Last weekend was the Los Angeles Time Festival of Books. The LAT Book Fest prides itself on being the largest in the nation, and while I cannot verify whether this is true, I can say that there was definitely a lot of people there. People from all walks of life; families, seniors, teenagers, etc., all there for the same purpose – the love of books. It is this fact that informs me that ebooks will not be the death of paper books. While no one can dispute that ebooks are rising in popularity, there are many who still prefer the aesthetic feel of books. There are also a lot of people, like me, who may own a ebook reader, still treasure our paper books and will throw down lots of cash, like I did, at festivals such as the LAT Book Fest.
This love is not the only reason why I believe print books are not dead. One of the best feelings in the world is to give and/or receive a book. I mentor a group of teenage writers and last Saturday we enjoyed the outing together. We were able to see Judy Blume speak and then waited in line for her signing. None of the girls brought any of their books with them, so I decided to buy books for the girls. It was a wonderful feeling purchasing the books for the girls as a souvenir for the day.
Conversely, the joy on their faces when I presented the books to them was priceless. They were excited to receive the books as well. That feeling of joy, of giving and receiving a printed book, cannot be duplicated with an ebook. The giving of a book, usually when it’s one that you are recommending, has a deeper meaning. It says, “I enjoyed this book; I feel you’d like it as well.” It also says “I’m thinking of you.” The interpersonal communication that transpires with the giving of a book does not work with an ebook. Not all ebooks are sharable. However, all print books are.
Additionally, many people, myself included, still value having their printed copy signed by the author. I mentioned that I attended a signing by Judy Blume, but I did not mention how long we waited in line. Two hours. Two hours well spent. I spent the same amount of time in line for Anne Rice the next day. As well as about 30 minutes for National Book Award winner, Jesmyn Ward. Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney was there as well and his line was massive. I’m sure his signing lasted at minimum 3 hours. In all the lines people had at least 2-3 books and waited patiently. People were smiling, laughing, talking with each other – basically enjoying being in line. Where else but a book signing will people wait patiently in a long line? I know that there is a way to electronically sign an ebook, but I think the process is too complicated and time consuming that it’s much easier and much more fulfilling to be able to be in an author’s presence, gush incoherent words of love, and watch them physically put their signature on a book. That experience alone is priceless. Again, an ebook cannot replace this experience.
What my belief boils down to is that while ebooks are fun and great and shiny, they cannot replace the same experiences the sharing and communing that physical books provide. I know I’m starting to own both a physical copy and an ebook copy of a book so I can have the tactile feel of the book in my hand, yet be able to take a number of books on vacation without the weight. I know I’m not alone in this philosophy and greatly believe this is the future of books. I can also give one extra bit of insight into the future. I recently asked a number of students who have ereaders if they wanted to buy our next class novel on the ereader or have the hard copy. The majority of them opted for the hard copy. Printed books are definitely here to stay.