IS HARDCOPY DEAD?
I’m not going to slam the brave new world of digital tech in this blog. I have found it to be profoundly useful. I can teach a class in art history 3,000 miles away in my bath robe and PJs over a cup of hot coffee, and make a living.
At any rate, the idea has been put forth, many times, that print media will soon be dead. Digital media, like an angry new god, shall lay to waste to all that came before. Printed books, if not simply disposed of, will end up sitting on a big pile of junk along with manual typewriters, cathode ray picture tubes and VHS tapes. I thought the same thing until recently, but I changed my mind.
The thing that changed it was vinyl.
The vinyl LP record was officially pronounced dead in the mid 90s. The future belonged to CDs…. And then it didn’t. By 2015 new CD changers were getting hard to come by, and a year later vinyl recordings had risen from the tomb.
Turntables and tone arms were back in demand. A few record stores were re-opening.
People, as it turned out, just liked records. Audiophiles insisted that analog sound was more vivid and more “atmospheric” than digital sound . Collectors outbid each other for original pressings. Pop bands began releasing 45s and LPs again.
By 2021 vinyl had overtaken both CD and digital formats.
The same is true of Books. Kindle has brought the numbers down, but hardcopy is far from dead. Bookstores have all but vanished, but that’s mainly on account of well stocked online bookstores.
575 years after Gutenberg pulled a bible off the first printing press, hardcopy still sells.
I’m not certain why this is but if I had to guess I’d say it has a lot to do with how human beings are built. Many people love their old books, many people love their old records, many people love their cabbage patch dolls. Few people love their digital files, however convenient, useful, or even indispencible they may be.
People relate to objects. Who gets sentimental about binary code?
Also, and I may be showing my elderly bias here, I don’t trust digitally encoded information 100%. Electromagnetic bits are just one catastrophe away from oblivion, like when the hard-drive crashes.
And what if some super virus crashes the entire internet? It could happen.
Sure, a book my rot or burn, and that was pretty disastrous when a million manuscripts in the library of Alexandria went up like a forest fire, thanks to some Christian zealots, but a few copies make a book fireproof, and books never crash.
Digital reproductions of a book are fine, and I have no issue with Kindle and the rest, but until a book is printed between two covers, it isn’t real to me. JDA