The Form of the Thing

It is possible that we’ve stumbled into a cultural state that devalues the idea-of-the-book and fetishises the book-as-object.

Let me explain.

What’s happened to paperback sales in the last five years (it’s mid 2015 as I type, this is worth bearing in mind) is, depending on your position in the industry, either a wholesale cannibalising of paperbacks by eBooks, a steady, inescapable plateauing of digital sales at the expense of the physical and a reduction in trade book sales overall, or something in-between the two.

What is scary is that the eBook, regardless of what is likely to happen to platforms (Kindle, Kobo, iBooks), exists as a reduction, a facsimile of its print forebear. My colleague, and the other voice in this text, spends a great deal of time troubling technical developers and working to find solutions to a problem that need not exist.

Obligatory mis-quotation from Nick Cave:

We are designers
We manipulate typography
We understand margins and leading
But we are tired of all this self serving deceiving
Go tell the publishers that we’re leaving.

There’s nothing wrong with digitising books, but there’s a fundamental mistruth at the heart of the e/print relationship. The book is an object, and as we’ve suggested in the previous chapter, digital text is fluid, and can change. A physical book cannot do that.

But we persist in seeing one thing as the other. We write one thing and accept the imperfections of the surgery to transpose that one thing from a printed page to a digital screen.

That’s not to suggest that we should stop improving the process.

The book, though, is different. It is a thing that offers possibilities and potentials that are markedly different to digital.