Print over ether

Two weeks ago today my first book, With Open Arms, was published in print.  

It was immediately given an enthusiastic reception, exceeding any expectations I’d been careful not to have. It overtook the Lonely Planet guide to Morocco and spent time at number one. Amazon designated it as a “Hot New Release,” and for two solid weeks it remained the top new publication in its category.

I was touched. I was really happy.

I was also surprised.

With Open Arms was not new, after all. I had first published it six months prior as an e-book, and I’d been meaning to get it into print ever since. However, the demands and distractions of other projects—not the least being completion of my novel—had resulted in repeated delays. The fact that I’d never been through the process meant I dragged my feet even more, reticent to throw myself into what was likely to be an involved and tedious undertaking.

When I did finally get the print edition out into the world, it felt like no small victory. It also felt like a personal one—in the short term, I didn’t expect it to matter much to anyone else.

I was wrong.

The Facebook post announcing print publication was my most commented ever. I don’t remember any other post on my page getting as many likes. Congratulations were also sent via email and text, and thoughtful and generous dinner and drinks invitations were extended to celebrate my achievement. Perhaps most telling of all, sales of the print edition in the first two weeks alone significantly exceeded total sales of the e-book over the entire preceding six months—and rarely did a week go by when I didn’t sell one, if not more, e-book copies.

Why were people so much more excited about the print edition than the Kindle one?
Hadn’t Kindles and tablets long ago overtaken the cumbersome and archaic paperback? Hadn’t I been right to focus my initial efforts on e-books, the wave of the future that had already crashed ashore? What was the big deal?

Despite all its advantages, there’s something technology hasn’t yet changed: we are still physical beings living in a material world.

Consequently, the immaterial can seem less meaningful. It can make less of an impression. Words in the ether seem less real than ones on a printed page.

It’s like the difference between knowing something rationally and understanding it experientially. I know the e-book exists. Somewhere. Up in a cloud or on a server in a warehouse. But I can’t touch it. I can’t leaf through its pages. I can’t smell it or dog-ear it or take delight in its smooth glossy cover. I can never sign it, and I can only read it with the help of electronics, a gadget coming between me and it, a window onto something forever just out of reach.

It’s as though the e-book stopped short a step, as if it didn’t quite cross the finish line. The print edition, on the other hand, went the distance. It fully made the transition from the conceptual to the actual, the ethereal to the material.

Whatever the case, the general consensus seems to be that the print edition is the real deal.

An achievement worth celebrating.

And I am.