine could replicate it. In 1994, the novelist Annie Proulx declared: “Nobody is going to sit down and read a novel on a twitchy little screen. Ever.”