Why the Printed Book Is Shaken, But Not Stirred

Word is that the e-book is dead, or most certainly dying. Current MA Publishing student, Sean Betts, gives his thoughts on the printed book and its journey in the digital age.

The obituaries had been written; chain stores were proclaiming that the digital menace was on the wane. Purists were probably about to start rejoicing in the street, and proclaim that their darling paperback was coming back into vogue.  However, this was not to be the case.

The Guardian was quick to put the climate into context, purporting that the e-book was most certainly still alive and kicking, having forged new and additional homes with platforms and products, including those created by Apple.

The Paradox of Print

For the record, I have a Kindle; it was a Christmas present from my sister a few years ago. Its arrival prompted me to do away with the paperbacks from my bookshelf.  Then, last Christmas, my sister bought me a PAPERBACK box-set of all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond works. The set was published by Vintage, an imprint of what is now Penguin Random House.

To my mind print books, as a publishing form for trade fiction, were archaic, and relics of the past.  Relics that were only being clung onto by luddites and those stubborn enough not to want to embrace change.  Yet, I was very much mistaken.

I picked up the first book, Casino Royale, which was originally published in 1953, and took in its design. The cover was simplistic, and evoked the old adage that less was more.  It had a red spine with the title in a lightly weighted white typeface; really quite apealing.  I cautiously began reading.

James Bond, as a brand, is weighted with cultural significance. A staggering twenty-three films since 1962 allows a brief glimpse into what life was like at the time each one was filmed. The books are no exception to this rule. When I began to read them, I was presented with Cold War hysteria, and I somehow accepted gender discrimination, smoking indoors, widespread racism, homophobia and xenophobia. These issues were bundled together with vintage cars, alongside the exercise of trying to work out how much 100 million Francs are worth when adjusted for present day inflation.

Reading the books in printed form, instead of on Kindle, allowed me to have a physical means of getting into Bond’s world. Flicking through each page offered a nuanced escape into a representation of the past that would have been paradoxical to experience on an e-reader. Each time that I dipped in and out of Fleming’s representation of the time, it offered a point of reference to compare how much the world has (or hasn’t in some cases) changed.

Nostalgic Appeal

The ‘Vintage 007’ tagline on the right of each individual book jacket could not be more apt. Everything material in the 007 franchise is vintage. The cars, the champagne, the designer suits, and finally, and quite fittingly, reading these stories in print has become ‘vintage’ in itself. Not only is it like cuddling up to a stuffed teddy in terms of nostalgia (if you’ve not picked up a paperback for eighteen months), but it also enhances the reading experience by giving you something that physically existed in the series’ contextual sphere. Physical print books and newspapers were the only means of being able to read in the time period in which the stories are based. As far as anybody was concerned, Amazon was only a rainforest back then.

In conclusion, while the e-book is here for the foreseeable future, reports of its death, and the second coming of print books are being hastily reported. There evidently still exists a time and space for physical books in the modern world of trade publishing. Whether that time and space is to satisfy a reader’s own personal preference, though, or to enhance the reading experience of a classic work, or series, is for the reader to decide. The question of the e-book vanquishing its print counterpart, or vice-versa, will be one for future generations to answer.


Share Button

Sean is a part-time student on the MA Publishing Course at Anglia Ruskin University. His acquaintance with the publishing world was born out of a long sense of intrigue about what actually happens at a publishing house. While his passion, and curiosity, is towards trade fiction, he also holds a bit of a candle to the academic publishing world. He loves to write about trade publishing on Blurbify and is always intrigued to see which book will be next that takes readers by storm!