Franzen’s argument seemed to have to do largely with the permanence of text. He sees digital media as something ethereal that can be deleted or changed altogether with the touch of a keystroke.
From a certain perspective, however, it’s those paper books that are actually the fragile versions. Once a book is proliferated in digital form, it is functionally immortal. You could hold the entire contents of the Library of Congress on a single machine. Compare that with the great library lost in Alexandria.
The problem, of course, is the imposition of digital rights management on top of books. It restricts the free use of legitimately-purchased content and allows for these abuses by companies like Amazon. Anybody who has followed the ebook market for long will remember that famous instance where copies of 1984 were removed from paying customers’ libraries.
I think a happy compromise could be reached if publishers followed the lead of indie-music labels, offering free downloads with the purchase of a hard-copy; that would be the best compromise for technophiles, paper fetishists and independent bookstores.