By Edward Nawotka
When it comes to e-books, readers tend to fall into several camps: early adopters, converts and holdouts. The early adopters are the true believers of the e-book business, the ones who have owned every device dating back to the Rocket e-reader and have their Kindle Fire on pre-order. Converts are those people you know who tell you they recently bought a device and were surprised to discover “they really like it” and are now reading more e-books than they are print books. The holdouts might own an e-reader, but will tell you, once the topic is raised, that they “just prefer the feeling of paper, of holding a book in your hand.”
The truth is that many of us likely fall into several of these camps at once. There are times when I love my e-reader: when I travel, when I need a book urgently, reading in the dark . . . Other times, not so much. Reading to my four-year old daughter with an e-reader in hand isn’t nearly as intimate as cuddling up with a picture book, no matter how slick the digital enhancements. (I find I still prefer to “enhance” the text myself, despite my daughter’s occasional protest, “Daddy, you’re hurting my ears!)
And yes, there are times when I just prefer the feel and smell of paper, ink, and board. That attachment to paper and ink may seem irrational. It probably is. After all, if you listened to the speakers who filled the conferences in the two days prior to the opening of the book fair, it should be obvious that the future is all electronic, a world of ones-and-zeros.
Or is it? Yesterday when the fair opened, it was clear that print was far from dead. Print still likely represents more than $100 billion of revenue, if not more. As book people, many (not all) of us have an emotional attachment to paper. Whether it’s the smell—that musty scent of an old paperback, or lightly intoxicating ink of a fresh hardcover—or our youthful marginalia, or an old bookmark from a long-gone bookstore stuffed into a spine, or simply the ability to browse your shelves and think back on who you were at a younger age—bound books are designed to evoke memories.
It is that very evocation of memory that the digital true believers deride as mere nostalgia. Unlike e-readers, which we replace at an increasingly rapid pace (iPad 3 anyone?), books do have a way of hanging around long after their usefulness has been exhausted.
But there is also a much more pragmatic part of physical books: that burst of serotonin you get with every flip of the page, every time you slap the cover closed on a finished book. It’s a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that can’t quite be replicated digitally.
So, were I to request the e-book community come up with one enhancement for 2012, it would simply be this: how about adding a little vibratory buzz of haptic feedback on every “digital page turn.” It would be a small start toward endowing e-books with a bit more tangibility, something that might make us a tiny bit attached to those files residing on some intangible bookcase in the cloud.