Publishing SOS: Are Books Losing Their Info Mojo?

Man lying down surrounded by devices

By Dimple Malhotra

In today’s digital world, where information is just a few key-presses away, not many people tend to choose books as their primary source of information. If everything is available on the internet, why would anyone even consider lengthy physical books to gain knowledge or find answers to their questions?  

Has the era of books ended?  

Has humanity progressed beyond it?  

The truth is far from it. Let’s take a look at books in retrospect, the unique value proposition they bring to the table, and their relevance in a continuously evolving digital landscape.  

The Historical Significance of Books

Books signify something bigger in the evolution of humans as a species. Ever since we started writing, and recording ideas, be it on stone walls or pieces of cloth, it helped propagate those ideas for generations.  

The spoken words were transformed into the written form, immortalising the ideas and making them incorruptible, in some sense, as they no longer would have to travel through the fallibility of the human word.  

Be it the earliest manuscripts found in the long-lost civilisations or the mass-produced books with the invention of the printing press, books have played a key role in making histories, shaping societies and empowering people.  

Books have played a key role in history all around the world. Image by Porapak Apichodilok on pexels. CC0 license.

The Digital Revolution and the Internet

The third Industrial Revolution, or the digital revolution, that started around the second half of the 20th century has truly transformed all aspects of human life, and gathering information is just one piece of it.  

Why is it called a revolution? It marked a rapid shift from the traditional industries of the industrial revolution of the 18th century to a market economy that shares its foundation with information technology. And with developments in information technology, we saw the invention of the internet, a hallmark of human evolution.  

Today’s internet, and its ease of access, places knowledge just a few clicks away, where a plethora of informative articles, videos, and opinions sit to be accessed almost instantaneously. But the ease of access has opened a gateway that can be entered from both sides. Not just the consumption but also the production and publishing of information has become easy. This raises a question of credibility, let alone depth, on any information encountered online.  

The Unique Value of Books

Both online information and books are slices of the same cake called knowledge. But both slices are cut differently; one is horizontal, and the other is vertical. The modern search engines narrow down the slices even further by just showing the relevant text snippets from articles and nothing around them.  

Books, on the other hand, are slices that are thicker and go deeper when attempting to answer even the simplest of questions. For instance, books like Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens” go into depth in research to understand the history and progress of humans and entertain ideas showcasing expertise seldom found in online search results.  

This deep dive approach to the exploration of subjects allows traversing between topics laterally, providing a very complex and multidimensional perspective of those subjects, resulting in more complete learning.  

Books in the Digital Age

Some people believe books to be relics of the past, but on the contrary, they’re far from it. They’ve not just adapted to the digital revolution but also have driven it on many fronts.  

For instance, e-ink displays have seen tremendous technological improvements due to a sizable portion of the market being driven by book buyers. Books have also facilitated audiobooks, increasing the reach of books beyond the literate audience.  

Traditional book publishers have embraced technological enhancements and now publish e-books with interactive features like Kindle’s X-Ray that allows readers to keep track of and know more about characters, places, external references or any contextual terms by simply tapping them.  

You can read books on your phone. New technologies are adding interactive options that make books more accessible to wider audiences. Image by Andrea Piacquadio on pexels. CC0 license.

Where Do Books Stand Today?

Books are more than just listing gathered information. Books are a reflection of deep thought… of authentic experiences and are a byproduct of something more than just writing content. There is a human touch to books that is difficult to find in online articles.  

There’s a sense of fulfilment in the challenge and delayed gratification offered by books, which you just can’t get in quick answers.  

The route of publishing books sets high editorial standards as compared to blogs or social media posts. This is done not only to retain the academic and journalistic integrity of the author but also to bring authenticity and reliability of the content for the reader.  

When new to something, a lot of data can also be jarring with no way to weed out irrelevant information. Books provide a direction for learning about a subject.  

Books will always have a place in the non-fiction sphere, no matter how much information is available freely on the internet. In fact, more information on a topic leads to higher demand for books that can offer curated, verifiable knowledge.  

The internet is an amazing tool for quickly accessing online data containing new information and information previously unreachable to us. But the journey of intellectual exploration starts with online searches, and ends at the doorstep of books, marking a new beginning; their cover waiting to be opened, the pages to be turned, and the words to be read and explored.

Dimple Malhotra is a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing student at the University of Melbourne. She is currently involved with two student unions and also writes for the student magazines, Farrago and Radio Fodder. Her passion project is making aesthetic videos about her student life at Unimelb. She likes reading books, writing stories, and everything in between. Creativity is her jam — reach out if you want to talk about anything artsy!

Feature image: Never so connected, never so overwhelmed: The amount of information at our fingertips is endless. Image by Ola Dapo on pexels. CC0 license.

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