I don’t think that my negative feelings toward electronic books are just due to my romanticism. Although they are conventient and feature instant delivery of the product, there exists numerous flaws with the concept compared to good old fashioned physical books. E-books are significantly easier to publish compared to the alternative. Any schlub in his underpants stinking of three day old pizza can publish from his parent’s basement without going through the conventional process of quality control. Even paperback self-publishing weeds out the crackpots with the upfront editing and formatting costs. Although I applaud the “democratizasion” of the book industry brought by the e-book movement, limiting the censoriuos power of traditional publishing houses isn’t enough to discard the other downsides with the format.
Following the de-platforming wave that we’ve all seen after the Charlottesville debacle, the power internet/publishing giants such as Amazon have to go full “1984” should frighten any book conisseur. What is preventing Amazon or similar entities from outright censoring books they disapprove of? Dissenting works could easily and without costs be dropped down the memory hole. They could even pursue a more subtle and nefarious approach by gaslighting the masses by forced stealth edits. How would you know if Amazon quietly removed or changed sentences or sections they don’t like? People a couple of months ago would have scoffed at the prospect of comapnies avowing no “free speech” policing then renegging on their words as we’ve recently seen happening to a frightening extent. Unless our politics changes course this is the logical and inevitable next step. Even if no human intervened in a nerarious manner, rogue algorithms or artificial intelligence is no longer a far fetched concept.
We must also address the monetization of content that used to be free. Before the e-book revolution but in the internet age, there was a “division of labor” in terms of written works. Well thought out and well written works were published in paper form, “lesser” works, shorter in length or material simply not mature for publishing yet was provided for free on the author’s website. Now authors are increasingly publishing such writing in book form, often in relatively short works. Even if they provide these for free, the additional step of having to aquire a book as opposed to reading plain text is a hurdle some people won’t jump over, thus denying parts of their audience access to information.
I menitoned above that when it comes to books I’m kind of a romantic. I enjoy the sensation of holding a physical book in my hands and reading it. Seeing my vast and growing collection of books on my bookshelves gives me great satisfaction. E-books can’t compare. In fact, they cheapen the very concept of “book”. Both in terms of content, ease of publishing and also speed of delivery. The instant gratification provided by electronic delivery must surely warp the dopamine functionality in the brain. It is a well established psychological concept that you find greater enjoyment in something you’ve worked hard for. Waiting for the mail to arrive with your physical books and then holding them in your hands does this for you. Physicality when it comes to books links them to the spirituality of the Western world and connects us to our ancestors, who greatly valued books.
It also angers me to no end when authors publish e-books and delay the release of the paper version. This is the equivalent of forcing people that revere and enjoy books *properly* to become second-class citizens, denying them access to and a voice in the debates that surround the release of books covering relevant and societally important issues. For all these reasons I advocate the consumption of paper versions of literature. The “taking up space” argument is a feature, not a bug of physical books. The “convenience” of having a small, non-descript electronic book reader on your living room table is no substitute for the time tested glory that is a home library. The device is a metaphor for the reduced space and importance in our modern, degenerate culture that is slowly choking the life out of Western intellectual life. Do your part to stop this, go physical.