Is a Digital Book Still a Book?
[Originally posted on December 19, 2015] Ever since Gutenberg and his printing press, books have meant different things to different people. For some, books are vehicles that transport the reader to some foreign land or time of fantasy or adventure that one could never dream of experiencing in real life. For others, books are a way to partake of the boundless knowledge that awaits us if we simply give books the time they deserve to inform us in depth on topics of our choosing.
Wholly separate from matters of content, however, is the question of how books are viewed by those having a strong visceral connection to how a book feels or smells or visually engages a reader as you take one into your hands and explore the riches it has to offer.
I doubt Gutenberg or, for that matter, anyone living much earlier than the recent millennium, could have ever imagined that some day what we've known for centuries as a "book" could take on the form that it does in today's digital world. Ebooks and audiobooks have exploded in just the last decade and the digital realm that has already transformed bastions of print media (newspapers, magazines, etc.) into new, perhaps still tenuous, digital publishers is taking the traditional book market to a new place as well.
Of all the digital media transformations, the transition of books to a digital form seems to be inherently more traumatic than, say, music or photography or video or even other print forms such as newspapers and magazines. It's as if that special emotional attachment that can accompany a book makes its transition into the digital realm somehow "not quite right". At least not quite yet.
I do believe that audio books and ebooks are very different animals in this regard. In some ways, the audio book might be seen as a return to the days before Gutenberg, when all stories or knowledge were passed along through the oral tradition only. Digital audio book publishers such as Audible.com (of which I am a big fan and long-time subscriber) are carrying forward what first started out as books-on-tape and then books-on-CD, but are doing so now with a more flexible media delivery system.
Ebooks, by comparison, represent a new form of an attempted replication of the traditional book but without its tactile persona, such that an ebook may feel sterile to a reader who has Identified strongly with the book as physical object. To be sure, there are advantages and disadvantages of each form of book, both old and new. Having explored a bit the philosophical question of whether a digital book is still a book, this "Digital Books" section of the website will examine the new digital forms of book publishing and what they may have to offer to those who wish to embrace the subject in more depth here.