The E-Book Phenomenon
by: David Sun
This is an age where digital media reigns supreme and technological marvels dictate our lifestyles. An age where our screens contain our very essence, an age where everything can be stored in a machine filled with wires and circuits.
In such an era, it’s only natural that the paper book would begin to slowly disappear, replaced by its smarter, slicker cousin: the e-book. The e-book made it easy. One press of a button, and that novel you’ve been waiting on for a quick minute is delivered right to your digital doorstep. Thanks, John Green, but I don’t have to go to seven bookstores just to find an overpriced hard copy of Turtles All the Way Down anymore. It’s right there, sitting on my virtual couch. The craze only grew more intense in the late 2000s, as Amazon’s Kindle strolled into style and Barnes and Noble’s Nook became a household item. The direction the e-book circus was heading was clear: soon, there would be a complete transformation. Long gone would be the houses cluttered with various books accumulated over the decades. All of those would be stored in a handy tablet. Libraries? Never heard of them. All I hear is my soundless searching of my online library. Now where is that John Green book? Well, not so soundless after all.
And in 2008, when I got my own personal Kindle, this vision seemed to be a close arm’s reach away. Everything in the modern world, even the cherished book, was turning digital. A momentous shift in socioeconomic affairs was happening before my very eyes. It was breathtaking to imagine. But a decade later, not much remains of that futile mirage. According to Forbes, net revenues for e-books were at $529.5 million in the period from January to June 2018; it’s a far cry from the $579.5 million made in revenue in the same period of 2016. A far cry of -8%, to be precise. And according to Wall Street Journal, sales of traditional print books rose by 5 percent in the US from 2016 to 2017, while sales of ebooks plunged 17 percent. As the e-book rose and fell, it was clear why such a contradictory situation was occurring:
There will always be that tactile and visual aspect of books that e-books just can’t satisfy. And with those aspects, there will always be the sentiment of nostalgia that comes with letting go of the past.
Popularized in Romanticism, this psychological phenomenon is not unique to just e-books. It explains the inherent obsession with collecting and playing retro video games, and the sophisticated pastime of art collecting. In fact, this phenomenon of reminiscence is widely prevalent in most forms of media. It prevents those who bloomed within those nostalgic flowers from moving on and evolving. Arcade games are a cherished artifact that represent the short lifetime and development of technological entertainment. Renaissance paintings are still a highly revered form of art, though we have digital photos that capture life itself in the most realistic form of art. And for books, the sensory-rich atmosphere and ownership that a physical asset brings is irreplaceable. The impression of sharing an e-book is miniscule compared to the feeling of gifting someone an anticipated paperback release or sharing a prized novel with a close friend. It’s very hard for something like an e-book to overcome the presence of centuries of physical books and the connotations that they conjure.
Because such phenomena exist, the nascence of the e-book may dwindle and stall. Though the e-book won’t completely disappear, books may always be an essential aspect of human society, and the e-book might never fully overcome that reality.