To have and to hold?

Please do not let the title mislead you, this is not a blog about marriage! But it is about the nature of books and how we consume them. I know this is not a new argument nor are my opinions original but considering the fact that book sales, whether print, digital or audio, have been in the news this week then I think it is still worthy of discussion.

According to The Guardian books have had a drop in sales throughout 2018 but as I look at the graphs featured in the press it seems print books are totally outstripping digital sales. But even more startling than that is the news that audio books have seen a 48% increase in sales.

So which is better: audio, digital or print?  Of course these are only my opinions but I would like to express them anyway. Let’s look at each format one by one.

Audio: It has to be said that this way of consuming stories is as old as stories themselves. Considering Homer’s Illiad and The Odysseythe oral tradition of telling stories came about long before someone decided to write them down. From these traditions to mum and dad reading to their children the act of taking in stories aurally is ingrained within us. We like to be told a good story. Well most do, as the figures would suggest.

I don’t unfortunately. I just do not like being read to, much preferring to read the thing myself. There have been times when friends have attempted to read bits of a newspaper to me and I have had to stop them. I have tried audio books but I find the pace laborious and not to my liking. I guess it’s because these gifted actors the publishers use are not reading the book as I would read it and that bothers me. Don’t get me wrong, as someone with acting skills and a strong advocate of the theatre, I value these voice artists and actors. I admire the skills they possess to bring a story to life but no matter what the quality I just don’t get on with audio books.

My view doesn’t change the fact that many people enjoy being read to. Books, this way, can be consumed almost anywhere. I imagine audio would allow us to consume more books which would suggest why there is an increase in sales. This has to be good for writers, publishers and the acting profession.

Digital: E-readers have been with us in the format we recognise since about 2004. It might surprise some that, according to Wikipedia the idea behind an electronic reader was first thought of in the 1930’s. It remained, however, in the realms of the imagination but the idea did propose using microfilm to display the book.

Many may have predicted the demise of print when the digital format was introduced. It was seen as the future of reading but in reality that vision has fallen somewhat flat. Of course digital reading is popular but I have heard many say they don’t use it as often as they would like. Why is this? If e-readers are handy and portable, why then hasn’t there been a constant increase in digital sales? I am not sure of the answers but maybe it is because we are reluctant to change the habit of holding an actual book. I read recently that it all comes down to ownership. With digital we really don’t feel like we own the book, that it is so much more transient and fickle.

I do download a lot of digital books but it is often because I have struggled to get the print copy especially when I want it. I am strange with my reading and will often read more than one book. Digital allows this and I can easily swap between books as the mood takes me. I also have duplicates of both print and digital so I can read print at home and digital on the move.

But I don’t think you can be a true bibliophile and read digital alone or prefer digital over print. Which brings me to:

Print: Yes, the true book-lover’s format and hence the reason for the misleading title. You see, there is something about holding a book, about owning it. I think the point about digital nor being owned is valid and worth considering. But there are some books that do not or cannot be reproduced digitally though some have tried. I am talking about old books.

I love old books. I will often scour eBay or second hand bookshops (or even charity shops) for old classic books. I recently purchased a copy of The Odyssey in the original Greek dated 1867. I have a Greek New Testament from the 1700’s which has the handwriting of a previous owner in the margins I am assuming to be from the same period. Just holding these books gives me a thrill. It connects me with the past, with previous owners, with the book itself. Digital can’t do that. We don’t own it like we do print.

This is why I do prefer print books over digital or audio. I like to have and to hold. I like the sound of pages turning, the smell of foisty paper (I know, I am strange), a physical bookmark announcing my progress. Digital has its advantages, audio has its uses but print beats both hands down.

I would love to read your responses and what you prefer to use.

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