The World of Books
Is the most remarkable creation of man
Nothing else that he builds ever lasts
Civilizations grow old and die out
And after an era of darkness
New races build others
But in the world of books are volumes
That have seen this happen again and again
And yet live on
Still as fresh as the day they were written
Still telling men’s hearts
Of the hearts of men centuries dead
What Clarence Day meant by this saying was that no matter what, through all the hardships that have occurred through human history, the book has somehow, and miraculously, made it through. However, we are entering a world of Kindles, Nooks, and iPads that put a digital book in the palm of your hand. Now, with the flick of a finger, we can download and read Gone with the Wind or The Great Gatsby in its entirety. The headaches of having to cart around the entire collection of your favorite volumes through the ever-so-constricting lines of the airport security are now a thing of the past.
But where will the book be in the future with all of these technological advancements going on around it? Personally, I like a physical book in my hand, but I also like playing Angry Birds on my phone—not necessarily the same thing. After reading email after email and researching antiquarian titles for customers, at the end of the day, I really just want to close my eyes for a while (I wait until I’m done driving home!) and relax them.
As someone who works in my kitchen all of the time, I read through a lot of cookbooks (thank you Thomas Keller). As you know, paper and veal stock don’t react well to each other, especially when you want to reuse the cookbook again. However, I love the feeling of having little red dollops of marinara sauce on a page where there is a lasagna recipe, or green splotches over the chive oil recipe. It gives me that feeling of ‘yea, I’ve been there before’. I can savor the memory of making that recipe before which gives me the most satisfaction. It’s like the book is reading me instead of me reading it.
Try letting sauce and oils creep into the crevices of an eBook reader and watch how quickly you will have to get it repaired, or take it back to the store all together.
The future of the book has been the subject of many stimulating conversations in the Williams household. As the publishing director for Oak Knoll Press, I am invested in the plight of the physical book. Not only do we publish high-quality printed books at Oak Knoll, but we publish on the history of the book, celebrating the book as an object valuable for its history and artistic qualities. In contrast, my husband Ian is a computer programmer who enjoys being a part of an industry working to make the world more digital and electronic. He argues that the printed book will be eventually replaced by a free and open pool of information available electronically.
Yet, both of us can see the other side to a certain extent. Neither of us owns a specialized e-reader, but we both have downloaded the Kindle app on our smartphones. While I still prefer reading a paperback to reading on my phone, I can’t argue with the convenience of always having a book with me (as I’m never far from my phone). The fact that so many of my favorite classics are available for free is a benefit that is hard to turn down. And Ian, while he argues that the information is the only important part and that the delivery mechanism is irrelevant, is surprisingly protective of his books and has been known to berate me for dog-earing the pages.
Ian likes to refer to printed media as “the manual transmission” of communication. Like an automatic transmission, the e-book has advantages in terms of convenience. And yet, automatic transmissions have been available for more than fifty years, and still a sizeable percentage of the population prefers to do the shifting themselves. I think that books are the same—readers will opt for the superior reading experience (the manual transmission) over the convenience (the automatic transmission). In fact, I think that true book lovers will be driven to an even greater appreciation for books as objects, as they start to notice things that they had taken for granted, such as high-quality materials and typography.
So I see a future where e-books and traditional books co-exist comfortably, side-by-side. The advantages of an e-book will make it the convenient choice in many circumstances, but it will not soon replace the tactile experience and the pride of ownership that a physical book elicits.
Can you believe a book about flies was listed on Amazon.com for $23,698,655.93?
Check out this blog article that tells the story of Michael Eisen, a biologist at UC Berkeley, who followed the price of a book called The Making of Flies on Amazon.com. Michael discovered Amazon was selling 15 used copies of the book for $35.54 and 2 new copies for $1,730,045.91 (+$3.99 shipping). The book price eventually topped out at $23,698,655.93.
So what caused two companies to list the the book at such an inaccurate, high price? Read Michael’s blog to get the full story and see the statistics he has on the price changes.
This is just another reason why Oak Knoll thought repricing all of our books by hand was the best way to go!
Throughout this technological transition, the publishing process remains the same: write, read, revise, design, discuss, repeat. Good writing remains a universal driver of productivity. Yet, I can’t help but find today’s intermediary industry fascinating.
True, I’ll always dote upon my overstuffed bookshelves much like Gollum does upon his “Precious.” And I will forever prefer thumbing through a dog-eared copy of my favorite novel over scanning its text on a pixilated computer screen. But the web’s unprecedented scope takes the publishing industry to an entirely new level.
Technology enhances product discoverability and expands existing audiences. It also preserves texts subject to deterioration and permits cheesy romance novel enthusiasts to read on in public unscathed. Books (and their evil e-book offspring) are both made to inform, inspire, record and admire. The insurgent e-book, though guilty of providing an inferior reader experience, can’t be blamed if the book industry suddenly suffers an onset of organ failure. Not yet, at least.
Book purists, fear not: the book industry is alive and kicking and will be for many generations to come.
To sum up, in 140 characters or less, the book isn’t dying; it’s digitizing. Gradually.
Bob recently gave a presentation at The Grolier Club titled, “Good News! The Book is Dead.” While this title sounds dreary, his speech presented a very positive outlook on the future of books. With this topic being on our minds here at Oak Knoll, we began sharing our thoughts of how we think books will change in the future. Read to see what Cara, an Oak Knoll intern from the University of Delaware thinks about the future of the book.
Click. Delete. The book is dead. One key stroke is all it takes to erase an entire industry and culture. Or is it? Can the book ever truly be stripped from our hands and replaced with fluorescent screens? Are we forever finished flipping the page and instead content with scrolling down? As a 21 year old student, a girl caught between my childhood of renting dusty library books and my present life of MP3 players and GPS cell phones, I don’t think we are quite ready to close that chapter.
I’ve heard the stories, read the articles, and watched the news. I know all about what people are saying. However, I’ve also talked to students, the main advertising market for those oh-so-fabulous e-books, portable Kindles, and iPads. Although every kid likes a new toy, they do grow tired of its plastic exterior and over-processed quality. They eventually always return to their old favorite friend, that tattered stuffed animal or beaten-up doll. So it is with e-books and actual books. Yes, we are fascinated with these new gadgets, but I know that we will return to what is familiar and friendly.
This does not mean that things aren’t changing, because they are. Publishers will have to discover new ways to keep current by marketing themselves with the ever-moving electronic age. However, I know that there are still people out there, myself included, that will always prefer the hard copy to the digital page.
We recently announced that Line, Shade and Shadow: The Fabrication and Preservation of Architectural Drawings by Lois Price won the 2011 Historic Preservation Book Prize. It was chosen as the most significant contribution to the intellectual vitality of historic preservation in America. A book of this excellence takes years of research and work. Read about Lois Price and her journey in creating such a fascinating work.
This book began with a search for information that was not there. As a paper conservator working at a busy regional conservation center, the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) in Philadelphia, I never knew what kind of material would appear on my roster of treatments, and it was impossible to ignore the increasing number of architectural drawings and blueprints that entered the lab in the late 1980s. The wonderful images, unfamiliar materials, and mysterious reprographic processes piqued my curiosity. They reawakened a somewhat dormant interest in architecture that began in my undergraduate days during a course in American art, continuing through my senior honors thesis on American architecture and even into a few additional graduate courses. Interest renewed, I began a largely unsuccessful search of secondary sources looking for information about materials and techniques. Collection curators had some answers but not in the depth and detail I needed. Architects were distinctly uninterested in discussing the craft of creating their drawings, though I learned a lot about design theories, competitions, and the big one that got away. And so, the odyssey through original source material— drawings, trade catalogs, builders and drafters manuals, and technical treatises on the manufacture of specialty materials, began.
Fast forward a decade and a half through many libraries, a job change, several research grants to a manuscript, and a list of possible illustrations, and enter Oak Knoll Press in the person of John Von Hoelle. He had much encouragement and a commitment for publication. Little did I know that another odyssey was just beginning. With Oak Knoll’s encouragement, the list of possible illustrations grew to over 350, including images that illustrated every facet of the text. Securing them and writing the captions was a huge and time consuming challenge that took almost five years, but thanks to the wonders of digital photography and the generosity of several institutions, particularly the Athenaeum of Philadelphia and the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, everything finally came together. If you can call a motley collection of black and white prints, color transparencies, 35mm slides, and a large stack of CDs, together.
When my manuscript was finally ready for editing, Laura Williams took on the task, and began making sense of the daunting stack of images. She patiently saw the manuscript through two rounds of copy editing and finally typesetting and design. That first look at the text in print and the stunning design will remain a memorable moment. Next, we traversed several rounds of galley proofs as I fretted about typos, color accuracy, and image resolution. The best part of the editing and publication process, of course, was the need to visit Oak Knoll in New Castle on a regular basis and peruse the bookshelves. I occasionally brought my students and we never left empty handed.
I still see the transformation of my initial vision of what we needed to know about architectural drawings to a beautifully printed book as rather miraculous. Oak Knoll is a small press and things do take time, but there is a real commitment to working with the author and getting it right. For that I am extremely grateful.
We want to congratulate Lois Price again on winning the 2011 Historic Preservation Book Prize. We are excited to see all of her hard work pay off!
Click here for more information on Line, Shade and Shadow.
Remember that talk I was going to give at the Grolier Club as part of a panel discussion on collecting books in the digital age? My title and first picture declared “Good News! The Book is Dead.” After shocking the audience into silence with the title, I proceeded to explain why books as three-dimensional physical objects have a life unto themselves and why libraries have a responsibility to preserve and conserve them. The three talks and the panel discussion were filmed, and we shall give you a link to it when it becomes available. Rob Fleck, who was in the audience, was told there is a life for booksellers in the 21st century and believed it!