Steve: Some argue that print books have provenance that ebooks lack, and that pixels are somehow more temporary than good old print on paper. This ignores the fact that books get wet or burnt, or the paper deteriorates. It also does not explain why libraries are now scanning important books, published before the rise of digital technologies, so that they can endure in a digital format.
John: I agree that format and provenance are not linked in any way. Both print and digital are, for different reasons, subject to degradation over time. Both are subject to human folly, from the burning of the Alexandria library to the latest cloud server crash. Digital does have far greater survival potential, if only because we can make unlimited backup copies. However, I'd be cautious about declaring that "digital is forever." After a century or more, will we be able to decode all the bits that make up today's equivalent of Moby Dick or Walden?
Formats and Genres
Steve: Nicholas Carr in his Rough Type blog3 and subsequent New York Times article suggests that ebooks might be acceptable for genre fiction but not for literary fiction. One respondent to his blog quipped, "That's like saying that CDs are good for heavy metal but not for classical music," which is pure nonsense. Our research shows that, while certain genres are somewhat more likely to be read as ebooks, genres have very little to do with format choice. Some genres are preferred on specific devices (e.g., narrative works on e-readers, how-to guides on tablets or PCs, and travel books on smartphones), but once a consumer switches to ebooks, genre considerations are irrelevant.
John: I agree that when it comes to basic narrative book genres, the EVP argument is moot. Even complex nonfiction content such as reference works and educational content can only benefit by becoming fully digital. However, there are several ways in which ebooks (or interactive e-content, if you prefer) have not yet met the standard set by print. While digital reference materials and other nonfiction can be digitally enhanced, it is presently cost-prohibitive to do so.
John Parsons (email@example.com), former Editorial Director of The Seybold Report, is an independent writer, ghostwriter, and editor. He is the co-author of the interactive printed textbook, Introduction to Graphic Communication, on the art, science and business of print, which has been adopted by Ryerson, Arizona State, the University of Houston, and many other schools and vocational training centers. Custom editions of the book are under consideration by major printing companies and franchises for internal training purposes.