Nostalgia versus modernization: the future of the printed word

There is an indescribable feeling involved when one flips through the beige-colored pages of the printed word. The first time someone reads the black, bolded letters as they let the sheet’s edges crisply glide over their fingertips from page to page is like warm sand running through one’s hands at the beach on a hot summer’s day. Personally, I will never forget the book that pulled me into realizing that an author’s thoughts and emotions could relate to and affect the surrounding world and that there was a profound significance contained within. Even though artistic prose provided me with a transcendental feeling, I knew that novels, newspapers, short stories, poems and the rest of the written word pertained to an importance in society. This significance has come to be a necessity, one that can be exemplified by the newspaper that works night and day to bring the world’s events to the student population at UCR, the Highlander. There are many people who agree with these statements, and I can only assume that a large majority are recreational readers themselves. On that note, it is of the essence that writers and their opinions, thoughts, and desires continue to be incorporated within our culture. Nowadays this must be difficult with glaring out-of-business signs popping up all over once-reliable bookstores, right? Not exactly. The fact is simple: times have changed, and the availability of books has taken a turn into a new, digital environment.

What does this mean for the future? Most recently, Penguin and Random House, two of the largest publishing companies in the world, have announced plans for a merger. Nobody knows what is in store, but with eBooks, the Kindle and other electronics becoming more popular, as time goes on we may be at a loss of the always dependable and beloved printed word—a downside of the forced competition that has now arisen between the publishing companies and online retailers. With champion companies like Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google and especially Amazon dominating the sales industry, it is hard to ignore the technological transition that is taking place right before our eyes. The bankruptcy of Borders was practically inevitable, and I will never forget the one that was a few streets away from my parents’ house. The place was closed down only a few years ago and it has recently been turned into a container store, whatever the hell that exactly is. The insignificance of hardcovers, paperbacks, magazines and newspapers is overwhelming. The world is evolving, but at what cost? Soon paper publications will be insignificant in the eyes of the companies, and the now merged “Penguin Random House” will have to abandon their traditional focus in order to live in an eBook world.

I have always loved entering a petite bookstore in the corner of town somewhere where I can browse through the shelves with my favorite authors beside me, talk with the clerk about our favorite literary moments and their meaning, and then sit down in a comfortable chair with the sounds of nothing but other onlookers around me. These experiences will be lost with the Penguin/Random House merger, and others to come. The executives should be able to hold their stance on paper books, but this is far-fetched when Pearson’s Chief Executive Marjorie Scardino has already commented on the modernization of publication, saying, “The book publishing industry today is remarkable for being composed of a few large, and a lot of relatively small companies, and there probably isn’t room for them all—they’re going to have to get together.” Scardino nicely words a predestined monopolization of the publishing companies, a foreseeable strategy that seems to be the only way for contending with the online cash cows; a strategy that will lead to a dissipation of “real” books and a new era of electronic ones.

Online retailers gross a great profit for their eBooks, but how does this digital transformation affect the authors? Well, the reason for the new transition to the eBook phenomenon is because of the larger revenue that can be obtained, with authors incurring most of the financial blow. Although marketing, design, editing and typesetting all cost around the same for both versions (printed, meaning hardcover in this specific case, and electronic), the author’s royalties are decreased by $1.63, now being $2.27 for each electronic book sold, as analyzed by the New York Times.

Have you ever wondered why e-books and printed books cost the same? For one, there is no reason to decrease the price if demand stays consistent on both planes. Secondly, companies such as Amazon have to adjust retail prices after purchasing the books from the original publishers. Rick Broida wrote an article for “Wired” entitled, “Burning Questions: Why Do eBooks Cost so Much?” in which he explains that publishers price eBooks with paper book sales in mind, and that there are other factors involved as well.

Hardcover books are usually more expensive in comparison to all forms of literature, and when it comes to the eBook craze, it’s hard not to try to save some pennies. But that’s all they are: a few pennies here and there, and despite the common belief that eBooks are significantly less expensive, there are some things to keep in mind. There is no escaping the insurmountable amount of fees that publishers are still required to encounter for both “real” and electronic books, including royalties, cover and interior design, editorial development, copy editing, page composition, cataloging, sales, marketing, publicity, merchandising, credit, collections, accounting, legal, tax and acquisitions. In addition, with eBooks there are new costs involved that bestselling author Michael Hyatt summarizes fairly well: digital preparation, quality assurance and digital distribution.

Take into consideration the different strategies each big company uses when uploading an eBook. They all have differing systems used to format the eBooks and this means ensuring that their product is transferable to all the varying kinds of eReaders. Although eBooks may be in the same price range as paper books now, once the digital version causes an extinction of the real books, the prices will most likely increase in order to make a substantial profit based off of all these new costs, being a reason that the publication companies, like Penguins and Random House, must merge if their paper book sales are going to be soon found plummeting.

Surely people can make arguments for both sides and there are pros and cons for both electronic and “real” books. A benefit of the eBooks, for instance, is that they are arguably more easily readable since there is a zoom feature installed. I for one find this unnecessary but I do not doubt that this can be helpful. They are also beneficial for lighting and when one prefers to have multiple books on them at once. Though paper books are favorable because they are easily portable, available, cheap, and they don’t cause significant eye strain that result from staring at a computer screen for too long. Plus, unlike eBooks, they don’t have to charge and one does not have to continually look for a source to plug their device into. With the eReaders there is always the cost of batteries that come with it as well. Ever spill something on your laptop? Or perhaps drop your phone in a pool? Once your eBook device has been soiled by coffee, tea or any other liquid, you forever lose your content. This problem is not a worry with paper books, and if one does happen to spill something on the pages they can always be left out to dry. A triumph here is the dependability of the product. Another is that if one does prefer eBooks they have to purchase an eReader; otherwise they will be forced to lug around a laptop if they choose to carry their books with them. There are no strings attached with a paper book—it’s printed and sent, nothing more. With classic paper books there is no worry and no lugging, just the book in hand and a tranquil read in a solitary environment of one’s choice. For all the eBook fanatics out there who say that these issues are of no concern to them, just remember my points when I’m enjoying a leisurely read as your device freezes from a software bug.

Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon may have a stranglehold on the digital world but I refuse to let them take my paper pages away. Penguin and Random House may be merging in order to keep the fight going between the classic giants and the new online strategists, but, even though eBooks have become a popular and perceived better product, let us not forget the plethora of positive qualities tied to paper books and the reasons publication companies should continue to pursue the printing of such. Publishing companies may feel the need to compete with these corporate giants in order “to deal with the challenges arising from the growth of electronic books and the power of Internet retailers,” as said by The New York Times, but there will always be people like me who will forever live with a novel in hand.

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