For me a fundamental problem with e-books is that the joy of owning a physical object – and more importantly, adding it to the bookshelf in your home – is absent. I don’t feel much of anything when I buy a new e-book. Instead, it seems like I’m just opting for convenience over pleasure.
Because of this marked absence, I believe that publishers in the future need to find ways to make digital book purchases more tangible. Perhaps readers could be given access to a well-designed card that they could print in color on sumptuous card stock and display on a bulletin board. Or, as 3D printers become common household appliances, perhaps publishers could enable readers to print a custom object or token from the world of the book to display at home, or keep on their desks at work. Imagine the digital version of The Lord of the Flies bundled with instructions to 3D print the iconic conch shell.
For some of us, books are trophies – we’ve read them, mastered them, understood them and been moved by them. For others, books are milestones that irrevocably change the way we experience the world and understand our place in it. And for others, books are exquisite designed objects that lend our homes verve and gravitas, and that help us tell a story about ourselves to visitors. These simple physical objects, whether 2D or 3D, represent one potential way that we can celebrate the special relationships that we form with our books. They could help to restore the intimacy that we miss as digital books continue to replace print in our literary lives.