A man I once believed was wise once said: “Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.”
Talking directly, Stephen Fry is right. Correlation is not causation, Kindle won’t see the end of physical books just like we haven’t seen the end of stairs because “elevators” have been invented (from now on, I’ll be using the Britishism Lift instead).
But, his argument is flawed, because we still need stairs. You don’t make a building with a lift as the main trans-floor travel device, without a set of stairs, because out of the two, stairs are the safety feature, the reliable option. As far as most poeple are concerned, the lift is luxurious (even though it isn’t, because it’s bloody essential to wheelchair users and people with various disabilities, but, er, I dye grass). A lift can get stuck, it can’t be used in an emergency, and it can use up a lot of electricity. As far as stairs go, as much as it pains me to admit it, in this world of multi-floored buildings, they’re the unquestionable necessity.
Now how about ebooks? Well, eBooks, specifically Kindle ebooks, are owned by Amazon. That’s a problem within itself because Amazon love being the centre of a monopoly. If we’re not careful, we might wake up one morning to find Wall-E’s Buy & Large is actually Amazon. We can all say there’ll still be a demand for the physical book, but there’s nothing to say Amazon won’t do it’s utmost to make getting the physical book very, very difficult.
But back to Stephen Fry’s Stairs comparison.
Books are physical things that are made by paper. In an environment-conscious world, we know that books = paper = trees = deforestation. There’s a whole ecological price we pay for books, there’s a whole oxygen issue. We’re nowhere near to replacing the trees we have lost over the last 30 years by today’s efforts of planting new trees.
The less trees there are to cut down, the more expensive the commodity, the more luxurious it is to have a physical book. Even recycling is not flawless, because with each journey through the process, the materials get more degraded. You will always need new material to put into the mix to keep any recycled product fit for purpose.
We as a society are also suffering from a space problem. As in, there isn’t any. Here in the UK specifically, new properties are being made to the bare minimum, materials for building houses are made at the bare minimum. The new wave of built houses to reach housing demand, as commissioned by governments and housing associations, have minimal floor space, minimal lighting and minimal storage. The materials the houses are built out of also cause a problem for shelving. (Ask me how I know!)
So, suddenly, not only are the demand for books environmentally unfriendly, but also you have nowhere to put your books once you’ve read them, if in fact you could find a comfortable place to read them in your new minimalistic home in the first place. Sounds like, to me, that the better option is to just get the books from the library, but, understandably, people do like to own things they enjoy, and also libraries are getting closed down across the country. (Thanks, Government!)
And then there’s the price. We’re just out of being stuck in a recession, people’s wages are still being spread thin, many people struggling to have money after their necessities, and disability benefits leave little room for the luxuries of a good book. Yes, there’s books in poundland, charity shops, second hand shops and carboot sales, but if there’s a book you want to read And Keep, and it’s new, your choices become somewhat limited on the high street when you’re strapped for cash. Why pay £14.99 for a paperback/hardback in WHSmiths, when you can buy an eBook for a portion of the price from the Kindle eStore? And there’s sales on every day for a variety of books. Plenty of authors have give away days. You don’t get that in Waterstones. Extra bonus: You also don’t need the shelf space! (Good news for social housing tennants, yay!)
More and more, eBooks sounds like the better option if you’re a reader. And although there are various ways of getting an eBook, Kindle have become synonymous with eBooks and e-readers. I don’t know about actual market statistics, but they seem to the Google of search engines. On the other hand, stories are not synonymous with paper. Stories can be transcribed into anywhere and on anything that people will read them. People seem to think that when people complain about Kindle killing off the physical book, they mean there’ll no more stories as well. But that’s not the case. There will always be authors, and they will always want to be published. And it just so happens that publishing an eBook yourself is a lot easier than going through a publishing house or funding your own self-publishing printing costs. So, they’re also a very good option if you’re an author.
And, just like the ratings market of television have skewed amazing television series into cancellation (*sobs* Firefly!), it’d be just as easy for the publishing market to say that there’s no demand for physical books and then cause the dry up the demand for physical books, driving us into this cycle where physical books are no longer wanted. I don’t know how ready publishing companies are for the digital revolution, but they’ll want profits, and it’ll be in their favour to jump on the bandwagon than risk losses by pretending the bandwagon doesn’t exist.
I know it sounds ludicrous, but let’s look at the technology market. Physical keyboards are being outmoded, and everyone’s going touchscreen. I look at phones, I look at computers, and yes, The kindle, and I have asked staff at shops “Where’s the keyboard? Why is everything now touchscreen?” and the response is: “Everyone wants touch screens these days”. I don’t, do I not count?
My point is stock management, industry, and some sort of higher being telling us what we’re meant to want. It’s easy for them to do it, and to make us little ants just go along with it, and then they say “People are buying this, this must be what they want!”.
I don’t want to see the end of physical books, though I am no longer able to read them myself, and I think they will live happily side by side with ebooks for quite some time, but I think it’s ignorant to think that it hasn’t had some effect on the physical books market and that it won’t ever (read: continue) to do so.
Or… Maybe Kindle won’t kill off the physical book, but many factors will continue to make the physical book the lesser-wanted option, and eBooks from their providers the more go-to option, and unlike the stairs, which are needed when a fire breaks out, physical pages are becoming less necessary.