If You’re Worried About Paper Books Going the Way of the Dodo

Don’t.

People want what they can’t have. I can’t speak for cave person days, but I can speak for early US history days. I used to live in a house that was built in the early seventeen hundreds, which for the United States, is early indeed. It was built fifty years before the United States was the United States.

In the Great Room of my former house, the original walls were finished with twenty inch wide panels of chestnut board, feather edged so they fit together hiding the seam, and planed smooth by hand. Today we would drool at such boards, and they would be worth a great deal of money in their patinated chestnut state.  However, in the seventeen hundreds, chestnut trees grew large and freely. Their lumber was the workhorse of the building trade.  Paneling a room in chestnut boards wasn’t a statement of status.

But painting them was.  In early eighteenth century colonial America, paint–since it was not necessary for survival–was an indulgence. A painted wall was a statement of  well-to-do-ness.  And so the feather-edged chestnut walls in my eighteenth century house were painted a popular color called Prussian Blue. To my modern eyes, the painted walls were a god-awful color—a faded electric blue that in no way reminded me of the softened past. Hard to fathom that in the time, this color was the height of fashion. But it was. And in great part because it wasn’t easy to come by.

So paper books are not in danger of becoming extinct. Just as soon as having a printed paper book becomes hard to come by, having one will be desirable. Desire creates markets. Markets need products.

Tastes change, but the human quirk of wanting what is scarce will never change.

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