Printing readies for a new chapter

But what exactly is a book?
Printing readies for a new chapter

The dictionary still says it is “a number of pages bound together along one side and which usually has covers”.

That no-nonsense explanation may soon have to be revised, to allow for the huge increase in ebooks.

A book, in any form, is a medium that contains information and conveys it across time and space.

Whatever our device of choice, and however sophisticated the various gadgets we employ, there is still only so much that the eye can encompass and the brain interpret,

I am a self-professed bookaholic. Whenever we moved house, the first thing to be unpacked and arranged were the books. They seemed to instantly fill the void that pervades a new house with the spirit, thoughts, and aspirations of so many different people, like an ongoing dialogue with old and valued friends.

Books are user-friendly and can be read in the bath, up a tree, or curled up in a favourite armchair. Not so the ebook, which is dependent on devices, technology, and are format-specific.

Changes in technology, both in hardware and software, may yet result in many ebooks becoming unreadable. Then there’s the question of battery life, lighting, and the availability of electricity.

It’s not the first time the world of books has been shaken up. From 1450 to 1500, the number of books in Europe surged from a few thousand to an astonishing 9m.

Are e-books set to have as much effect?

What of people who live in remote rural areas, who may not have — and may not want — computers, tablets, e-books or a smart phone which enables them to access the latest best seller.

Will libraries no longer offer books on shelves that you can browse through to your heart’s content?

Would it reduce costs, wear and tear, and the need for so many staff, thereby increasing the availability of books?

Does it really have to be an either/or situation? Can the p-book (printed) and the e-book co-exist?

John McNamee is president of the European Federation of Booksellers.

Q. John, how long have you been passionate about books?

A. Since a very young age. Before I became a bookseller I delivered milk and I worked in retailing for the Fine Fare Supermarket chain. I became president of the Booksellers Federation in 2005. We have an office in Brussels and a very good team, executives who deal with legal, digital, and international issues. We manage to punch above our weight. Booksellers have many concerns today about the move towards digital content, particularly that they may be left out of the supply chain as publishers go direct and online players drive innovation. Even a small reduction on booksellers’ turnover brings a huge amount of financial pressure on a large number of booksellers.

Q. Do you think there’s a danger of bookshops going out of business, becoming obsolete?

A. I think it’s possible that some might. But bookshops are still the best place for distribution. They are a cultural haven and are increasingly giving readers the choice between e-books and p-books and supplying the necessary devices. I have the Easons bookshop in Portlaoise and I’m a schoolbook supplier and micropublisher of educational books and local interest.

Q. Bookshops are an important part of the community, particularly in rural areas.

A. That’s right. We are very involved with the local community. We recently printed and launched a book called A Year On Our Farm by Ann Talbot. It’s a mixture of narration and photography and over 300 people turned up for the launch, which we held on Ann’s family farm. It was a great night: Music, dancing, neighbours getting together, and a celebration and recognition of a way of life”

Q. As a bookseller and publisher, what are your main concerns at the moment?

A. A ban on below-cost selling and reckless trading, where someone buys for €10 then sells for €5. Competing with supermarkets and other large concerns is very difficult for booksellers who are faced with high Vat rates and other overheads. And the fact that there’s nobody overseeing the iPads that are getting into schools or long-term studies of the impact this might be having.

Q. Do you still feel as passionate about books?

A. Oh yes. I’m still consumed by what I do. At this time of year, there are always boxes of books arriving and I’m like a kid at Christmas. I love opening them, looking at the covers, enjoying the feel of them, their scent. There are great changes going on at the moment but at the same time, a lot of opportunity for some exciting developments too. And I believe books will always be with us.

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