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The paper book is not dead

Throughout 2017 I read many articles on the return of the paper book, the return of the independent book stores, and the decline of ebooks. As a book addict in private life, and writing about the fate and impact of digital transformation on the paper industry professionally, I find this is trend rather noteworthy.

So are ebooks mostly dead, then, and will proper books regain the market?

Very unlikely. Rather the ebook-market will continue to transform former with non-traditional publishing structures and a shift to subscription services like Kindle Unlimited.

And also the “return of the book” may be rather a myth, and a hopeful misinterpretation of the statistics failing to understand the big picture, claims this article by Jane Friedman.

But here are 2 observations:

  • While fewer people buy paper books, but they buy overall more books and spend more money.
  • Some countries are, well, different (see below)

Tsondoku

In my home, there is my so-called P.U.B, my “Pile of Unread Books”, a kind of a physical backlog reading list. It gives me the comfortable feeling of not running out of good reads. It looks a bit like this sculpture on the Berlin walf of ideas.

Printing3 Walk of Ideas Berlin

Only this year, I learned that there is a Japanese word for people who buy more books than they can actually read, and suggestions to have the word “tsondoku” included into the English language.

So, it looks like I am not alone with this. As long as my family does not complain too much, and I keep lending books out at a similar pace, all is fine.

And over the Twelve Nights, the darker days between Christmas and the New Year, the old stories anyhow recommend to rather stay inside to be save from the Wild Hunt (and other mythological unpleasantries).

In any case, there is hardly a better time to read a good book, or two.

Jólabókaflóð

This beautiful Icelandic word describes an icelandic tradition to give books as a present. Not just a few, they call it the Christmas book flood.

Jólabókaflóð (pronounced yo-la-bok-a-flot) originated during World War II when foreign imports to Iceland were restricted, but paper was cheap. Iceland’s population was not large enough to support a year-round publishing industry, so book publishers flooded the market with new titles in the final weeks of the year.

We also give books here in Germany on Christmas Eve, but then spending the entire evening reading them is a different thing. I usually had to wait at least until the 25th, get up early to have undisturbed time with my new books (and other presents).

What you cannot do with a Kindle

I have a Kindle, a very early model, and I love to read books in French on it. Whenever I am at the end of my vocabulary I tap a word and instantly get the explanation. This is so convenient.

And I can sympathize with people prefering a Kindle filled with ebooks to a pile of heavy paper books in their luggage.

But there are so many things you cannot do with a Kindle as so nicely described by Paula Cocozza:
“You can’t turn down a corner, tuck a flap in a chapter, flick the pages to see how far you have come and how far you have to go. You can’t remember something potent and find it again with reference to where it appeared on a right- or left-hand page. You often can’t remember much at all. You can’t tell whether the end is really the end, or whether the end equals 93% followed by 7% of index. You can’t pass it on to a friend…”

This last one is among the most painful restrictions. I love to exchange books with fellow travelers, share my favorite books with friends, sometimes almost as a token.

My little daughter started to read Harry Potter on the Kindle, and has switched to proper paper books already with the second volume. There ‘s all sort of science proofing that you learn better with a paper book. For her, I am convinced it is the sense of accomplishment with every page turned.

Never underestimate the transformative powers of a good book

I do hope you have a few quiet days ver the holidays and find time to read a few books yourselves.

I wish you all a very happy New Year.

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