The Literary Platform has an editorial by Matt Young, the founder of a small publishing house called InPrint Books. InPrint has a couple of gimmicks—it creates books with colored covers made entirely from different colors of paper, with no ink involved, produces them in lots of only 1,000 numbered copies, and it doesn’t do e-books. (The editorial is prefaced by a rather smug commercial on YouTube doing the whole “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” thing with a book and an e-book.)
Looking at the site, this publisher seems to be going heavily into the idea of books as artifacts, or even art—generally doing reprintings of “classic” works such as Great Expectations or 1984, and limiting the size of (and numbering) the print run. These books are for book-as-artifact snobs, plain and simple—they’re produced as collector’s items, not mass market titles. They’re meant to be appreciated, not actually read.
As one might expect, the piece has an obvious pro-print book bias. Young admits that e-books are probably going to become the norm sooner or later—but they’ll never replace printed books, because darn it, printed books are just awesome.
(And yes, the smell of a book is practically the first thing he brings up.)
Young closes by wondering if it’s “possible to fall in love with an eBook” and says he has yet to see any proof of it. This leaves me scratching my head, as I’ve “fallen in love” with plenty of e-books, the same as I have with plenty of hardcovers or paperbacks.
A book is a book, no matter what the format. It’s a story that transports me to another place and time. If it does it will, I will fall in love with it. I won’t stop myself because it doesn’t have the feel or smell of a “real” book. I mean, what the heck? I don’t go around telling people, “I’m going to feel some J.R.R. Tolkien tonight,” or “Gosh, A Fire Upon the Deep sure smelled exciting!”
I’ll admit I may have just as much a pro-e-book bias as Young has the opposite, but it’s never made much sense to me to fetishize the form factor of a book at the expense of its content. If you have problems “getting into” an e-book, that’s a problem with you, not a problem with the medium.
A paper book may be an artifact while an e-book is just a file, but I don’t read it because it’s an artifact. I read it because it’s a book.