Not an e-book festival, yet

Our view: At the Baltimore Book Festival, time to embrace an old friend, print

September 24, 2010

Not dead yet! That could be the mantra of the friends of print books who stream into Mount Vernon this weekend for the 15th Baltimore Book Festival.

The upstart e-books are on the rise. This summer, their sales on Amazon.com surpassed those tallied by hardback books. Never mind that electronic versions of books are usually less expensive than the print version, or that in some cases are even offered for free. E-books, we are told, are nerdy cool. Print books, not so much.

E-books have an allure. Their font size can be enlarged. Their spent stories don't pile up on the coffee table. And if you are reading something naughty, prying eyes cannot tell.

Yet print books have a strong emotional appeal. This weekend's festival offers all sorts of old-fashioned tactile pleasures — holding a book in your hand, flipping through its colorful pages, getting it signed by the author — that the e-book lacks.

How long the printed book will appeal to new readers is uncertain. For every print person who can't envision reading "Goodnight Moon" to their child on an e-book, there is a wired dad who reports that his 3-year-old loves reading "Winnie the Pooh" on a screen because of the zoom feature.

Perhaps, as some predict, books in print will eventually become collectors' objects. Years from now, someone will appear on the new age equivalent of "The Antiques Roadshow" bearing strange objects handed down from the grandparents: hardback books signed by the authors at the 2010 book festival in Baltimore.

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