Saturday, May 07, 2011

Ebooks versus Codex

I spent the day at a Writer's Conference, which usually inspires me to sit down and get some writing done. The keynote speaker, a guy named Lev Grossman who writes for Time Magazine, had some interesting observations on ebooks versus the bound version we use now, which he calls a Codex. He explained how books used to be on scrolls, which wasn't very useful for flipping back to previous sections or marking certain passages. The early Christians started using codex for the Bible, and the bound style caught on. So, for 2000 years we've been using books that have front to back pages, until now.
The eBook threatens to replace the bound version.
Some good things about eBooks, he pointed out, are the compactness and portability. Some bad things are the battery life, since a print book never runs out of battery life; it's always there. And a print book is very "robust." You drop it, you simply pick it up again; whereas, when an eBook reader gets dropped, well, there may be repercussions and cracked screens. EBooks have display/contrast issues unlike print books and eBooks are tricky to take notes on.
Like the scrolls used by the Romans, eBooks are linear. The reader goes from the beginning to the end and returning to favorite sections of the book is difficult.
The best thing about a print book versus an eBook though, according to Grossman, is that physical proof of the fictional experience. The book sits on the shelf as a reminder of the whole world within the cover. He compared it to a magical dream about riding on an eagle, and then finding a feather on the pillow, as proof that something more than a dream has occurred. That's what the paperback or hardback book on the shelf is, the feather that says something more happened here.
Publishers, of course, are concerned about making money, They don't care if the reader has that eagle feather as a talisman, as long as they have the cash in their pockets.
"They aren't realizing the other tangibles from publishing codex," Grossman said. "Keep a close eye on the trade offs."


Kelly McClymer said...

Interesting take, although it sounds like a more sophisticated version of the same old same old argument. I know that text designers are trying to build in some of the old familiar "feel" of paging, etc., with some smarter/faster e-stuff (like searching for what you're looking for, e-bookmarks, etc.). Basically, bound books are a perfected technology, while e-books is just taking toddler steps.
Of course, as someone with eight bookshelves stuffed with books, I have a fond spot for that perfected technology that nestles right next to my fondness for the convenience of my iPad library.

Delana@dujour said...

As much as I love the touch and feel of a real book, I'm hoping to get a Kindle when I am back in the states next week. I have no space here to store books and e-readers sure are easier to travel with. By buying into the e-reader thing, am I going to be contributing to the death of my first love?

Paulita said...

Delana, I agree for the same reason that ebooks can be easier. I just hope they don't totally replace bound copies of books.

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