Is death looming for print books?

There’s been a lot of talk – and somewhat unnecessary panic – ever since e-readers took off that this would be the fiery end to print books and print media. Now, no one can deny that the face of physical, print publication has changed massively in the last few years, but this is only one side of the story. Newspapers and other daily print pubs have been hit the hardest (and most obviously), it seems, which makes perfect sense in the rise of digital media. Most news articles can be found for free online, or with a fee can be accessed in digital versions of the same or similar publications. Economically, it pretty much makes sense.

Books, however, are another story. Unlike newspapers or magazines, books have a major culture behind them. People have almost spiritual experiences with a physical book; the way it feels to hold one, how books smell, the sound of pages turning are all strong points in people’s minds when it comes to books. Books have generally been a major part of reading culture since the printing press, and even the average reader has a memory of reading an actual physical book. So naturally when it looks like print books might go south, people start to panic.

I’d like to argue, though, that this panic is almost entirely unwarranted. Yes, the book (and, in general, media) industry is in a massive state of flux right now. But instead of panicking and bemoaning the early death of print, we should be excited.

Because the truth is, the book industry has been changing ever since it began. I don’t think there’s every any reason to believe print publishing will completely go away (at least, not anytime in the near future), but it’s definitely going to change. The skyrocketing of e-readers and the e-book market has shown that enough on its own (of course, it’s not a perfect industry, as we can see by Barnes and Noble’s recent slump alongside Kindle’s maintenance of their sales). I think we’re definitely going to see a continued development of e-books, with many publishers already opening e-book-only imprints (though that’s something to discuss another day) and an obvious rise in self-published e-books.

Books exist significantly because of nostalgia, but I think that there will always be that core group of readers yearning for a nice hardcover book they can flip through that will keep books around.


What are your thoughts? Do you have an e-reader? Will you be a print book enthusiast to the end? Or do you think there’s a place for both in the life of readers?

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6 Responses

  1. Trident says:

    I don’t have an e-reader, but I plan to get one here in Korea for convenience’s sake because I don’t think there are too many English book stores around.

    But I do love having a book in hand. There’s just something about flipping the pages that an e-reader can’t compare to.

  2. Lauren says:

    I totally agree, Trident. I have a Kindle, and it was particularly convenient when I studied abroad last semester. I also like to put my friends novels-in-progress on it so I don’t have to read on my computer screen.

    But nothing compares to a physical book, which is probably why I can’t seem to stop buying them (even when I don’t have any more shelf space to fit them).

  3. Meshugenah says:

    I’ve bough more physical books since I got my first kindle 3 years ago than I did before (uh, state of employment may have something to do with that as well, of course). I’ve also used the library more, and see more people doing the same, than before, too – another area that’s been talked about in panicked fashion.

    And I’ve been out of shelf room, too! Doesn’t stop me. I just stack them two deep! Of course, then I can’t find anything, either.

    But, really, I think there is a place for both for most people. For instance, I hate electronic textbooks so far. I find them cumbersome in the extreme, and would much prefer a print edition. But, my wallet also appreciated them. I also love my kindle for really long books – it shaves a day or so off how long it takes me to read them, because my wrists can only take so much weight at a time, and I hate reading fiction sitting at my desk like I would a large textbook.

  4. MagnusBane says:

    I agree wtih Mesh. I thnk that there will be room for both e-books and print books for a long time. Sure, plenty of people are taking advantage of e-readers, but there are also tons of die-hard fans of physical books. I love print books, and I know a lot of other people do too. E-books just aren’t the same, but I can see why people find them convenient. It isn’t going to cause the death of real books, though – at least, not anytime soon. There’s enough readers to go around for both.

  5. beckiw says:

    I have a tablet but I mostly use it to read writing by my friends because then I can read it on the train. I still buy physical books to read, not because I hold any particular stance regarding keeping real books alive forever! But just because I like books… lol I’m used to them and how you buy them.

    There is also something satisfying about seeing your progress through a book. I mean I know you can see your page count on an e-reader but I like physically seeing it with a book because it takes me so darn long to read them!

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