Whither the Book?
A recent item in the Washington Post describes a new product called “BookSnap,” which allows the digitization of books at a rate of 500 pages per hour. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/12/AR2008021202754.html?sub=AR
The cost? $2,600 for the equipment, more (presumably) to operate it.
Though the reviewer found BookSnap clunky and not very effective, the technology will only improve. The development reminds us of the revolution in which we dwell. Will books be “Napsterized”? Will friends share book files over high-speed lines? Will no-copyright knockoffs be produced in Asia and peddled on street corners?
So far, of course, the eBook revolution has not happened. No one has told me that they loved reading my book on their PC, or their Kindle (the new Amazon eBook reader). Books are a pretty good technology — pleasant tactile elements, readily portable, easy to use. A cousin of my father’s is a “futurist” who likes to say that if the cigarette lighter had been invented first, people would have been blown away by how good matches are.
Still, an eBook reader could carry a LOT of books at once. And although I hate staring at the computer screen all the time, my tolerance for it is much greater. I used to print off my drafts and edit them in hard copy. Now I edit almost exclusively on the screen. As tolerance grows, and as old guys like me die off, the eBook will emerge.
Are we ready for the copyright issues? More to the point, will I get paid for writing the book? Damned if I know. But we need to start thinking about that.
Pirated books are already available throughout Asia – on my last trip to India, finding a legitimate book on the street was hard to do (but I did it, because I support authors and the quality was much higher than the knockoffs).
We are conditioned to read quickly on computers, to cull out the essence. Books offer that rare respite where deeper thought and extended concentration can occur. I wouldn’t bet against new technology, but the old way does provide a haven from the rip-roaring pace of modern life that I think many welcome. Same for personal meetings – web meetings/conference calls are fixtures in business, but there are intangible values in seeing, touching, feeling human that people will always yearn for.