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Is The Book an Endangered Species?

Originally written for Wessex Scene.

Before the launch of the iPad, Apple boss Steve Jobs predicted a gloomy outlook for the future of literature, claiming that ‘people don’t read any more’.  After thousands of years of great writing and an increasingly literate global population, is this the generation where reading dies?

As the popularity of the iPad and the sale of millions of e-books have testified, Steve Jobs was mistaken in his assumption.  Writers, readers and publishers everywhere may heave a sigh of relief, because we may be on the brink of the biggest publishing development since the invention of the printing press.

This summer Amazon announced that sales of e-books were outstripping those of hardbacks, with the website selling 143 e-books for every 100 hardbacks.

Although paperback sales are still greater than those of e-books, these could be the first signs of a shift in our reading habits.

Anyone can see why taking a lightweight, portable e-reader or tablet computer on holiday is easier than lugging around a suitcase full of books, making e-books a welcome alternative to paperbacks. They are not, however, a replacement.  Having a digital library of titles can never match the aesthetic pleasure of looking at a bookcase lined with a rainbow of colourful spines; scrolling down text on a screen is not the same as flicking through the well-worn pages of a favourite book.

For me and for many other avid readers, owning a book is almost as important as reading it.  Particularly if, as a cash-strapped student, you trawl round the charity shops and second-hand bookstores to find cheap bargains; a book has a whole history that an electronic file cannot rival.

Admittedly, e-books offer levels of interactivity that will appeal to our YouTube generation of technology-savvy consumers who are looking for everything faster, bigger and easier.  Reading will now be packaged as a multimedia experience – how long will it be before we have trailers for the next bestseller?

I am all for progress, but I do not think that newer is necessarily better and I will always be a subscriber to the old-school style of reading, no matter how unfashionable.  Readers do not need a range of interactive features, a good book should be an enveloping, absorbing experience in itself with no need for enhancement.  After all, the imagination surpasses anything that can be created on the screen of a computer or iPad.

Nevertheless, there is one notable benefit to these new publishing developments: they are enticing more  and more people into reading.  With any luck those who are lured in by the flashy reading experience offered by the iPad will later discover the joy of owning a book and will carry the pleasure of reading into future generations.

I can’t help but whole-heartedly disagree with the idea that the paperback is dying as e-books take their place. All I can say is, instant coffee didn’t get rid of ground coffee, and the same goes for this debate. Mr. Jobs, Iam afraid you are very wrong; people are certainly still reading, and long may it continue.

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