The Ebook Debate...Is Over

I am an avid reader, it is one of my passions. When e-readers were introduced in 2007 I promised myself I would never stoop so low as to buy one. I hated the concept of having an electronic book in a light weight package where browsing titles would be completely online. At the time of it's release in 2007 it was common for me to go to Barnes and Noble or Borders once every few weeks and spend hours browsing the isles looking for covers that caught my interest. I had a foolproof test for knowing a good book when I picked it up off the shelf. First, the cover had to be intriguing in someway. Second, the synopsis on the back had to pique my interest. And third, the book had to smell good. I am a firm believer that there is a good book smell and my nose is very attuned to it. So when e-readers came out, I was all about boycotting them. Almost ten years later and I still prefer physical books to e-books, but I am not as apposed to e-books as I once was. First of all, I don't have as much time to browse through books stores as I used to. And second, I ran out of shelf space on my bookshelf. Although I have yet to succumb to buying an e-readers, I do take advantage of the iBook and Kindle apps on my phone. Because I have been moving around a lot in the recent years, I have begun reading on my phone more and more. One thing I have noticed upon switching back and forth between phone reading and physical book reading is that I miss the "define" function. On my phone I just click on a word I don't understand and, bam, there is the definition. I have even found myself trying to do this on a physical book and then, surprisingly, find myself disappointed when I remember it is not electronic.


As a graphic design student who one day hopes to be a leader in the industry, I have begun reading articles and listening to podcasts about design and the industry. The topic of book design is particularly interesting to me and I think that the shift from physical books to digital books speaks to what is happening in the design industry as a whole. The other day I was on designobserver.com and came across an article by Adrian Shaughnessy who is a publisher, author, editor, and designer of printed books. His article, "Books. Still not dead.", is a reflection on the rise and fall of e-readers and e-books. Shaughnessy says, "In fact, I’d argue that electronic publishing’s failure to establish a more emotionally satisfying alternative to the printed book has enhanced the status of physical books." He presents data that supports this claim; people are increasingly buying printed books and decreasingly buying e-books. I think there is preciousness and a sense of ownership when  you buy a physical book that is lacking when you buy an e-book. Shaughnessy goes on to say that publishing as we know it is dying, "but until electronic publishing finds a way to rival the multisensory experience of reading even a modestly produced physical book, it will continue to provide only a second rate reading experience, and the death of the book will be postponed once more." 


Shaughnessy is right when he says publishing is dying. I have seen it first hand. Ten years ago, publishing was an agonizing process. You had to submit your book to a publishing house, get it accepted, have it edited, have it approved, and then have it designed (usually by the publishing house's designer). This summer, I was hired as a freelance designer to design a book for a client who was self-publishing through Amazon. She had 10,000 copies printed and her book is being sold through the Amazon website. Because I had never designed a book before, I did a lot of research online about how to format and what margins to use. Here I was, this amateur trying to design a book with no experience. In the future, I think the only thing that is going to save publishing is the gap in quality between published books and self-published books. Anyone can write a book, anyone can publish a book, and anyone can design a book. All of the information you need to do these things in on the internet, at the fingertips of anyone who wants to expend the effort. So the question for me is what is the future for book designers? Is it becoming designers for publishing houses and producing beautifully crafted books that self-publishers can't compete with? Or is it becoming a facilitator of great design that is available to self-publishers?  Really the big question moving into the future for all designers is, should good design be exclusive or inclusive?