Books are the best. They are both the containers and the objects of much prose and poetry. They’re described as both portals to another world and storage for the world’s greatest ideas. We’re told that they edify us in ways other entertainment can’t.
It’s interesting then, that books are one of the most primitive media available.
We’re going to need a history lesson: in 1450 Johannes Gutenberg is credited with the invention of the printing press. You might think books would just have exploded in volume right away, but the truth is the opposite; they grew in popularity only somewhat slowly. Think about it. The average citizen couldn’t read or write. The price of books, while much lower than before, was still too high for many commoners. It’s not as if there was a line outside the local bookstore or library, clamoring for the latest titles. The infrastructure for books simply did not exist yet.
And so it is that for about 400 years, the printing press stayed pretty much the same.
Now, the methods of printing are considerably more advanced, especially in the advent of digital technology to plan, format, and edit printing projects, then send them to the fully-mechanized printers that can print around 18,000 sheets of paper an hour.
Just the same, though, books remain the slowest, most expensive, and most time-consuming medium out of any mass media. There’s no real mystery as to why.
Creating a book, even just producing the content, can take months or years. Editing it can take months. Gaining the attention and approval of a publishing company can take months, barring any pre-existing connections. Physically printing the book can take weeks.
Now realize that this is all for a very low exchange rate. An average book doesn’t sell above 1,000 copies.
It makes sense, then, that book reading is not on the rise. It’s in decline in the United States, more than in most countries. We have more options than some other countries for media intake. We have more money to spend on those other options. We have less attention to give to books, which require complete focus. We read online, or on kindle.
What do you think? Do we still need blocks of processed wood and ink bound in leather? While I wouldn’t mind having many of them, are they just an unnecessary part of the electronic age, or does the romanticism we attach to them give them sufficient value to keep around? How much longer are we really going to use pulp for our fiction?