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About a dozen years ago, when journals were entering the gauntlet wrought by the peril and potential of the Internet, I remember thinking (and saying to any poor soul who would listen), “Wait until this hits books.” Back then, books were off-limits somehow, their hard covers repelling new media’s assaults. E-readers were being introduced, but none made the mainstream. Handheld computer-based attempts were ill-fated. The rumble of thunder seemed too far off to cause a worry.

Little did we know that we’d witness a fast-moving tornado when the storm finally hit.

While you can debate the commercial success, aesthetics, and longevity of it, Amazon’s Kindle has proven to be the wind shift that signaled the storm’s arrival. Other forces — the rise of viable print-on-demand (POD) technology especially, but also shoddy author contracts, publishers focusing too much on a few authors, more authors self-publishing and a rise in social acceptance of the mode, and other background trends — are tearing through the land of the printed book, leaving the industry exposed on many sides, apparently with little shelter.

Now that the twister’s finally arrived, the constant rumors of Borders folding or being consumed have been joined by the news that Barnes & Noble is considering putting itself on the block. While part of this may be a business gambit, the gambit is only necessary because the business is less viable than ever.

Publishers are changing, too. Mass-market romance publisher Dorchester Publishing is dropping its paperbacks entirely and moving to e-books and POD fulfillment for print titles. This means Dorchester is seeing that online retailing is going to drive their business, not remaindered print in bookstores.

The book as a product is changing, in a way analogous to how music changed from something packaged on a tape, on a record, or on a CD, to a file on your smartphone or iPod. In a mournful eulogy to the book and to the bookstore, Sven Birkets of the Wall Street Journal writes:

What is disappearing, with the speed of ink drying on a folio leaf, is the public profile of books, our sense of their literal and symbolic presence. We have all seen what is happening to libraries, as increasing numbers of them put their funds to digital use, moving books up, up and away from what used to be the central ports of access—the reading rooms—to make more room for monitors.

If I continue the analogy to packaged recorded music, I have to say that I find little to mourn in Birkets’ essay (he also rends his garment over the disappearing bookstore). After all, I used to love to go to Raspberry Records where I grew up and flip through the bins in search of great new vinyl. Did music have any more of a “public profile” because of records stores that were tucked away in mini-malls or regular malls? Did a Tower Records stuck in a suburb give music some sort of cultural relevance beyond what the music and artists could?

Music has followed its listeners and moved onto nice consumption devices with significantly more capacity and much better commerce experiences. Now, books are doing the same.

What will give books real-world presence? People reading, people talking about them, people watching movies derived from them, people reading books based on TV shows. It’s the same way the white headphone cord of the iPod gives music a new way to be in the real world.

But will book reading actually suffer? I doubt it. My kids would love to have Kindles so that they could read spontaneously. They get addicted to a series (don’t get me going about “Pretty Little Liars” right now), and once one book is polished off, they want to start the next one. But the scarcity model of book publishing means having to wait days between reading events if ordering a book from an online retailer; calling around town to find a book and often failing; or checking the library which often doesn’t have the latest materials. Does waiting, calling around, or getting frustrated help the reading experience? Not at all.

The new era of books may actually see more authors, more reading, and more books being bought and sold.

I used to go to the record store, only to find that a particular new release was out of stock. Now, there is no similar experience with music. I can get what I want, when I want it, and can be listening to it minutes later. I probably listen to more music — and a more diverse set of artists — now than ever before.

Movies, music, and radio became more available with inventions like on-demand video, digital songs, and podcasts. Books are just the next in a long line of media changing from analog physical carrier to digital file storage.

We know what it’s like when things lose their physical attributes and the scarcity related to it. So far, it’s proven to be one of the best things that can happen to something we love.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


107 Thoughts on "It’s the End of the Book As We Know It — and I Feel Fine"

Well it’s certainly good news for the consumer…

I wonder, is there any data out there that shows the volume of artists pre and post the arrival of the digital era? This would give an indication as to whether the new digital world has lead to desertification of the culture (a fact implied by music industries bemoning their revenue loss to piracy etc) or an enrichment.

When we went from the scribe to the printed press, there was an explosion of content (with an allied bemoning of the death of culture).

I’m not certain that the rise of cable/satelite TV led to an increase in novel content (well not here in the UK anyway) despite the increased channel availability. If this is because the distribution system was still a closed system, then can we infer some things about a possible future for ebooks?

A great question. There’s a slide I use in one of my talks showing the number of authors for books vs. Facebook vs. Twitter, and how it took 500 years to reach 1 million authors for books but only a few years to reach the same levels for Facebook and Twitter. Now, of course, long-form narratives are completely different. As for the traditional book-length manuscript, I’ve seen data (but would have to dig it out) showing that the number of titles being published (many self-published) is increasing rapidly. And the speculation is that things like the Kindle and iPad and whatnot will also increase consumption.

Television is still mass media and very beholden to large, upfront production costs and the like. YouTube is where the action is.

I am not at all nostalgic, nor am I anything but optimistic about media and the future, but I do wish to share one experience I have had. I used to buy a lot of music and listen to it all the time. My MO was to spend some time, usually on a Saturday afternoon, browsing in a music store. Now those stores have mostly disappeared. I have not purchased any music for years now and I almost never listen to any. Yes, I have an iPod–multiple iPods–and have loaded old music (Beatles and Dylan, Beatles and Dylan) onto them), but I have never bought a single song on iTunes. I use my iPods for audiobooks. Now my browsing time is spent in bricks and mortar bookstores, where I continue to purchase books every week. And, yes, I read ebooks and own an iPad, too. But without the recreational experience of killing a couple hours on a Saturday afternoon in a bookshop, I believe my book purchasing–and reading–would go the way of my music purchasing. Bookstores are an outstanding, if fated, form of social media.

I think the social part still goes on. I was just at lunch the other day when the group Arcade Fire came up. I’d heard about them somewhere, but was able to glean a lot more from a fan at the table. I browsed their music, and it didn’t strike my fancy, but I ended up browsing iTunes for some other things.

I think part of the challenge will be shifting the browsing habit from physical spaces to virtual spaces. For music and book publishers, it changes the marketing dynamics. For consumers, it means thinking a bit differently. For storefronts like Amazon and iTunes, it means even more “if you like this” type of thing. However, that said, I have about three books I want to buy on my Kindle, and each one is currently sampled, so I already have a piece of it there as a reminder — a trick I’ve come to rely on to keep some aspect of “physicality” around.

One other thought about this — I do think the role of designers is imperiled by these changes. Album covers used to be beautifully wrought designs (or tacky and silly designs) that conveyed something about the overall aesthetic and artistic goal of the work. You could browse these 12″ x 12″ pieces of art effectively and pretty reliably select things you’d like because of the artistic fidelity often achieved by the melding of design and music.

Book covers work in much the same way. I’m currently working on my 3rd novel, and an excellent designer has created a great cover. However, because my other two books are selling more e-books than print books, I’m wondering if I’m over-investing in cover design, or if having a slick cover/spine/back unified design with good interior typography and an appealing overall aesthetic is actually going to drive sales in any meaningful way.

Designers used to be key to the commercial success of music, but because that canvas is gone, most album covers are just photographs of the band or artists now. Book design may go through a similar diminution of effort as e-books come to dominate. The aesthetics probably matter less when the artifact isn’t crying to you from a shelf or your nightstand, but is instead a file on a device.

Unless it’s an App in which case the design infuses the whole thing. Am I the only person who really likes what Wired have done with their App? Wish they would do more, but it certainly a good start.

Exactly. But that’s a magazine experience, and a lovely one. So, designers won’t be out of work necessarily, they just won’t be working on book covers as much, I think.

I can see the importance of things like the Kindle…but I much prefer a real book. For one, electronic books give me a headache and two, I don’t want to be reading and have my book run out of batteries…are you kidding me! There is nothing better than having a real book in your hand. Perhaps I will have no choice in the future on this matter, but, for now I am going to enjoy reading with a book in my hand.

OK, but that “real” book you read will increasingly often be generated by a POD machine. And my Kindle’s never run out of juice, even on a 2-week holiday. Once you finish reading a book, what do you do with it? Put it on a bookcase like a trophy? I don’t miss my shelves of albums, my racks of CDs, and I’m beginning to get a little tired of my walls of books. I’m sensing a nice minimalism in my future . . .

I completely understand your point about availability but I just can’t get behind the e-reader. I love books- real, solid, smelling of knowledge and imagination. My books are annotated, highlighted, written in, and well-worn. I can’t imagine ever being as satisfied with a sterile e-reader. Very informative post though, you have given me much to ponder. Thanks!

In my house (and I do not exaggerate), we have books crawling up the baseboards. The purchase of the physical artifact is not something I have managed to shed, even as I continue to read books digitally. Indeed, the recent release of Penguin Classics in hardcover has caused me to buy a third (perhaps fourth) copy of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and a prose translation of The Odyssey (something I have tried to read multiple times without success). The physical artifact was too attractive for me to leave behind. All Penguin had really done was repackage old content and out of my wallet flew forty bucks.

I think publishers need to recognize that print will have to be balanced with digital and adjust accounting practices accordingly. I will buy both for different reasons and in different contexts.

It’s interesting to look at the trend in music – classical at least. Record companies are now repackaging single discs into large sets at almost give-away prices – in a last-gasp counter to the digital music store. I wonder if we’ll see the complete Trollope published in paperback by Penguin for a few dollars in response to the Kindle version?

I have to admit this does make me a little sad. And it’s not just because I like the feeling of a good book. It saddens me as it indicates that our society no longer waits for anyone. I see myself falling into the “now now now” trap every once in awhile, and when I’m forced to wait for something, it smacks me back into reality. However, that reality will soon morph into a reality where everything is available at the speed of a simple thought. I’m not sure that’s a society I’d like to live in…sometimes we just need to slow down and be patient.

You have eloquently stated the hopes we all have for the medium of “print.” We are witnessing the death, burial and reincarnation of the publishing industry.

I write a book review blog, and I studied literature at university. As such, almost every page of every book I own is completely covered with my scribbled notes, annotations, thoughts and observations. They’re much more accessible to me like this, and scribbling down marginalia with a pen is muh, much quicker than typing in some text editing on an e-book reader document.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those philistine’s who’s completely fetishistic about the paper and ink of novels – I just like to make a great big mess of the books I read and leave my mark on them.

I know this is meant to be a positive post, but it makes me sad. I guess I just romantic about paper.


I discovered your blog through Freshly Pressed and enjoyed reading this post.

You said that the searching for books and delaying the time between reading events does not enhance the event. I have to disagree on that point.

I’ve read numerous reports, as well as seen from personal experience, that delayed gratification actually enhances our experiences while the continuous glut of instant gratification we are so used to now dulls our ability to derive pleasure from what we are experiencing.

I personally have no problem with e-books or Kindles or other reading devices, but I do think there is something to be said for the search of a desired volume and then finding it and settling in to read it that enriches the experience. It’s something that one simply does not get by “pressing a button.”

Can’t there be room for both?

My usual take on many things is that ultimately we are still human beings with a need for social connection and, if we want to survive as a species, we need to always figure out how we should relate to one another (with help, some would say). What does it matter in what format are our things if we cannot do that? Technology doesn’t have to impede us. Thanks for your post.


You say that you “think part of the challenge will be shifting the browsing habit from physical spaces to virtual spaces.”

The problem here for me is that I live alone – bookstores, music stores and libraries become for me an essential part of the social/community.

Yes, I can and do browse and buy online but these actions do not fulfill my social needs and thus losing the actual physical buildings would be a great loss.

I’ve made it a point to support these institutions because I need them. Yes, even if something is cheaper online I still may choose to go to a physical building to buy it. Yes, this does render me eccentric in the eyes of many sales clerks when I have them bring in something rather than search online for it myself.

I want my bookstores, music stores and libraries to be there for many decades yet to come and I am willing to spend the money to make this happen.

People will be debating the merits of print news vs internet news, as newspapers go out of business. They will debate the merits of Kindle vs real books as fewer and fewer people read anything at all and the conventional publishing industry continues to slide. And they will lament the demise of the record store as they download whatever they want to their cell phones. For better or worse, and we seem to have about equal parts of each, the world has changed.

There is a new era coming, I had a music and DVD store in Montreal and we closed 2 years ago. Everybody in this industry have difficulties. Vinyls, CD, DVD and Books will be now collectors items, everything will be in digital and we have to adapt our setups (like all changes over 30 years) consumption, consumption with a bit of advantages I guess !

I am an illustrator and just wrote and illustrated my first children book. Now a lot of illustrators are turning to digital style illustrations because it is a lot cheeper when they have the digital program, saves them a lot of money from buying supplies. I still love the traditional way of illustrating, but I have been self-published and I do have print on demand (POD)! I love the POD because it means that my book will never go out of print and it will last forever. Check out my blog, you can view a few pages from my new children book, and you will see the style of the traditional drawing and coloring by hand!

My issue is with the heft and smell of real books. I would miss that terribly if I switched to an e-reader.

There’s something satisfying about finishing a really THICK book. When it’s represented electronically, I don’t think you can get that same fulfillment. Maybe that’s just me…

Plus, nothing smells quite the same as a book – that’s why the air in a bookstore is so nice. I guess I’m a bit biased, seeing as how I work in a bricks and mortar bookstore!

Enjoyed your post. As you say, and ironically in some ways, more books are being published, but also bought, than ever before. There are fewer publishers and independent bookshops (though in Australia they hold 25% of the market by not competing with chain and department shops on price, as those in the USA and UK fatally did). Many of the electronic developments help promote book sales (e.g. Amazon) and deliver out of print books to new readers. There remains a difference between what Sherman Young (The Book is Dead) calls ‘public writing’ and publication, despite the flattering ‘publish’ button on every blog dashboard. Lest I get too romantic about traditional print media, it’s good to remember that for every distinguished scholar and literary great there are hacks and C-grade adolescent celebrities that have made it into print!

You make some good points. Thanks for the positive take on changes that are in the making

Borders has already folded in the UK. I do know that there will be a time when physical books will disppear and we will all be reading everything on some sort of a screen… and I am not one to complain about progress or technology… but my absolute favorite thing in the worls is to browse bookstores (or indeed libraries) on a satuday afternoon….

I welcome the world of e-readers and don’t mind seeing the paper pages going away. I’ve always been an avid reader and also someone who often moved, even to other countries. It has always been a chore to move boxes and boxes of books with me. When i lived in Italy for a couple of years in the 90s, I’d have dearly loved an e-reader for which i could readily order e-books in the English language.

What I’m lamenting is the disappearance of quality in books (fiction).

Quality has gone down, partially because literary fiction doesn’t fit with the blockbuster mentality necessary to sell books in the age of Barnes & Noble and Borders. Now that digital media is enabling authors to reach readers without going through consolidated publishers and bookstore distribution channels, many are speculating that literary fiction, and better fiction in general, may be right around the corner.

I hope you’re right but I’m not as optimistic as you. Many people aren’t interested in reading books. They don’t have the time or the inclination and wait till they can see the movie in two hours.

I once worked in a large chain bookseller, and I wonder why they cannot make some of the fringe benefits work for them better despite digital media…for one thing, meeting authors in person or chatting over a coffee with the book club isn’t the same as ordering from the Kindle. These stores have always had the side cafes, the author speaking and signing events, and these things were what attracted many of the customers I saw regularly. The book ~~selection~~ on the floor actually was paltry, despite the huge volume. It’s not surprising that, with an emphasis on loads of same from the seller, customers are glad to find what they really want – at home! Sad though to see the social aspects of book sellers being lost locally as the branches close, with no real replacement established yet.

I agree. Service in bookstores has, unfortunately, gone south at the same time that selection went north online. Also, a lot of floor space in bookstores is now devoted to greeting cards, bric-a-brac, toys, and clothing. They’re becoming bazaars, not bookstores. No wonder even die-hard booklovers are finding it hard to love them.

Bookstores that survive will be good bookstores that create community and help readers discover books. The decline of the massive chains is an interesting moment in book culture.

From what I’ve read, it may seem uncertain, but I do think books will be around for quite some time. Hardcover sales are great which is strange since paperback is cheaper. But the publishing market has been described as fickle.

Books will be around, but they are already headed toward being only 75% of the “book” market. For Amazon, e-books outsell hardcovers already. Times are a-changin’.

Hey! Just because movies, music and radio became “more available” in your opinion does not mean that the quality got better.
With terrestrial radio, for example, the quality diminished exponentially with consolidation and corporatization as well as deregulation squashing localization of content and individualization.
I will always cheris sitting on my porch in the early evening with a good, physical book, turning the paper pages and then closing it to look at the picture on the cover and use my imagination to conjure what the autheroreally meant just as I love to see “my children” that are my thousands of vinyl albums in crates…only their jackets seem to be deteriorating, but eveytime I place one on my Technics turntable and play it, the connection to the past as well as the sound in the now is priceless. Therefore a place for the old and the new should always be saved.

Everyone despairs a loss of quality when capacity goes up. More things means more examples of things you don’t think are good. That doesn’t equate to lower quality, just more fodder for our judgment.

I disagree with you. Vinyl records are definitely of higher quality than their digital counterparts.
I also believe that patience is still a virtue.

Maybe, but I can’t listen to vinyl while running, driving, or flying. Convenience, capacity, and commerce have won the day.

The convenience of digital media is definitely giving it an edge. I love vinyl; new, it is the best quality to most of the audiophiles I personally know. But they all admit it is hard to store, protect and preserve compared to cassettes, CDs and now the omnipresent mp3. It’s hard to make others feel the love!

I truly enjoyed your post and understand your points. I enjoy digital media as much as the next guy and even enjoy a career in web development. But I have to be cautious of ridding the world of printed books. This, to me, is crossing the line. Books are our foundation. The printed word has triumphed over many adversities. Where will we go if someone pulls the plug and the lights go out? E-readers will be useless, but a physical collection of printed and bound material will endure. This is my fear of ridding the world of physical books. To easy will it be for someone to “edit” what has been written if there is no physical copy in existance. I will continue to grow my physical library with an assortment of books from philosophy to science fiction. With that being said I will also grow my digital library of books. I will try to keep a digital and physical copy of every book I own. I am not against the move into the digital era, I just want society to be careful not to rely on it entirely.

Well put indeed. The publishing industry, like much else in the economy, is hurting. They concentrate only on proven authors that they know will make them money. There’s great time and expense involved in that printed book you see in the store, and everyone from start to finish expects to be paid. This is reflected in the price of new books, and that pricing limits those of us with a budget as to how many we can purchase. That same formula works against new, unproven authors looking to reach readers, while epublishing offers an alternative and opens the doors for independent writers to get their works seen. Electronic publishing has allowed me an avenue for my novel to reach readers and rising sales confirm I have a growing audience.

I understand the resistance people have to ereaders. It’s true, a fine bound book is far more endearing than a plastic tablet in the same way that an old manual typewriter has far more elegance than my generic laptop. However, I’d venture few of you out there are using vintage manual typewriters in day-to-day work; all of us are reading this over a device we’ve all become accustomed to in our daily existence: the personal computer (or smart phone.) There are many debates for and against the environmental side of paper vs ebooks so I’ll leave that be, but on a personal note, not everyone has the room to store a vast collection of printed books. For someone who travels, lives on the road or aboard a boat, ebooks are a pleasure.

C.E. Grundler

e-books aren’t as free of production costs as people imagine. There’s software costs, online publishing costs, maintaining dedicated servers etc…

The book store in my area closed. I have to drive 40 minutes north or south to go to a barnes and noble! And the only borders I’ve ever been to is the one near my college. Book stores reflect the area you live in. This area values hard, physical labor; not a lot of people buy books. No business, no store.
As for the possibility of more authors and sources… How many are actually going to be worthy art that defies time? The level of talent in mainstream music has declined since the Internet because artists self-promote themselves on myspace and youtube until they reach X thousand fans and a record label recognizes that they’re someone they can potentially make money off of. Similarly, how many blogs are becoming books now? The Internet is the new way to sell your art, but overall it no longer sets high standards. There will never be another internationally worshiped band like the Beatles; there may never be another Chaucer either…

Trash fiction is as old as the hills. If you look back with an objective eye at the novels published in the 20th century, most were written to entertain, make a little money, and express some creative impulse. If we only published books that met some individual’s or group’s definition of “worthiness,” we’d be all the poorer for it. Sorry, but every once in a while, I like to read a silly book. And my “silly” may be your “art,” or vice-versa.

As mentioned in an earlier comment, when capacity increases, quality initially decreases in aggregate, but new things of high quality are also introduced. And ultimately, some low-quality entrants learn to become high-quality in the longterm. The Beatles are a case in point. They actually started out as a derivative pop band churning out bubblegum pop, but they were able to get to Sgt. Pepper’s and The White Album anyhow. If we’d judged them based on their first two albums, we would have thought we had four Justin Biebers on our hands.

I hate to hit your digiphilia with a monkey wrench, but the bookstores are in turmoil because of the huge discounts offered by Amazon. The current crisis has nothing to do with e-books. Nice essay though.

Price is definitely a driver across the board. However, bookstores often match Amazon discounts for bestsellers, which constitute the bulk of in-store sales. E-books are less expensive in general, always available, and trending upward. There isn’t a single reason — it’s a set of reasons. For music, the ability to buy single songs for $0.99 and store them all in collections you defined (playlists) drove a lot of appeal. So, no monkey wrench but a nice additional point. Thanks.

I’m a big reader. But used to just stick to a certain genre and set of authors. I prefer to buy a book over taking it out of the library, and generally like to be able to go back and re-read, or reference something later.

For my birthday, my husband bought me a Nook and I love it. Not only does it give me the freedom to purchase my favorite authors whenever I want, but it’s also introduced me to great new authors and stories thanks to the weekly free book, and ebooks under $5.

Will I still keep my printed books? You bet! Will I still buy and read printed books? Of course! My Nook is just another addition to my library 🙂

I would really miss books. I love wandering through a book store and discovering new authors and picking up books I’ve never heard of. I love flipping the pages. And yes, I love seeing them on my bookshelf. The ones I keep there are the ones that have touched my heart in some way. There are books there that remind me of past loves, of current love, of those loved ones that are gone, of the person I was at the time of reading. Each is like a little trip down memory lane.

I can definitely see the value of the e-book. A Kindle would be nice to travel with, and I think a cheap way to buy the escapist, trashy romance novels I like sometimes, but it would never replace books for me completely. I wish we would teach our kids the value of seeking information and savoring literature instead of encouraging them to stare at yet one more digital screen (they don’t spend enough time looking at the TV, computer screen, cell phone, iPad, iPod, etc etc?). I have great memories of my dad reading Mark Twain books to me and talking about them. I can’t really picture a family huddling around a Kindle. I can’t imagine how different I would be if I had not spend all of those countless hours in the library. It’s a huge part of who I am. And I would hate to think that one day, instead of my kids admiring the colorful artwork in Dr. Suess books, they will just be staring at a gray screen. It’s depressing.

But the kids can enjoy the artwork! If you can, take a look at the toy story books that Disney have produced for young readers. My 3.5yr old loves the first one. Music, animation and the words are highlighted as the are spoken. Even better, Mum or Dad can substitute their voice instead so kids can start to associate the words and the sounds with a familiar voice. You can definately sit with your child and an iPad and do all the things you can do with a book.

I know exaclt what you mean in terms of the memories associated with seeing the books on a shelf, but I suggest that this is something that can be replicated via the various devices we use. If you like movies, the software MyMovies for Windows Media Center is simply awesome for putting together a digital library of your DVDs or Bluray. It puts a bookshelf of the disks to shame. From there it’s a very short step to wanting the media to be purely digital precisely to enable that rich browsing experience.

the metaphors of the digital browsing experience for books are only just getting put together so they are lacking, but they WILL improve, dramatically and quickly.

Books are objects that people like to hold and read. Well designed books can be objects like old cars. Nostalgic classics stay around forever. I work in the print and web design fields. They go hand in hand. As long as their are readers who wish to be thinkers, there will be both forms of media. E-forms of reading are great; however, I personally find that this form is best when I want to quickly review. I am not as drawn into the world of words with imagination as when holding the book. It is a process. Books in hardcopy are sometimes like good paintings on a wall. They bring people together to look, touch, discuss and reference in hand. That experience is not easily replaced.

That’s a nice thought, but the market seems to be moving elsewhere. I’m completely sympathetic (as a former typesetter, print designer, etc.), but facts is facts. There will be a threshold below which mass media print book publishing will become, as you’re suggesting, something for devotees, and probably not mainstream.

Maybe businesses like Folio Society and Grolier will find new a new model and new customers? If traditional paperback printing diminishes once everyone has an e-reader or is putting them on the PC, maybe a different market catering to the more artistic and tactile experience will open in the future. Instead of only the “serious classics,” maybe the 2030 successors of Stephen King, Dan Brown, etc. could give rights for a special treatment of their works?

I simply can’t get into e-books and don’t plan on purchasing a Kindle. I’m a published author and a traditionalist . . . I like holding a book in my hands!

Besides, after staring at a computer screen all day, why would I want to relax by staring at yet another screen?

Technology isn’t always a great thing . . .

Kindle reading uses reflected light on a surface that has about the contrast of a printed page (especially for mass-market paperbacks, which use very gray paper). As for whether you’re a published author or not, well, that’s great, but if you’re eschewing the e-book market, you’re missing some major $$. I say that as an author making bucks now through e-books and print books.

I’m also an author who’s published in both e-book and paper. I find the best profit margin in the ebook to be better. I also love that the number of people able to access my books isn’t restricted by their proximity to a book shop.

Kent, I feel compelled to write this comment to you, because your bylines appear most compelling overall.

I’m a published author, with over a dozen books to my credit. However ALL of them include mainly visual content (aka illustrated coffee table books). How can e-book technology (which I agree will forever be the mode of text books going forward) effect these other kinds of endeavors? I surely don’t think they are as easily translatable, do you? (Unless one is thinking of them morphing into a sort of I-Pad-looking book?)

I wonder, too, if the “visual” will find a way to again become important (cover-wise) in the future. If I’m in the market for a new novel, I find myself attracted to some covers (over others) as an indication that the content may be more to my liking. Surely once this all goes “online” wont the visual help to differentiate things?

Two last notes. 1) As per this long stream of commentaries: my eyes would have appreciated some stimulation beyond the typed word; and 2) I recently met with my book agent to talk about publishing first online (in blog form) with the thought that a hardbound book would follow, along with ample “visual” stimuli.

But now, even though you are all writing that e-tech is the “way of the future” – and I do agree -what struck me was being told that publishers still cannot comprehend agreements without the same OLD parameters (conditions, costs)!

This last point brings up the necessary notion of compensation for the individual responsible for product. Authors, like musicians, had an expectation of advances and royalties. So where are the new agreements taking into account e-books as a great(er) way to get the message to more people, along with paying the persons responsible for creating what is, in many ways, an even greater effort on their part?

I want to re-establish some context. E-books and print-on-demand are two different ways to experience a book now. For highly visual books, print-on-demand can do an excellent job now of rendering photography, illustration, and the like. So, do you need a warehouse of coffee table books shrink-wrapped and gathering dust? Or just a file on a computer, waiting to be summoned to a printer?

I think the visual covers of albums, books, and magazines were effective marketing tools. They’ll have to be replaced by something else. It may not be something visual. The visual elements we’re used to were created to compete in physical space, at certain distances, in certain familiar settings that designers could lazily assume would exist for most “installations.” Now, metadata, advertising, discoverability, sampling, affiliate mailings, etc., have to do that kind of lifting. Can it work? Certainly. I’ve seen sales of my books jump when a blog reviewed them. The thumbnail cover certainly was part of the sale, but frankly, I wish a bookstore would be smart enough to print out the Amazon star-ratings and a few choice reviews, post them on their shelves, etc., so I could shop using those to help me. Instead, I end up many times using my iPhone in a bookstore to look up an interesting-looking book to see what other people thought. Things are changing. The visual is no longer sufficient.

You’re clearly a visual person, so you want pictures. There are some great visual blogs out there. Add to the genre. You’ll enjoy it.

Publisher agreements have been reducing advances, dropping marketing support, and chopping royalties for years. Smart authors are retaining e-book rights or going straight to e-book first. There’s nice money to be made there. In fact, I think many of the most ardent booklovers have purchased e-readers, are enjoying them, and are filling them with books — so there are a lot of shoppers out there.

I have no concern about the future of books – human beings are obsessed with possessing things they like, so if people encounter by digital means a book they enjoy, my gut instinct is they’ll then go and purchase a printed copy as well. You need the tactile sensation of actually holding something to really get a feeling of ownership. Then there’s the whole showcasing thing – bookshelves are forums for vanity as much as anything, allowing us to project to the world who we want to be and what we’re passionate about. With regards to your point about design, I actually think we’re moving into an era where its even more valued and books have currency as aethetic objects – objects of desire. Publishers are investing even more heavily in the physicality of the book than ever.You only have to look at the gorgeous cookbooks and kids books out there, the literary fiction with handcut pages etc. And the new ‘classic-look’ Harry Potters with their Tolkein-style woodcut art. Everyone’s already read them, so it’s not discovering the story which is the allure – it’s having it in a desirable package.

I used to listen to music a lot and get music all the time when you could buy CDs, which is very rare to find a place which sells CDs now. Now, I haven’t bought music for a very long time because I don’t download my music and I’m not interested in downloading music. I know I’ll eventually have to convert, but I don’t want to.

When it comes to books I love the experience of going to a book store, finding some magazines, sitting at their cafe and just getting a drink and relaxing for hours. I also love getting literary journals and searching for them too. I know everything will change to digital, but that doesn’t mean I won’t dig in my heels and not convert quickly to the change.

Great post. I agree. I purchased a Kindle a few months ago, and I’ve found that it’s increased my pleasure reading about 400 percent. There’s no wait–if Amazon has the book and I want/need to read it, one click will get me there. I can’t wait for this trend to develop further! I can’t wait until the selection of ebooks expands so that I can read more academic-level texts this way, too. And I’d really love it if eReaders like the Kindle would improve their pdf support so that I could real and annotate journal articles as well as books.

I’m often surprised at the negative reactions I get when people see my Kindle. I understand the feeling–I love(d) paper books too. But I really think that this is a terrific development for literature and academia–and the environment!

I used to be a manager for Borders books in the Uk, and I’m very sorry to say that Borders UK collapsed last year. With rent for buildings, staff costs and distribution costs, we were unable to discount books as heavily as Amazon et al, and lost out in the credit crunch.
Also, there’s the horrible trend of supermarkets selling books below the profit margin. On it’s day of release, Tesco’s were selling ‘The Lost Symbol’ for £4 – that’s a £9 loss on every copy they sold – just so they could get people into the store and out-do the highstreet book retailers. It was a big shame; no wonder Borders UK went out of business really.

What worries me more than the disappearance of the physical book is the inevitable changes in how we will experience reading. Speaking anecdotally, I know that my online attention span is much shorter — more frazzled — than my attention is when reading a real book. And if a Kindle or iPad will let me surf the way a computer does, I’ll be in big trouble. I will be so distracted that it’ll take me a lifetime even to read a shortie like Animal Farm.

Last fall I read the risk section of Barnes & Nobel’s Annual 10K report from 2009. If I remember correctly, at the time they put much more emphasis on the risk of competition in the e-commerce business (i.e. amazon) and megastores (i.e. walmart). They mentioned electronic versions of books as a competitive risk as well, but not much emphasis was placed on it. My guess is that may be more of a driving force behind the booksellers “issues”, at least at this point. But who knows…I haven’t read their reports from this year.

Long term I don’t think paper books will go away, but electronic books will grow tremendously. I haven’t followed where things stand currently, but just a few months ago there was a lot of back and forth for publishing houses and the e-readers. Going e-book may affect borders and barnes and nobel, but it has potential for a huge hit on publishers. Because of that I think that it’ll be a while before they take over a bulk of the market (I think e-readers are somewhere around 8% of the book market). Slow to hit, perhaps, but when it does…it’ll take off like crazy. Publishers just gotta get their ducks (or contracts) in a row so they can maintain their own revenue. just my $0.02.

When I do jump to the other side, I think my choice will be the ipad…mostly for the books but it also offers so much more.

What an interesting thread, love the opinions hereinabove. For me, this electronic communication revolution appears to be an embryo that will grow exponentially into a commonly accepted standard and paper books will become as black and white film and eight track tapes…, collectibles from the past. The biggest “down side” I see is not the elimination of printed books per se but the ability of others to control what you and I can read, see, hear and know. It’s very easy within “cloud computing” and “storage data centers” to delete a master file containing information a select few want kept from the general populace. Perhaps this is the area in which our “collectible printed books” will survive. I wonder what kinds of books those will be?

That’s certainly something I didn’t consider. I suppose my other concern is that digital books may limit those who are able to read them – if you cannot afford a Kindle, etc., do not have a computer, etc., you rely on the printed book & libraries to be able to read what you wish. I’m also concerned about something a little silly…what happens when there is no power to power your gadgets? It may be just as easy to steal a Kindle or iPad as it is to steal a book, but would someone steal a book compared to electronics? I also agree that there is definitely room for electronic publishing, but I truly hope it does not phase out the physical book completely.

I went to the library yesterday in our small little town. This library has only four rows of books; but four computers. And the kids were on them checking FB and chatting. There is something special, sentimental about holding a real book in your hand.

It seems to me that a printed book is more than just a vehicle for content. In this way, digital book publishing is not easily analogous to music. I hardly need to know the media source of the music reaching my ears. But the media by which I perceive a visual text is part of the text itself. Turning the page or scrolling through content is part of a work’s content.

Writers are conscious of the technological experience of their work, and they write differently for different mediums. Consider how texts have changed with technology throughout history, from slabs to scrolls to codices. We might also consider some very unique poets (ee cummings, perhaps) and how their poems differ on page or screen.

Digitalization is an exciting part of textual history. It offers a kind of indexical experience in hypertext, for example, that books cannot. But it is also worth considering what will be missing from the textual experience if books disappear.

Finally, on another level, is anyone else concerned about personal libraries being contingent upon hardware and software that has to be upgraded, maintained, and made “compatible” with the latest commercial standards? Books might go the way of 8-tracks. But not in the same way. Anybody can read a book from the 15th century. But just try to play an 8-track from the 1970’s.

You make great points. Perhaps the rate and flow of reading will increase, however, with increased ease of access and availability of literature, in 30 seconds or less, any time, anywhere. Still, my “ancient” paper books and I will never part, no matter how digitally-sensationalized the written (or typed) word becomes.

Great post! I’m reading via my IPhone but sometimes I miss actually holding a book.

I think digitizing music and now, books, has its pros. More access, convenience, variety, sharing, etc. And you may be right that in general, book reading will not “suffer” just as music listening hasn’t suffered. However, I do think you loose something on a very basic level. When you lose the touch of the pages and their spine, you are unarguably losing part of a personal and physical connection. Same goes for music. The digital world offers a lot of new abilities and opportunities, but I do think it creates a distance between ourselves and the music (or in this case, reading).

Here’s an interview with Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead talking about analog vs digital and how it has fundamentally changed music. The Dead were pioneers in music and community so, I value their take on this subject. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoyq1qGiP6I

I think what it comes down to is asking ourselves what are we willing to sacrifice and are those sacrifices worth the gains? I suppose that will be left up to personal preference.

As for me, I’d take a live concert and paperback book over digital copies any day.

Thanks for the post!

While I understand that there are several positives about kindles and such, but I’m a fan of something tangible in my hand, something I can write on myself.

I’m going to go for the e-book model, however i want to see my books in physical print so that my Mum, who is eighty-seven years old, and doesn’t know, or WANT to know about a computer can hold her son’s book in her hands while we are still together in the physical world.
Great post, by the way and Cheers.

After being in front of the computer screen for several hrs. today, and now after scanning this whole thread, my eyes are abit sore.

Has anyone read a 250+-pg. e-book from start to finish, in a day or so without feeling physical effects of eyestrain? And read over 30 e-books annually this year of this length? That is reality if one is sacked with alot of reading assignments at college/university –particularily if one is pursing a English literature or any literature degree.

I welcome shorter publications –magazines, reports (moderate length) in e-form. Lengthy books with no illustrations in e-form, actually slow me down.

I’m sure one can use a stylus/pen to make screen-touch notes on e-pages and bookmark randomly but it is one drawback to lengthy e-books for myself.

I welcome the improved searchability of e-book contents. However searchability’s prerequisite is a tables of contents, index or pre-knowledge of good search keywords to plug into the search box. It does not necessarily invite greater reader’s spontaneity and serendipity in browsing randomly through a book which alot of people do — when a book’s contents fascinates them or if they are merely curious yet not well-versed on book’s subject mater or narrative thread. Which is faster, browsing happily through a 300 pg. e-book or flipping through chunks here and there in a 300 pg. physical book?

What e-books does encourage is unleashing writing impulse in more people, with less publisher’s copy review — a good and not-so-great thing.

As an author (of three print books and 2 e-books) and the owner of some 5,000 books I am saddened by the demise of print books, conventional publishing and bookshops. However, the publishing revolution has happened and the position of e-books and e-book readers is unassailable. As such, every writer must just get on and adapt (for better or worse!)

Great article! Enjoyed reading it! I am a Miami Cuban, living for the time being (until I can’t take anymore Chávez), in a small island off the coast of Venezuela called Isla Margarita, where my husband and I own a small B&B. We have one Christian bookstore in the island and that is it! When I go to The States, I buy as many as 20 or 30 used books on Amazon to last me for at least 6 months. I then have to pack them away in my suitcase to bring back and read. Delivery to the island is sssssslowwwww and costly and besides, there is no mail delivery as we know it back home. Next time I come to Miami I will order an ebook reader and start downloading. I have been looking at Kindle for a while since it came out, but I was waiting to see it go down in price, which it has, and also to hear feedback on how well people who are real readers, liked it. I just can’t imagine the thrill of being able to read a book after a few clicks,hold it in my ebook reader and know it is waiting for me. Anything here is a matter of waiting a month or more to get it or get it done!

I think waiting around for books to come into stores or ship from online or be available at the library is always one of the best parts of the reading experience. It’s like…every time you get your hands on that new book after waiting…well it’s like Christmas. It’s like magic. I always thought it was something to savor.

It is sad, and I sigh at the potential loss of such mediums, but inevitably we will always have some nostalgic phenes out there holding up the flag, claiming analog is much better than digital. I myself wave this semi-translucent, and slightly meaningless flag, while embracing the new era of technology.

From the perspective of the environmentalists, they should rejoice at the reduction of consumables, and the consumer should also celebrate the reduced cost to purchase.

What is there to hold onto?

I agree with rhpolitz when they say that this new age of literature enables a whole plethora of freedom of choice. Why are we watching TV?!

I’m interested to see how this effects the college/university textbook market and cause a domino effect of students “needing” iPads or the laptop as a necessity in class rather than a luxury.

Additionally, I’m sure it will affect the tenure process.

As an MA student I have to admit to hating trawling through hundreds of online journals. However, many trees have been saved in this process! There’s nothing better than a good article or book in the hand though to constantly refer to, scribble on, chuck – whatever the assignment emotion!

I’ve recently bought a MacBook – and am loving feeling part of the 21st century! When money allows I would, at least, like to buy a Kindle (or whatever they’re called) – just to see what I think. It would definitely help the clutter of books I have lying around.

However, music is something else. Maybe being a musician I feel differently about the subject somehow!? I do stream music – and I also download – however, this is only for me to hear what a new album sounds like. I also use this as a chance to discover new artists – but if I like, I ALWAYS go and buy the REAL thing!

CDs took me a while to learn to like – despite only being in my 30s I’m a real vinyl freak – call it nostalgia. The artwork, the gatefold sleeve, the lyrics, the smell and touch of the cover, the record label itself, the limited editions, the aesthetic of the vinyl and all of it’s grooves. It must be like this for some book lovers?

I understand – and I grieve – but ultimately we are not in control. We evolve, we relearn – we relike and eventually we’ll re-grieve!?

OK, but that “real” book you read will increasingly often be generated by a POD machine. And my Kindle’s never run out of juice, even on a 2-week holiday. Once you finish reading a book, what do you do with it? Put it on a bookcase like a trophy? I don’t miss my shelves of albums, my racks of CDs, and I’m beginning to get a little tired of my walls of books. I’m sensing a nice minimalism in my future . . .

it is a good comment

Be wary of what you give up, the printed word needs nothing but the light of day and nothing beats pulling that old friend off the shelf for a good night’s read.

And on the other side, one has to love the amount of books one can lug around on an E-reader and a few memory cards.

When you consider that it requires large numbers (printing, bookstores) to sustain the model of offset-printed books and consignment distribution, the fact that there is a precipice ahead — a steep fall — isn’t surprising.

This is an Issue with capital “I”. I belong to that cross-generation of people who had already grown up when the technology revolution started. We know what does it mean to wait every day for the postman who could bring you the most longed-for letter of your life, or go round all music shops of your town to catch old & new long playings or look for some must-read books in all of the bookshops in your district…

Though I enjoy an excellent relation with technology (particularly with computers as a whole, MP4s, and mobile phones) and find it definitely outstanding in the way it supports and significantly stimulates our life – also in terms of culture – I cannot give up on paper books, as they represent a world of physical sensations, pleasure and emotions as well. I could surely accept that e-books spread throughout the world but only in case that paper books would go on being published. Just like with newspapers: I often read them online, but sometimes I NEED to have a printed one and bring it in my bag to read it wherever I can and in some cases cut an article to keep in my personal collection (which I imagine will be found in some centuries and help researchers understand a little bit more our difficult times).
Sorry, but I can’t imagine my life without real books.

Dorchester Publishing is smart to do mostly e-books and POD only for print titles. Adapt fast or get left.

I work for a bookstore and I LOVE my e-reader. I was hesitant and apprehensive at first (like most book lovers) but it now goes with me everywhere. Instant gratification at it’s best.

There is still a place for my great big bookstore in every community- let’s hope, because deep down I love my job too.

So far this year, the Kindle version of my latest books have outsold the paperbacks by 15 to 1. Should we be moaning about getting more choices for less cost? You can still have your 57 Chevy and your 2011 crossover SUV at the same time if you wish.

Some humans spend their lives creating progress, some try to prevent it and others take advantage of it. Which type are you?

I can live with both E-books and Print on Demand, I’ve been a customer of Baen Books’ Webscription for going on 4 years and love it. More publishers would do well to look at Baen’s business model and adopt it, the way they bundle titles is fantastic for any hard core Science Fiction and Fantasy reader.

Kent, while I do not disagree with you about books, I think that “paper” is going to be with us for quite a while.

We keep thinking that the younger generation won’t want to read paper but only on a screen.

The medical students we see still ask us to print out a pdf if they need to study, not simply scan.

I agree. Paper is still great for interacting with, collaborating around, and learning from. It’s handy, too. But as a great little book called “The Myth of the Paperless Office” described it, paper is for temporary utilization mainly for collaboration and intellectual awareness, but storage is digital. So, I’d rather own stock in a printer company than in a file cabinet company.

That said, the strides devices are taking to take the place of paper are impressive.

Paper won’t go away, but it’s being reassigned.

I agree with you Pam. For certain disciplines, paper will probably last another century albeit on a steadily declining volume.

The new age of Digital is definitely now hit the Publishing industry. Thanks to the iPad and Kindle, i think it is safe to say that the traditional book as we know it, will follow the CD and Vinyl and be dead in a couple of years.

The good…
Another more exciting aspect, is now we wont just be purchasing a book, the the possibility of illustrations if needed, but digital content. Cookery “books” will contain videos actually showing the user how to cook the recipe being read (Jamie Oliver iPhone App anyone..), education “books” with interactive elements, story “books” with sound and action sequences. The content we will start to receive will be phenomenal, and a grater value for money than a printed book…if the publishers get to grips with Digital.

The bad…..
Too many eBook formats populating the market, prices for content that are too far near their hardback equivalent, plus the continuing presence of illegal distribution and copyright infringements.

Yes the iPad is nice to read and has color, but try reading it on the beach or any outdoor environment with alittle sun and it falls over. The Kindle is the best for eReading but at the moment, doesnt have color or the necessary hardware/software for the more content rich products that could be pumped out if the publisher is willing and imaginative enough.

Sometimes, maybe a book is just a book and should be best read on paper…..

One assumption booklovers seem to make is that everything that has previously been published in books will continue to seek the book form.

Encyclopedias have eschewed the book form. “Cookery books” as you call them will likely move out of books and into sites like Epicurious and others (already, most of our recipes come from here). Maps are moving out of books.

Just because “publishing a book” was a solution for recipes, encyclopedias, and atlases in the past doesn’t mean a book on the iPad or some other device is a solution in the future. In fact, the browsing capabilities of these devices probably means the opposite.

I think the kindle is a fantastic idea, especially living in Australia where books are taxed ridiculously and are therefore quite expensive. If I qualified for super saver shipping on Amazon (and shipping and handling didn’t add up to over $25 per book) I would keep the physical book alive singlehandedly 🙂

People adapt, but I think tech is also changing the way we think about things. Have you heard of the idea of Evology? It ponders the effects of technology on humans. You should share your thoughts on it sometime!

Well, if most effects of evolution are captured by who procreates and who doesn’t, evology seems a bit of an artifice, unless you’re talking about things that can affect mate selection and breeding success. Certainly, evolution has always been somewhat affected by technology, whether it’s transportation technology (ships, airplanes), medical technology (vaccines), or basic technology (cooking, agriculture, fire, shelter). Beyond the effects that have a direct relationship to mate selection and breeding success, evology has a whiff of Lamarckism to me.

There was this article in the NYTimes ( http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/02/science/02evo.html?_r=1) that talks about culture’s effects on evolution. Evology takes that finding and narrows it down to how technology, with a specific interest in web-enabled tech, effects evolution. It’s an interesting theory to think about. There have been studies showing how web-use has affected our brains. The web is causing our brains to shift how they take in information, analyze it and then figure out what to memorize. Could it be possible for the brain to evolve to be better at memorizing vast amounts of information because of the influx of info from the web? Perhaps it will dispose of various mechanics in the brain that have been used to search for answers and info in the past? Do you think it is possible that evology could occur?

I know it has been happening, but the realization has me in a quandary. Oh well, “Life in the big City, where the dogs bark at strangers.”

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