Are Books Fungible?

I read an essay last year called Fungible which addressed journalism, and came to the conclusion that yes, some parts of journalism are fungible. Case in point: A regular piece in local magazines and newspapers were restaurant reviews, which people would look to when deciding where to eat. Now, people use Yelp, which is a program. Journalism was replaced by something that is not journalism. 

My interest has shifted to books (well, to be fair, I was interested in books long before I discovered journalism). I love books. A year ago, I bought a basic Kindle – and I can carry more books with me and read them faster. Ebooks are great. 

There are a lot of conversations about ebooks and formats, you know, because if I lose my Kindle and switch to a Nook I can’t take my books with me. When a book was a physical good, and you could keep it or sell it or lend it, it made sense to pay the $10. When it’s digital, it’s a bit more disposable. It’s the same with music and that’s why I subscribe to Rdio – I will like a song for a few months and then maybe not go back to it for years. It has a shelf life. 

Most books have a shelf life. Business books, bedtime stories, chick lit. You consume it. Then it can be gone. Now, I might like to have a website that shows I’ll the books I’ve read (I call this the bookworm’s version of a trophy case) but I don’t need access to the whole book. 

So book should probably be accessed via a subscription. But that’s only half of it. 

When it comes to much of the discussion about formats, it’s because people want to normalize it. They want to write a book and have it accessible in every format – print, Kindle, Nook, PDF, etc. The problem with this is that as new gadgets come out, they can do a lot more than display black-and-white text. Stories will get more interactive, and they won’t be books anymore. 

So if you write a story and it includes elements that cannot be sent to the printing press, and cannot be displayed on a classic Kindle, it it really a book anymore? Or is it just a story? And if you have a way to distribute it without utilizing bookstores and Amazon, you might not care that it cannot be reformatted as an ebook.

And when someone gets on a plane and wants something to read, that will fill up a good two hours, they might pull out your “not a book” instead of a book. 

What do you think?