Does the Electronic Age Spell the End for the Traditional Book?

Thursday, 6th March welcomed ‘World Book Day,’ an annual celebration that has been taking place since 1997.  The occasion encourages all book fans around the world to dedicate the day to celebrating the joy of reading; with events being held in schools, libraries, bookshops, etc. across the globe in honour of the day.

This year however, it made me question just how long the traditional book has left and if new technology spells the end of the book as we know it.

Many may argue that books have been around for thousands of years, proving their staying power in society and that the character and sentimentality of a print book can never be replaced by a uniform piece of technology.

However, I feel it’s time to come to terms with how the world is transforming. The way we communicate, shop, consume music, films, etc. has shifted with the advancement of technology and that’s the way it’s heading for books too, whether you are in favour of this or not.

Sure, that doesn’t mean that every book in existence is going to be destroyed, so in that way the traditional book will live on; but the future for new publishing is another matter.

This isn’t to say either that it’s going to happen immediately.  There’s a whole generation of people alive who treasure the good old-fashioned book and certainly won’t bid farewell to them without a fight. Nonetheless, youngsters of today are growing up in a very different world, where technology plays a much larger role in day-to-day activities than ever before.

This year statistics showed that children are more likely to read books in digital form than in print and it appears as though that’s the direction it’s heading for the rest of society in the not so distant future.

Not only are a growing number of people purchasing e-readers for convenience, but it’s much more efficient for publishing houses to go electronic too. As society is being persuaded to live a ‘green’ lifestyle, the number of trees cut down for the production of books could be considered slightly counterproductive. On top of this, going digital provides publishing companies with the benefit of cutting costs in production and distribution; not to mention the time being saved by not printing and binding physical copies.

Despite all that I have said, I do feel that it’s a shame to see books pushed out by new devices. Born in the early 90’s, I am probably among the last generation to be brought up with a selection of paper-backs rather than hi-tech gadgets and they have become firmly integrated into my life, both for education and leisure. I do not own an e-reader and don’t have any intention of purchasing one for myself any time soon. As convenient as they may be, I imagine that I’m not alone in feeling that reading from a electronic screen is not a particularly relaxing activity and kicking back with a book or magazine away from the glare of a computer screen provides much more enjoyable down time.

After all, unlike with an e-reader, you don’t have to worry about the battery dying on a book mid-read do you? And other than a bit of page wrinkling, a drop in the bath won’t do it too much harm.

I do on the other hand make use of the numerous e-books available on the internet when it comes to my University assignments, a convenience that has changed essay writing dramatically.

By merely entering my chosen topic into the University’s online library database, I am presented with hundreds of books and journals at my fingertips. That certainly beats searching bookshelves high and low, I’ve got to say.

Regardless of the many advantages e-books provide, the transition to digital is viewed rather sceptically. E-books needlessly be viewed in a negative light, as where many may suggest that it spells the death of the book, others may deem it to be giving them a new lease of life. With easy access to thousands of books in the comfort of your own home, it gives people immediate access to literature that they may not have previously gone out of their way to get hold of. Books that had been long forgotten gathering dust in bookshops and libraries can now be rediscovered at the click of a button.

All the same, I believe that for as long as people turn to the written word for knowledge and enjoyment, the medium in which a publication is consumed is irrelevant.  If the content is meaningful and significant, the book will live on; whether in its traditional form or electronic descendent.


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