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Washington Post Continues Its

In ShelfAwareness, there was the following quote from Richard Cohen writing in the Washington Post.

The book is warm. The book is handy. The book is handsome to the eye. The book occupies the shelf of the owner and is a reflection of him or her or, actually, me. The book is always there, to be reached for, to be thumbed and, too often I admit, to wonder about: Why did I buy this? My bookcase is full of mysteries. . . . I asked a bookseller in New York to recommend a brilliant but unheralded book, and he went through his shelves and picked out several, none of which I had ever heard of. *Her Privates We *was one of them. The Hemingway blurb sold me. No digital anything can do that.”–

To which I say, really? No one on the internet, through emails, through online discourse, ever convinced you to read a book? That says far more about Richard Cohen than it says about the efficacy of the internet as a medium through which books can be promoted and sold. Guess what, even blurbs appear on the internet, particularly when they are quoted on the front cover “The finest and noblest book of men in war.” They aren’t just printed on paper but can be read by millions of people all over the world. Not just those who go into a bookstore in New York.

Of the above stated reasons that print books are better than digital only one is true for paper and not for digital copies. Yes, we can’t thumb through digital books. But guess what, the ereaders get warm (they are heated by electrodes), ereaders are handy (often fit in just one hand), the Sony reader is handsome to the eye and so is the iphone (also known as iCandy), the book occupies the shelf of the ebook owner and I often ask myself why I bought a certain book. Usually that phrase is joined with an expletive or five about 30 pages in.

Cohen laments the loss of books theorizing that digital medium will kill them. That books, bookstores and booklovers will die come the digital age. People don’t stop reading because the material is easier to acquire. And, as even Bezos has acknowledged, a medium that has spent over a century in existence will not soon die off. The rise of digital medium is more about choice and opportunity than it is about death.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Mireya
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 13:39:17

    Every time I read stuff like that I can’t help but wonder: what are these people so afraid of? Change? That is the only thing I can think of. I love ebooks. Discovering them was the best thing that could happen to me when I started reading again after a hiatus of almost a decade in which I esentially couldn’t find a single appealing book to read. Ebooks got me back to reading.

    I now have my eye on the Sony ereader. I am actually saving to get myself one now that they offer more options in terms of format (most of my ebooks are either pdf or html). On top of that, being able to carry around so many books for my reading pleasure (I commute daily to/from NYC to Long Island suburbia) is a godsend. I love print books, but I also love the fact that ebooks offer me additional choices in reading material and less carrying limitations as I can literally bring with me over 20 titles in my Pocket PC (or more if I use a memory stick).

    I really don’t get this attitude.

  2. Erastes
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 14:25:31

    I think it probably sums it up

    “Sweeping generalisations are always right.”

    I appreciate the ebook for the portability of large amounts of books, I would only probably invest in a reader if I were to travel again if it meant I could take 100’s of books with me instead of two. (although as I said recently, here or otherwhere, it wouldn’t last as far as Calais as I am the Death of electronics). But I’ll never be cured of paper.

    I’m a little confused with Bezoz’s statement about the medium that’s lasted for 100 years, though – what medium is he referring to? I’m confused.

  3. Kalen Hughes
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 14:35:13

    The first thing I do when visiting a guy’s house is check out his book shelf. I’ve already lost the chance to check out his musical tastes via his record (or CD) collection, losing out on knowing what he reads would be a huge blow.

    I will say that an eReader would make moving so much easier . . . *grin*

  4. SandyW
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 14:57:31

    Of course, ebooks will be the death of paper books. No matter how many people still want to buy paper books, any day now they are just going to stop printing them.

    Because when scholars made the change from scrolls to books with pages? No more books. And that Gutenberg guy, with his newfangled moveable type? He was the end of books. Again.

    I can't help thinking that if Cohen is truly a reader, he would know that he is not buying paper. He's buying words. Regardless of how they're stored, it's about the words.

  5. Bev Stephans
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 16:26:55

    I have subscribed to The Washington Post for more years than I care to admit. I quit reading Richard Cohen a long time ago for just such reasons as stated above.

    I love books in any form. Will print books die out? Probably not. Too many people love to line their bookshelves with the printed word. Unfortunately, I’m one of them, although I’ve gotten better at weeding them out!

  6. jmc
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 16:32:39

    I’m not sure how to phrase this without it sounding like an ad hominem attack, but I’ll write it anyway: my impression of Richard Cohen, based solely on my reading of his pieces online, is that he is a change-averse crank. Last month he blamed the rise of tattoos and the young people who like ink and needles for the US’s current economic woes. Because tattooing and piercing are self-indulgent and *different* and thus to be viewed suspiciously.

  7. Kalen Hughes
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 16:42:33

    Last month he blamed the rise of tattoos and the young people who like ink and needles for the US's current economic woes. Because tattooing and piercing are self-indulgent and *different* and thus to be viewed suspiciously.

    And none of those people (note: I’m one of them) contribute to society, hold steady jobs, pay taxes, raise families, or do any of the other stuff that their squeaky clean peers do. *rolls eyes* I have seen the end of civilization, and it is colourful . . .

  8. Rebecca J
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 16:48:00

    Warning, this is kind of a jumble…

    I think Cohen is thinking like a Luddite. He sounds rather reactionary and nostalgic…and not as though he really looked at his own habits.

    I don’t see the business model for printing books stopping anytime soon.
    Reason? Well, at least two: reading on paper is better for your eyes and a lot of the country can’t afford digital readers. Also, most new technologies seem to augment user needs, not supplant a form.

    Re the finite resource of trees: there are new paper-like substances being produced to slowly take the place of traditional tree-based paper. See Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braugart for more information on the non-paper used to print their book (the information is in the last paragraph).

    Instead, I see the two forms (tactile and digital) as complementary. We buy things based on the way we live our lives. I see no reason to purchase an electronic reader as I don’t travel a lot, I don’t review books, and I’m not an agent. However, as I plan to travel early next year, I can foresee purchasing a digital reader for the trip. But that will never replace my books…

    I purchase content and experience it via digital delivery systems (mp3s, mp4s, etc.) to try it out. I download an eBook from eHarlequin, Avon, etc; a movie off of iTunes; and an album from iTunes, eMusic; or an audiobook from Audible/Amazon to test-drive the product.

    If I like the electronic version, and I think of reading it again, I will purchase it in hard copy or in traditional media storage: CD/DVD. I also do this to preserve really good copies of very good work – I don’t like to be at the mercy of electricity…those bits and bytes are so ephemeral…

    Also, I am a bibiofile and love the feel of the cover, the page, and on beautiful letterpress editions, feeling the text on the page.

    I prefer the delivery system, or storage device (as SandyW refers to them), of the book as it’s easier on my eyes. I spend a lot of time in front of a computer and it is a sheer relief to spend some time reading from a page.

  9. Amy Wolff Sorter
    Aug 07, 2008 @ 15:40:21

    Also, let’s keep in mind that ebooks are a lot less expensive (and a lot more “green”) for publishers to produce. Given the rising cost of paper (not to mention the energy it takes to print on that paper), I’m going to predict more and more publishers offering ebooks as a viable option rather than the “dreg pile” it was at one point.

    Cohen IS very resistant to change, folks, so this column doesn’t surprise me. I, too, read the “tattoo” column and my reaction to that was the same as my reaction to this: It’s the 21st century, Mr. Cohen. Move with the times.

  10. veinglory
    Aug 07, 2008 @ 18:11:06

    Yawn. Cohen is, frankly, dull and repetitive and symptomatic of what is going wrong with the print media. Every newspaper and mag I pick up seems to be chock full of some pretentious tosser holding forth based on no evidence, no logic, just his own alleged cleverness.

  11. JaneO
    Aug 08, 2008 @ 08:29:55

    I don't see the business model for printing books stopping anytime soon.
    Reason? Well, at least two: reading on paper is better for your eyes and a lot of the country can't afford digital readers.

    I hope you’re right, Rebecca J, because both of those apply to me. Well, I suppose if a digital reader were the only way I could get at the words, I would find a way to buy it, but that’s not going to solve the problem of eyestrain.

    However, I can see the ebook format being an enormous boon to readers IF the price of ebooks drops way down to reflect the lower production costs. It would benefit not just individual readers but libraries, which could buy three or four times as many books and thereby make new authors available to readers like me who borrow and read first and only buy keepers.

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