Paper Fetishists Can Calm Down – Codex Sales Are Climbing, Too

An interesting thing happened on the way to the long-anticipated Funeral of the Codex…

Oh, in case you don’t know what a codex is, it’s one of those stacks of paper sheets held together with a binding that the uninformed and stubborn mistakenly refer to as a “real” book. Purists might object that the word codex isn’t commonly known, and therefore there’s no point in making such a distinction, but that’s just enabling stupidity.

CodexSome readers didn’t know what a codex was 15 seconds ago. Now they know. See how easy it is to learn?

A codex is a “book” only when you’re not comparing it to other book formats. When comparing it to the ebook, the audiobook, or the scroll, a bound stack of sheets is not a “real” book. It is a codex. When the Book of Genesis is presented in electronic, audio, or rolled-up paper format, it is still a book. When it is printed on sheets and bound, it is a codex, or simply a book, but not a “real” book. In contrast with ebooks, you can even call them paper books, although this technically would include scrolls. But they are not “real” books. The idea that codices are “real” books is an elitist fallacy.

If you disagree, you are certainly in the majority. And, you are wrong.


But, more to the point, the paper fetishists who cultishly preach the dogma of the One True Book are constantly fretting that the rise of the ebook (AKA the eBeast or Anti-Codex) represents some sort of literary apocalypse. They imagine a black-and-white, zero-sum game wherein the existence of an electronic book nullifies the existence of a paper book.

Balderdash. Television didn’t destroy cinema and cinema didn’t destroy the theater. Video has been acquitted of killing the radio star. And video and radio both still exist side-by-side with live music and consumer recordings.

Sure, codices pretty much killed the scroll (outside of the Synagogue) but that’s because they were two paper formats squabbling for the same niche. Ebooks are in a different niche, just as audiobooks are. An audiobook is great for road trips, but listening to The Return of the King during a long journey to the beach doesn’t mean you’re throwing out your paper Tolkien, or the Blu-ray boxed set of Peter Jackson’s films. And, once at the beach, are you really going to want to put your sea-wet, beer-sticky, sand-covered paws all over that electronic reader? Or would you rather pull out the sturdy paperback, so you can keep one finger in the map page to help you keep track of where each hobbit is?

Still, these are only illustrative arguments. Do the real-world numbers bear them out? Well, back in May, it was revealed that ebook sales were still soaring … but that sales of hardbacks and paperbacks (i.e., codices) were also climbing.

Where’s your zero-sum game now, paper cultists?

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