Media: A Moment with Marquis

It's all Alan Rusbridger's fault. He introduced me to Now I'm a hopeless addict.

Abebooks is to second-hand books what Amazon is to new. It is the online equivalent of the Charing Cross Road. This very morning, a jiffy bag arrived containing a 70-year-old book from for not very much from a bookseller in Scotland: first edition, signed by the author, in immaculate condition. It is the most delightful object.

The content is interesting (the main reason I ordered it), but the book itself is a wonderful thing. It is obscenely tactile; the cloth cover is velvety to the touch, the print a typographer's joy, the paper a creamy ...

My little book and the way I acquired it seem to me to shed encouraging light on one of today's most often-asked media questions: is the internet the death-knell for print?

In countless ways, we have become accustomed to doing stuff digitally. We bank, we shop, we book flights, we e-mail rather than mail, we fill in tax returns, we look at news online where once we did these things exclusively with printed material.

No-one seriously believes that for thousands of day-to-day transactions and needs we will ever regress to paper. But that is different from saying there is no future role for printed matter.

Just as the advent of television did not, as was widely predicted, kill off radio or newspapers, neither will the internet kill off print. It will, as TV did, make things different.

What, then, will be the role of print in our digitising world? The answer may not be a very rational one. Digital is rational: why take ten bulky books on holiday when you can take hundreds stored on one slimline electronic reader? Why buy The Sun or Vogue when you can get them online?

Because people like to touch and hold. In the case of books (especially antiques, courtesy of abebooks), it is the buzz of ownership, the pleasure of turning the page, the physical experience. To its readers, The Sun is far more than a collection of news stories - it is a mate. Vogue is as much about its imposing bulk, its heavy paper, its glossiness, as it is about pictures and words.

This may sound fuddy-duddy to media futurists, but there is something deeply satisfying and "real" about a tangible record of ideas, communications, pictures and stories. The need for print is assured, the evidence being all around us, and in many, many cases - ironically - it will be the internet that serves that need.


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