Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Are we witnessing the end of the book as we know it?

Mark Twain once quipped "the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." And like Twain, there have been other death rumors in history that have proven to be incorrect. There will always be someone trying to drive the last nail in the coffin too soon. 

But what about books and the publishing industry? How much longer will they last? Newspapers and magazines are shrinking and/or disappearing. Books are still being published, but they are under threat. The debut of the eReader has thrown a wrench into the works in a way that no one anticipated. 

I admit that when my wife gave me a Kindle for my birthday I was skeptical. I wasn't sure I was all that interested. Now I love it. I am still buying books the "old fashioned way." I am not prepared to have all of my reference books on a tablet. I don't find it all that easy to use (yet) and I still like the way books look on my shelf. But I can foresee day in the not too distant future when the shift will happen. And then those who make bookshelves, bookmarks and book covers will be relegated to history along with blacksmiths, wheelwrights and cassette tape players. has an interesting article on the way publishers are scrambling to get ahead of the curve. I found this bit interesting.
After centuries in which books and the process of publishing them barely changed, the digital revolution has thrown the entire business up for grabs. It’s a transformation that began with the rise of Amazon as an online bookseller and accelerated with the resulting decline of the physical bookstore. But with the shift to ebooks—which now represent upwards of 20 percent of big publishers’ revenue, up from 1 percent in 2008—every aspect of the existing framework is now open to debate: how much books will cost, how long they’ll be, whether they’ll be edited, who will publish them, and whether authors will continue to be paid in advance to write them. It’s a future that Amazon doesn't control and one where traditional publishers might eventually thrive, not just survive. The only certainty is that the venerable book business, a settled landscape for so long, is now open territory for anyone to claim.
It will be interesting to see what happens. On the one hand, the eBook can be produced more cheaply, is better for the environment and will allow more people to publish their work. On the other hand, it may allow even more rubbish to appear. That last comment is not based on rumor or speculation but a quick perusal of the top selling books on my Kindle.

What do you think? Will we ever completely jettison the book as we know it? 


  1. How about a link to the article itself? The link in your blog just leads to the website. Thanks.

    1. Craig, thanks for the heads up. The link is fixed!

  2. Thanks for bringing that article to my attention, John. I really enjoyed it.

  3. Then again, 'they' said that the invention of television spelled the doom of radio. I'm just not sure. As you noted, and I have discovered for myself, e-books are good for somethings, but I still find myself reading books in both formats and going back and forth between them. The technology for using e-books for reference just isn't there yet. While writing, it's a lot easier to have six paper volumes open on my desk with a pile of yellow sticky notes in them, than it is to try and page back and forth between books on my tablet. I don't know of that will ever change.

  4. As long as I have a bathtub and a swimming pool, I'll be keeping paperbacks around as a back up :)

  5. Yeah, and when the power grid goes down we will have a good paper book and candles.

  6. Oh, and besides, if you really like it, and you want a friend (or church member) to read it, how do go about loaning an e-book to someone? Paper is easy, just hand it to them.