Considering the discussion that took place on my last post, it’s inevitable that this post should be about pen books and pen websites. They are quite different things and not really comparable as they are produced the way they are to address different purposes.
Many books do not make good references as they are not easily searchable whereas websites are. Books, in the main, (there are exceptions) are about narrative. They are sequential and that’s how they’re best read. Really comprehensive indexes can help but not many books have indexes that are good enough. A shining example of a good reference book is Steve Hull’s The English Fountain Pen Industry but of all the fountain pen books I have, many of which have been reviewed here, that’s the only one I would regard as a useful first-hand reference.
Websites, generally, don’t lend themselves to extended narrative but you’ve only got to hit CTRL-F to find what you want. They are also very good for disseminating information as it becomes available. It’s a work of moments to update the information on a given fountain pen whereas a book is static and new information has to wait for a later edition if it is ever to appear at all. Websites are comparatively inexpensive to their author and free to the public.
Personally, I’m a book person. There are rooms in this house that I can barely get into because of the number of books I have. I love a good read and I look forward with anticipation to new fountain pen books that come out. They can provide a narrative of company information, of the personalities involved and of the development of that company’s fountain pens. But, for the most part, I don’t use them as first port-of-call references where there is an online alternative. The scrap of information that I need is much more easily accessed on one of the excellent brand websites that people have taken the trouble to make available.
Fountain pen books are expensive. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they are among the most expensive books on my shelves. That’s simply because the market for them is very small which forces the unit price up. However, not everyone is a reader of books and even among those that are many would rather spend their money on pens. That seems fair enough to me. You might respond that someone who is not prepared to buy the books can do without the information. I don’t believe that to be true. Information is ancillary, not central, to the fountain pen collecting hobby and its free availability is very good for the hobby. We in the UK are late in coming to this realisation, whereas America has had its major brands well covered online for years.
I don’t believe that the publication of information online will adversely affect the sale of pen books. Those who will buy the books, will buy them anyway. I’m an example of that. The information presented by the two mediums is invariably different.
It really isn’t about a choice between books or websites. We want – and need – both.