Ruth Franklin in The New Republic:

At one panel I attended, titled “The Next Decade in Book Culture,” Nicholas Latimore, a publicist for Knopf, waxed lyrical about the material qualities of a hardbound book. His house has always gloried in its beautiful design: the colophon page at the end that identifies and gives the history of the font the book was set in; the deckled edges on the most prized books, which encourage the reader to turn pages slowly rather than flipping through; even the attention that book designers put into choosing paper with “the right tooth”—that perfectly calibrated roughness of texture. In response, someone commented that the hardcover book might be going the way of the vinyl LP: largely obsolete, replaced by a cheaper and more convenient product, but still prized by connoisseurs for the superior quality of the aesthetic experience it offers. A collective gasp was stifled at this idea. But perhaps it’s not so crazy.
Of course, the book has been around a lot longer and is far more deeply entrenched in our vision of culture—both what it is and what we want it to be—than the LP, which turned out to be a disposable format, a means to an end. Yet what the digital revolution in the music industry shows us, I think, is that what people want is music: the format doesn’t matter nearly as much as the product. As we moved from 45s to LPs to eight-tracks to cassette tapes to CDs to MP3s, the music itself remained the constant. What we wanted, it turned out, was to have as much music as possible at our fingertips at any given moment, easily accessible. This hasn’t been an unmitigated boom for the music industry, but it’s also been far from an unmitigated disaster. And I have faith that people—who have been telling stories just as long as we’ve been singing songs—will continue to want novels, too, no matter the format. I like deckled edges and toothsome paper as much as the next person, but if they turn out to be extravagances we can no longer afford, well, I still plan to keep reading.


  1. That second paragraph you quote needs a re-write.

    The book is vastly older, more entrenched, and (unlike the LP) much simpler than the proposed alternative. Paper books have a long list of advantages over electronic books. LPs have very few (they make better gifts than a bunch of mp3 files). He needs to address those differences before assuming that the digital revolution in music shows us anything about the future of books.

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