From the Annals of Wishful Thinking....

Or maybe the Annals of Paper Fetishists. Because this really kind of baffles me--it's an article in the Wall Street Journal about how nothing's going to change in the world of books. You know, e-books are just a fad, and paper will remain ascendant, that sort of thing. It's not even by someone who works for a publishing house--he just really hates the Internet, and I guess e-books shall not be safe from his wrath.

Of course he does the usual thing: He conflates e-readers and e-books, he makes the claim that tablet buyers won't go on to buy e-books, he seems to think that the early adapters are the only adapters, and being no amnesiac, he argues that a 34% increase in the sales of e-books (by traditional publishers only, of course) only appears to be growth at "a healthy clip" and is actually "a sharp decline."

But the main claim of his that I haven't addressed ad nauseum in this blog (and Passive Guy does a nice takedown of it all here) is that people LOVE paper books. They just LOVE them. Any book they really think is worthwhile, they will buy in paper, because they LOVE LOVE LOVE paper.

How attached are Americans to old-fashioned books? Just look at the results of a Pew Research Center survey released last month. The report showed that the percentage of adults who have read an e-book rose modestly over the past year, from 16% to 23%. But it also revealed that fully 89% of regular book readers said that they had read at least one printed book during the preceding 12 months.

You know what? The other day I finished not one, but two (gasp!) paper books. Yes! I read e-books and paper books!

Of course, I didn't buy the paper books--I got them from the library. I live near a library that is part of a system that has a really wonderful Web site. It's kind of like Netflix for books--you can easily put any paper book from the entire system on hold at your local library using that Web site. They'll even e-mail you when it's ready!

Their e-book setup is a lot clunkier. They may have improved it lately, I don't know, but the last time I tried it, it involved downloading special software (that was with my old computer--will it work with my phone? Dunno) and it was generally a huge pain in the butt. Everything I read about the restrictions publishers are putting on libraries' use of e-books makes me think that getting e-books from my library will continue to be a pain in the butt.

So when I get books from my library, I get paper books. Paper books have been around a long time, so my local library system has had a long time to set itself up to make it super-easy to get your hands on them.

I don't read paper because I LOVE it. I read paper because it's convenient. There's a whole lot of paper books out there, and they've been around for a really long time, so they're easy to get a hold of--I go to someone's house, and hey! There's a bunch of paper books sitting around! Maybe I can borrow one!

When those systems aren't in place (which is the case for most indie writers), I get the e-books instead. I don't LOVE digital because it's digital--I LOVE that it's convenient. I don't LOVE paper, but I do LOVE my local library because it does such a good job making paper convenient. Maybe someday they'll be able to do the same with e-books, and then I will LOVE getting e-books from them instead.

I also recently bought some paper books. One was for me because it was written by a friend with a tradpub deal, so I assume she's getting screwed on the e-book royalties. The others were gifts for friends and relatives. These are people who don't have e-reading devices--or maybe they do, I'm not sure, and I don't really know how you go about buying a gift e-book for someone, so I get the paper books.

Paper's long history works in its favor in that scenario as well: A paper edition is the safe choice for a gift. No one is going to tell me that they can't read it because they don't have the right equipment. (In addition, paper's higher price is actually an advantage in that context--if I buy you a $20 book, that's a nice little present. If I buy you a $3 book, you're going to think I'm cheap, so I'll have to figure out something else to buy you, and honestly I just don't have the time.)

We've been relying on printed paper for more than 500 years now. The fact that a non-paper technology now accounts for a sizeable hunk of the book market is actually really remarkable considering that, for centuries, paper was the only game in town. But people aren't just going to suddenly drop the old technology completely, not when so much of our infrastructure is dedicated to it.