In defence of the book part 1

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I’m going to start with a few things in defence of the traditional book.

The first thing I’d like to chuck into the mix is that books are more than just containers of information.

The eBook phenomenon seems to be based on the idea that the only thing that matters about a book is the words. And words are produced as chunks of digital information – why not put them out digitally? What difference does it make?

It makes a difference because books are physical objects. They have a size, a shape, texture, even a smell. They look different from each other. They are interesting objects. Here are the books on the shelf directly ahead of me as I type:

Different shapes and sizes. There’s a pleasure in these things as objects. We collect books in a way that we don’t collect other types of media. This is partly because the interior of the book is different as well. All CDs basically look to same. As did all LPs, cassettes, etc. Sure, the cover was different, but the actual information all looked exactly alike. Books aren’t like that. The shape of the text on the page, the typeface, the design, the illustrations, the different kinds of paper, even – all this makes a difference. Even a well-designed magazine is a pleasure to hold.

Here’s a spread from The Longest Week, for example.

Where possible I design my books myself, because I want them to look good. Typography, page layout – these are not things which are going to be easily replicated by an eBook.

Of course, not all  books are like this. The average thriller or, indeed, the average book of theology, isn’t concerned with typography, beyond making sure you can read the thing. (And actually, some theology books don’t appear to be too concerned about that.) For books like that, what you might call the airport books, books you buy, read on the plane, and jettison the other side, eBooks might well take over. But for books where a designer has thought about the layout, the paper and the cover, an eBook has some way to go.