The book is dead, long live the book

design-fetish-3d-book-cover-art-by-thomas-allen-2Yesterday, when checking my family bank account, I saw an unnerving amount having gone out to Amazon over the last few months on Kindle book and paper books.  After the inevitable interrogations, recriminations and calls for belt tightening all round, I started thinking about the nature of these purchases.  None of these purchases were a thrill, none were a memory, none were an experience; and that is one of the reasons that we ended up spending more often, to make up for the lack of nemonic with each purchase.

This compares to the books I bought for my wife’s birthday where I spent an hour browsing through Foyles, shelve by shelve, cruising from biographies, through philosophy and all the way to fiction, before deciding which of the stores current selection would delight and inspire her.  My discoveries were serendipitous: a next couple of books in the Games Of Thrones series which my wife was reading and a book that compared favourably with one of her favourites, the Cairo Trilogy.  I would never have known to search for this on Amazon, or indeed to search for the book I picked up on my way to the till, which exploredThe Balfour Declaration.  All I get from Amazon are pesters, pushes and packages from their all-knowing algorythm – “Why don’t you buy this book? Why don’t you get these two together?” But only within the Amazon reality – “Don’t you go generally browsing and making your own decisions outside what you came on to Amazon for, or what we show you in relation to that!”

The greatest memory of my Foyles experience was perhaps when I put my books down on the counter and the sales clerk said that one of them was not part of the three for two offer.  My slight chagrin, turned to pleasure when he said that because one of the books was “the best book you will ever read”, he would include it in the deal.

Yet, is it really worth it? That is, is it really worth paying the average extra £4.32 difference in price between the Foyles’ book cost and Amazon’s, for that type of personal and physical experience?  Personally, I find the physical sensation of a book in my hands, discovered on a store bookshelf and clutched close to me on the journey home (or with a clear cover ready to inscribe and gift to a friend) probably is worth an extra £4.  But, the prevailing wisdom is that soon it will become archaic to say I brought this from a book store. The book store becoming the chimera of the high street.

However, either way, a recent Pew Study of American’s found that millennials were more likely to have read a book, either in digital or paper form, in the past year than Americans over 30 years old.  So our children aren’t just screen addicts whose brains have been rewired for an attention deficient age.  They might be less likely to read physical newspapers or visit physical art galleries, book shops or museums, but they do read long-form content.  For them ephemeral content and shortform has its place; and so does the book – even if some of the book reading if forced on them by school or university.

I may well have to mourn the loss of many more bookstores over the coming decade.  Along with this the opportunity to have memorable experiences inside brick and mortar stores, filled with the smell of books. But, it certainly does not look like the next generation will be precipitating loss of book based knowledge ominously predicted by Harvard’s David Weinberger.

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