Enough With The Smell of Books, Okay?

April 1st, 2009 · 28 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

If there is one thing we can agree on, in the discussion surrounding digital books, it is that the issue is not “if ebooks ever take off” but “how ebooks will assimilate”. To my mind, too much energy is wasted on the idea that digital books are not the same as physical books. Focusing on the tactile, the kinesthetic, the heft of books and comparing that experience to a digital book makes no sense.

Of course they’re different, just like cars, boats, and airplanes are different. Trains are different. All are forms of transportation, all have their strengths and weaknesses. We choose one type of transport over the other for a host of reasons: speed, convenience, experience. Why not so with books?

So when I see a product positioning itself to recreate the “smell of books” on your ereader, I just want to scream. Stop. The. Madness. Now.

Our intern, Bernadette noted, in her one moment of sagacity, that it seemed that too many people focus on the physicalness of books, to the point that they forget what’s really important (that would be the words contained in said book). She concludes:

Your letter briefly caused me to imagine what my book club might be like if we were all so enamored the physical artifact. As I imagine it, we would sit around discussing the binding and the quality of the paper. At some point, someone might bring up ink, and then we would all talk about glue for a while.

I agree. This does not mean that Bernadette will be getting a raise, of course. I just think it’s time to move beyond the worries about recreating one medium as we explore another. Do we really need our ebooks to smell like crunchy bacon?

Let digital books be different from physical books. Both serve a place in our culture, and one will be increasingly important to readers. That doesn’t mean physical books will go away, and it doesn’t mean one type of book is better than another. What it means is sometimes one format suits, while other times, another is preferable. Apples. Oranges. Trains. Planes.

Though as I write this, all I can think is that if more books smelled like crunchy bacon, I might become a breakfast person.

File Under: Square Pegs

28 responses so far ↓

  • Smell of Books doesn’t seem to excite | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home // Apr 1, 2009 at 4:35 am

    […] there is some controversy about this new product. Booksquare seems to think it is simply overkill: So when I see a product positioning itself to recreate the “smell of books” on your ereader, I […]

  • Nice Mommy~Evil Editor » Blog Archive » Links you must read today // Apr 1, 2009 at 6:44 am

    […] Kassia Krozser will give you her business if you can make your books smell like breakfast […]

  • Richard Adin // Apr 1, 2009 at 6:58 am

    In this instance, generations matter. Don’t get me wrong — I love my Sony Reader and am reading more than ever (and I read a lot of books every year) because of it. But unlike my son who prefers to do 90%+ of his reading electronically, my preferences depend on the book. I wouldn’t consider reading, for example, Michael Burlingame’s Abraham Lincoln: A Life as an ebook. To me the pbook experience, including the “smell,” is part of the pleasure of the book. Conversely, I have no problem reading a David Weber novel as an ebook (although I also buy pbook versions of his books).

    There is a sense of impermanence to ebooks in contrast to a sense of permanence with pbooks. My son doesn’t feel that difference but I do. Consequently, I tend to read in ebook form books that are entertaining but are not necessarily going to be part of a permanent library. Conversely, I tend to read (hardcover) in pbook form those books that I want to be part of my library and that someday I will pass on to grandchildren.

    There is something to be said for the “smell” of pbooks, especially if you are a baby boomer or older. But ebooks can make available to those of us who do like the “smell” authors we would not have otherwise experienced by making their work available at a reasonable price — and in a discardable fashion.

  • Chris Meadows // Apr 1, 2009 at 7:09 am

    I hope I’m not spoiling everybody’s fun by suggesting looking at the calendar, then exploring the site a little more closely.

  • Bradley Robb // Apr 1, 2009 at 7:44 am

    Best. Joke. Yet.

  • Brian O'Leary // Apr 1, 2009 at 8:03 am

    I love the smell of e-books in the morning.

  • Famous e-book Luddite won over by Smell of Books—while meanwhile a patent suit MAY be in the works | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home // Apr 1, 2009 at 9:21 am

    […] you’re ridiculing the Smell of Books breakthrough. But the odor is convincing enough for Sven Berkshire, previously a […]

  • Lee Wind // Apr 1, 2009 at 9:42 am

    What I love is how would you “apply” this aerosol smell? Would you spray your kindle, or maybe spray yourself? Could aspiring writers spray their query letters prior to submission in order to create that mental connection between their written pitch and the agent or editor’s love of the smell of a printed book? Actually, maybe they could make another scent, that of money, and we could use THAT smell to “enhance” our experience of the economic challenges we face today. Banks and credit card companies could spray their statements and we’d think it was as if they were sending US money, rather than the other way around!
    Just a thought…
    Thanks for the laugh!

  • Kassia Krozser // Apr 1, 2009 at 9:46 am

    From the ask-and-you-shall-receive department: hands-on user testing.

  • kate r // Apr 1, 2009 at 10:23 am

    There’d have to be fresh ink and an old spice edition. My oldest books smell like paper stored too long in basements. Eeeu de Mildew.

    I’m loving the 4/1 entries everywhere.

  • PublishingMojo // Apr 1, 2009 at 10:42 am

    [In a November 2008 lecture on] Book Production Trends . . . Frank [Romano] . . . brought up Random House v RosettaBooks, a 2001 case in which Judge Sidney Stein denied Random House’s claim to e-book rights on certain of its titles. According to Frank, Judge Stein’s decision was based on his opinion that an e-book did not fit the definition of a book. Frank put his audience on the spot by asking them to define a book.
    I was stoked at this point, because the lecture was sponsored by Bookbuilders of Boston (on whose board of directors I serve), and most of the audience were Bookbuilders members. Here’s where my people get to show off their publishing mojo, I was thinking.
    “What makes a book?” Frank asked again. Voices from the audience called out:
    “Pages in sequence.”
    “With a binding. Pages bound together in sequence.”
    A woman sitting in front of me spoke up with the thin, cautious voice of a fifth grader who isn’t completely sure she knows the right answer. “Words?” she said. Nobody seemed to hear her.
    I hope next time she speaks up louder, and I hope Bookbuilders listens. Because the future of Bookbuilders–and all its member companies–depends on being able to see books as something much more than pages bound together.
    [From my November 20, 2008 post on the Tools of Change for Publishing community blog, http://tinyurl.com/d7bc4z.%5D

  • Ted // Apr 1, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Hi! Every time there’s a new technology, whether for print or other, there’s a higher price to pay than the old technology. The technology of physical books is complete and adequate in itself. Nothing else is needed. Further, if you leave a digital reader for not too long a time, it will become not able to be used without more technology to bring it to life. A physical book, though, unless it gets wet, will last potentially forever. Why fix something that ain’t broke? The technology of physical books ain’t broke. Ted

  • Susan // Apr 1, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Although I like the tactile features of books–a lot–that’s not my concern w/ e-books. Not opposed to them, really; I may even buy a Sony Reader soon. But, what I worry about is the solidity of print. My bookshelves groan, yes, but I can find books there that have been OP for over a century, that I use and adore…and good maps, and good illustrations, and lovely covers, too. Not as important as the text? Maybe. Maybe not. One CAN judge a book by its cover these days. If the cover is well designed, chances are the publisher is behind that title, and usually there’s a reason. And if suddenly technology disappeared, the libraries would still maintain the world’s heritage in print… Silly to worry, but there it is. Print has proved its long-term viability.
    Nothing has convinced me that, in our mass-produced, built-in obsolesence, throw-away culture, that e-books won’t lead to books and literature becoming ephemera. That’s my concern.

  • FlossieT // Apr 1, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    Ooh. I’ve never been a book-sniffer myself but one that conjures up the scent of breakfast is tempting 🙂

    Thanks for a post that actually made me smile rather than groan and wince on this rather overladen “news” day…

  • Self-Publishing Review // Apr 1, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    Is this like meta-April Fool’s territory, where someone pretends to believe a joke? This might be a giveaway about the site: “May cause dizziness and hallucinations. May cause itching and runny nose. If symptoms persist for longer than eight weeks please consult your physician.”

  • KatG // Apr 1, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Yeah, I’m hoping it’s a joke as well. Many people who love books are scared that printed books will all disappear because of e-books. They especially feel this way because newspapers and magazines are having such problems. But newspapers and magazines are dependent on advertising. Books are dependent on purchase, which means they are dependent on availability. E-books make books more available, so more people buy them, which I believe may actually increase the market for print books. And a large segment of the population will never be able to afford e-readers and e-books, but can afford the occasional paperback. And they’ll be more likely to buy that paperback because the publishers will have more income from e-publishing and can do more marketing efforts for their titles and grab buyers’ attention, maybe.

    I don’t want an e-book reader that tries to replicate a printed book. Here’s what I want:

    1) A device that’s as light as possible.
    2) A device that’s as portable as possible.
    3) A device that’s waterproof, and that does not die off in a hot or cold climate.
    4) A device that holds a really long electrical charge and is really easy to charge.
    5) A device that has the option of really large print that is designed to give me as little eye trouble as possible.
    6) Cheap e-books and publications, and some free stuff for downloading.
    7)Works with e-books that I can buy from any legal vendor.
    8) Software that is simple and intuitive, without a lot of frills.
    9) Reliability and good customer service.
    10) The ability to up-date the e-reader so that it lasts for five years.
    11) Print and e-book editions bundled together for sale.

    It’s going to be a long time before I get all of that.

    1) An

  • KatG // Apr 1, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Oops, apparently had some formating problems there. Sorry.

  • Nic // Apr 1, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    But for real, let’s stop having this debate of ‘which is better’. Get rid of mass markets, keep the trade, french fold copies of John Wray. You know?
    Also, I had the Durosport Prism 6000, and it was awesome. Totally Amiga compatible.

  • Laurie Viera Rigler // Apr 1, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    Scent of Sensibility! Where can I sign up?

  • Kassia Krozser // Apr 1, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    Laurie — it’s possible that you might be eligible for the gross discount (144 for the price of 143), if I’ve read the pricing structure correctly. Hopefully, the Durosport guys have Google Alerts and can respond with details.

  • Maureen Lowry-Fritz // Apr 2, 2009 at 9:48 am

    I think cell phones will really take off if they could just make them stick to the wall, add a curly cord, and replace the buttons with a rotary dial. I really miss the sound of that rotary dial.

    I LOVE my Kindle!

  • Book Blog - Likely Stories, by Keir Graff - Booklist Online » Blog Archive » April Fooled // Apr 2, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    […] Books: An Aerosol E-book Enhancer“–and there was Kassia Krozser at Booksquare (”Enough with the Smell of Books, Okay?“), who appeared to be taking it seriously, although one commenter did ask, “Is this […]

  • Nazlah // Apr 3, 2009 at 12:33 am

    The transformation the publishing industry is going through is incredible and very interesting. Even though we are in the transition phase, it is a fantastic experience to be a part of the ‘paper-to-electronic’ phenomenon… (read more)


  • links for 2009-4-2 « Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog // Apr 3, 2009 at 7:16 am

    […] Enough With The Smell of Books, Okay? | Booksquare “To my mind, too much energy is wasted on the idea that digital books are not the same as physical books. Focusing on the tactile, the kinesthetic, the heft of books and comparing that experience to a digital book makes no sense.” Exactly what I’m trying to get away from, myself! (tags: ebooks books) […]

  • KatG // Apr 3, 2009 at 11:02 am

    LOL, but we were having fun! And look, it could very easily happen.

  • Nannette // Apr 4, 2009 at 6:07 am

    I’d like to refer you to this post on my blog. You don’t need to read the whole thing. Just scroll down to the video “Introducing Le book” and I hope my coding shows up as a link and not coding. I see there is no preview here.

    Reading and Books

  • rhbee // Apr 4, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Two things: First, I am really sorry I missed this post on the first. Two, if you haven’t visited the link provided by Nanette and still want to laugh out L, go there now.

  • Steve // Apr 21, 2009 at 4:55 am

    I wonder if, when automobiles first came out, someone rceated an air freshener that could recreate the “horse-and-buggy” smell: – )

    But I do still like books better. If I lose a book, or drop it in a mud puddle, I’m out 20 bucks.
    But if I lose a Kindle…