A few months ago while reading through some random magazine (so I once again cannot find this article and what I am talking about comes from memory) I came across an article about a company that specializes in an aspect of the book trade that I never really considered: the development of custom libraries for high-paying customers. I don’t mean a personal book buyer who will go out and buy a few books that you ask for, I mean someone who will go out and develop (either through buying or some handiwork) a library fitting your very specific needs.
The examples I can remember include an architect who wanted a library in a model house he had built. He had a very specific vision of the house, though, so all the books had to be hardbound books with white dust jackets and a specific colour of printing on the spine. The book buyer had to buy dozens of books that were the right size and then wrap them all in a certain colour paper. In another case, the patron wished to have all the books in his library bound in a specific material, have the information on the spine printed in a specific colour, but also all be in English. (Just in case he actually wanted to read the books at any point, I suppose)
What I’m getting at with these examples is that I don’t think that the print industry is anywhere close to dead. Printed books are not something that can be entirely replaced by a digital counterpart.
There are aspects of a book that go beyond simply the information contained in the pages. A book represents more than simply ink on a page. A book can bring back a memory, it can be given as a gift, or, like I mentioned above, be signed by an author. The book itself is something that can be used to decorate a room, or show someone’s status in society. Remember what Ron Burgundy says in Anchorman when he’s trying to impress a woman: “I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of mahogany.” Or think of the requisite scene in so many movies of the rich old man, sitting in an overstuffed chair in his library, surrounded by books on all sides. Books are used as status symbols; their presence lends an air of sophistication to a room or a house even in his day of mass printing.
In an article I wrote several months ago for this site I mentioned a panel I attended when I was at the New York City Comic Convention in October. At this panel it was the head of the DC Comics Digital Comics division talking to fans about the impact of digital publishing on the comics industry, as well as getting feedback from the fans on digital comic publishing. One person in the audience mentioned that to him (and from the feedback from the room, to many others) comic book were more than simply an information-carrying medium, they were fetish items.
They like comic books for more than simply the stories within, they like them for what the physical comic presented. It’s an extension of their personality and a way to show who they are. The comic collection they have in their home shows their taste in reading material and is how they present themselves.
This holds true for books, and it can be seen simply by the fact that an industry exists for the creation of custom libraries. While these libraries might not necessarily be there to be read or made up of books the owner knows and loves (but, as one of Cory Doctorow’s characters is fond of saying in Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, “What’s the point of a room full of books you’ve already read?), they are nonetheless rooms full of physical books, and people are being paid for these books. As much as I’m a fan of the idea of eBooks, a screen full of eBook titles will never compare to a room full of books.
The printed book is not going anywhere anytime soon. As long as there are people who appreciate books there will be publishers to print the books and stores to sell the books.