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?