The death of books?

The buzz about ebooks and speculation that they will displace print books in the near future has got me thinking about the outlook for books, bookstores and libraries.

I've read articles and blogposts about a neat, organised future that the ebook revolution will unfurl. I've heard the radio ads which posit that just as the mp3 superseded CDs, the iPad and Kindle will make hard copy books obsolete. The minimalists among you are salivating at the thought and hey, it makes sense. I can personal attest to having damaged (probably irreversibly) my shoulders with years of lugging around stupidly huge novels, just so I could read another chapter or two in my infrequent and short breaks from class, work, etc. And yes, to be honest, if (when I go back to university this year) there are cheap e-versions of textbooks available, I will unashamedly plunder that particular source

I am, however, in total denial that the end is nigh for print books! Books are some much more than just the words on the page. I feel like the books I own are a part of me! It feels kind of materialistic, because the truth is I don't need to keep those books in my bookcase (so bounteous I swear it will give birth to something inky soon) not if the story contained has touched me and the ideas therein have intermingled with my own imagination. And yet, I feel that my books are a physical reflection of my personality, my thoughts and the things I value.

I particularly love old books, found in second hand book stores, which often have Bolognese (or other) sauce and ink stains on random pages. Or books from the library where if you're lucky, you sometimes find the previous borrower's shopping list in the middle. I also loved reading the cramped handwritten notes in the margins of prescribed texts from the university library. The physical story of the book, that tantalising connection with other readers is what I love. Reaching up, grabbing a favourite read from my dilated bookcase and pressing it into the open palms of a dinner guest saying: "This is the one, you HAVE to read it." that's what I'm holding onto.

Print books are romantic and those of us horders (or as I prefer, "collectors") will always want to fill our homes with (read show off) the beautiful and special books that have coloured our lives, don't cha think?


  1. I love that picture... It actually looks a lot like one of the scenes from a book idea I had once.

    And I think it is true that although e-books will gain in popularity, it would take a lot for print books to be done away with entirely. Even if it was made illegal, I think there would be underground presses, because there is just something special about holding a book in your hands. It's like holding a little person, a little piece of soul. How could we ever give that up?

  2. I think you're right about print books being romantic, like any relic from the past. When ebooks first became a reality, I cringed at the thought of never holding a paperback (or hardcover) again. But between the paper, space, and money that will be saved by switching to digital format, I think it's inevitable, and I've come to look forward to making the switch. I've also come to believe that the nostalgia for print books is an attachment to a material object. Nothing particularly wrong with that, but if digital is inevitable, I guess we should all accept it and get used to the idea. I'm trying to, but it's taking awhile.

  3. AchingHope - you are even more romantic than I am! I love that.

    Melissa - Just because something is practical, efficient, clever, ecologically sustainable doesn't make it better. Or does it? I've been reading up on e publishing lately and ebooks seem to be a foot in the door, an opportunity to grab the ear of a broader audience initially. But I don't think print will be going anyway in our life time. Not as long as there are enough romantic (materialistic ;) people out there to keep the market going.

  4. Hi zz. Glad you found my blog and I too love the picture you posted, with this post about the future of books.

    I have a friend who is an epublisher so I'll share my insights. Ebook/epublishing has been growing for over 10 years now. Right now it's about 1%-3% of book sales but that's probably going to increase a lot in the next 5 to 10 years.

    The greatest benefit for ebooks and ereaders I see is for the disposable and single-use books. I'd like to see mass market paperbacks shift to eformat because there's a lot of ecological waste there. I'd also like to see college textbooks and required reading transferred to eformat because these are also single-use. Most students buy them for a term and each costs as much as an ereader that could store a hundred of these books.

    What's got the publishing world in an uproar about ebooks now is - there are about 6 different distribution points between the publisher and the bookstore. Traditional publishing still operates on a business model devised in the early 1900's. They're not happy with big changes every week that threaten to expose this archaic system that blocks authors from connecting with readers.

    So while I believe there will be lots of changes in the publishing world over the next few decades, I also believe the picture you posted will still be relevant for current and future book lovers around the globe.

    There will also be an alternative. Sleek devices that hold a whole library within, and fit in the pocket of a backpack.

    Personally, I intend to have lots of both, print and ebooks because for me it's not the format - it's the story.

    Happy reading!

  5. Terri, I agree, the single use and textbook variety would be useful to have in e format. But the classics, oh yes, they will be displayed from every available space in my home!

    I'm slowly getting more and more excited about e publishing and it's potential for opening doorways to new audiences! Thanks so much for the very informative comment...

  6. Such a cool picture. I refuse, refuse, refuse to believe in the death of books. That's why I don't have a Kindle and I refuse to read a novel that is not in traditional paper-and-ink format. I do see the convenient side of e-books and all that jazz, but... There's just something about the feel of a book in your hands, not to mention new-book smell. :)

  7. Yes to all the reasons for loving tangible books. I add to your list the lovely smell.

  8. Hello, I'm pleased to meet you. At the risk of sounding dramatic I must say, my life would be meaningless without my books. The turning of the pages, the smell of the paper (whether old or new), the ability to hold the book close to my heart, all that makes reading even more special. Great post! Great Blog!

  9. I love books! The smell, the feel ~ pure joy! I can't imagine curling up on a rainy Sunday to read a hard piece of electronic hardware...! :( I too get the 'good for the environment' of it all, but gosh, it just wouldn't be the same would it?

    Let's hopes books are with us for a very very long time!

  10. Yes yes yes I knew there more kindred spirits out there :)

    Thanks for the encouragement Alina! You're blog is very pretty :)

  11. As a professional Librarian, this is a topic that comes up often in our field.

    We discussed it much in grad school (back in 1998) in the History of the Book class, and in other classes. In the end, we decided no, the book would not, in fact, die.

    Now, 12 years later, it is still around. Technologies come and go, but books, they keep. Cheap, portable, food for the masses, and daily, for me.

  12. I'm super late in commenting.

    I love books! No electronic representation will ever replace the love of paper and cardboard stitched or glue together. The smell alone will drive me to shatter all electronic representations I out owners of ebook readers.

    In all seriousness, true lovers are a large enough group to keep real books going strong.