The Fall Of The Printed Book

The fact that there is even a minute reason for me writing this post makes me want to cry.

I resist technology. I can’t help it.

In my household, there are three cell phones….none of which belong to me. There is one iPod and it’s 4 years old and never used. There is a laptop which I am glued to most of the time, but there is also still an older PC in my daughter’s room.

And there are no eReaders. There are books.

Gobs of them actually.

But I’m as tempted as everyone else by shiny new toys. I ogle the Nook when I go to the bookstore and I’ve fondled a Kindle or two. But one thing keeps me from giving in:

  • I don’t ever want there to be a day when the printed book is obsolete.
Though I fear it will happen anyway in spite of my stubbornness to embrace the technology that is slowly eroding the sales of printed books. Amazon has reported that for every 100 printbooks it sells in the U.S., 105 eBooks are sold. In the UK the number is even more staggering with 242 eBooks being sold for every 100 hardbacks.
Penguin also announced that eBooks make up 14% of their total revenue worldwide while Simon & Schuster report 15%.
Now….I’m not against authors selling eBooks. I understand that it’s a way for some authors who would otherwise go unpublished to sell their work and a means of convenience for consumers that published authors want to offer. I just wish consumers didn’t have such a need for that convenience.
In an article on this very topic, one man said that the reason he preferred eReaders and eBooks over printed copy was that he has a search function and annotation ability. Wuh???? Really??? 

I can tell you page, paragraph and line of my favorite quotes in books. And if I can’t remember it?

I just thumb through and find it. Novel idea, huh?

But I’m sentimental about books. I want to save them all. A used bookstore to me is like a pound full of wailing puppies to a dog lover. They just need a home. If I was Oprah I’d buy every last unwanted book and put them in safe hands.

I never want libraries to be like museums. I never want my great-grandchildren to look at my shelves and shelves of books and say, “What’s that?”

But then again….I’m sure my dad felt the same way when the 8-track replaced his vinyl records. Then came the compact cassette. Then the CD. And now the MP3.

And yes….it’s easier to carry around a pocket-sized piece of technology that houses a million songs with unparalleled sound quality but what about the sweet sound of a vinyl record? When I hear that sound something stirs inside me. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but regardless….there is admiration.

The same holds true for the printed book.

There is something irreplaceable about the smell of an old book. The sound of a cracking spine when you open it. The sight of a collection proudly displayed in your home. The thought that some day your grand-children might take your books and read them.

But then again…they might just toss them in the trash because they are nothing more than inconvenient clods of paper and ink.

EReaders allow the ability to download thousands of books in one place. One author of a post I read said, “It’s so convenient. Now I don’t have to carry a dozen romance novels around in my purse every day.”

Why anyone would carry a dozen books of any sort around on a daily basis is beyond me. Unless you’re a research student or a rocket scientist I don’t think that’s the norm.

But….I can see the appeal. It just hasn’t sunk it’s teeth into me yet mainly because I am witnessing the closing of bookstore after bookstore. My favorite two-story store in Nashville which was 30 years old is now a piece of history and I’ve heard my friends cry about their favorite Borders shutting it’s doors.

I realize EBooks and EReaders are not the sole cause of the decline of the bookstore. The economy and poor management most likely top the list of causes for the fall, but technology has and most definitely will continue to impact their success. Whether the shift will be subtle or seismic remains to be seen.

For now…I will buy my books at the bookstore and continue adding to my collection.

My resistance may seem futile but so is the fact that I no longer buy paper towels or use plastic bags from the grocery store. I’m just one little person and I know my impact is small, but at least I’m trying, right?

I spend most of my days glued to a computer screen. The last thing I want to do at night is curl up with yet another screen. I want to feel the book in my hands. Turn the pages myself. And maybe I’m the minority but that’s okay. I’m a bit of a rebel anyway 😉

What about you? Do you ever worry about the future of the printed book? Bookstores? Can there be a happy co-existence between eBooks/Internet Purchases and Printed Books/Bookstore Purchases?

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  1. I have both–printed books on the shelf, and ebooks on a tablet. I like reading both ways, and I buy both on whims. Some of my ebooks were free or 99 cents, but I won't pay 13.99 for an ebook. For that price, I want the real deal in my hands. I still love to hold books and turn the pages. For me, as long as both are available, I'll probably have them in equal amounts.

  2. I don't think there's any reason to believe printed books will disappear. However, I do think that publishers will have to change with the time. The mid-list author is becoming a thing of the past. I have a NOOKcolor AND a house full of print books. I read both, love both for their pros and cons. (And I can do a 'search' in my e-reader if I'm looking for something specific. It also remembers where I stopped reading when I fall asleep mid-page.)

    I have books in print through 3 different publishers, and have e-published my back list, as well as a couple of original titles. My digital versions far outsell the print ones.

    I'm reading a print book now that has a very musty, smoky, unpleasant smell. And so many are printed with text running into the gutter that it takes 2 hands and some physical exertion to hold them open. With bad wrists, the e-reader, which can be managed with one hand, is a very acceptable alternative.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist–of Mystery

  3. I just watched a large Borders Books close by me. I was so sad until I found out that another book store is going in there. Huh? Interesting. This particular Borders did well. I guess it's the location. The store was always packed.
    Now I'm happy to hear that another is taking it's place.

    I think that there can be that happy place for Internet bookstores and Walk in, grab a coffee, browse the shelves Book Stores. Things will start to settle. Great post.

  4. As Terry said, I don't think you need to worry about books becoming extinct. I do think there will always be both. However, I do believe in the future (maybe not so distant) that if we want to read anyone but the 'big names' we'll have to turn to e-readers. It is a fact that the mid-list author is struggling in the traditional model of publishing and thriving in the e-book world.
    There are great books to be found electronically that would otherwise not be available due to 'cutbacks, not taking risks,' or the myriad of other reasons the big 6 use.
    I love books! I have shelves of them! When my husband gave me a Kindle last fall for our anniversary I was horrified. Didn't he know I loved BOOKS?!
    It's been almost a year, and I LOVE my kindle. I'm discovering so many books and authors I never would have before. The price points on e-published works are (almost) all in the very affordable range making it possible to buy more, read more, and discover great new talent. Because I'll be honest, I was getting tired of the same old authors that were getting all the press, table space etc.
    Also, the e-reader is making it an exciting time to be an author and opening doors for us that were tightly controlled and being slammed in our faces before. I've embraced my Kindle. BUT like you, I'll hang onto my books too.
    Great post as I think you've hit on what a lot of people are feeling. Don't worry, you can still be a book lover and embrace technology.

  5. I love books. I think there are enough of us that books are here to stay, but I also like beign able to download a book on my phone if I forgot one and I will be stuck somewhere for hours.

  6. I'm a gadget geek, so I love reading on my Kindle. The knowledge that I'm holding hundreds of books is pretty heady.

    It's also a convenience. Today I left home planning to read one book on my lunch break, but after only a few pages, I knew it wasn't what I wanted. I flipped back to my home page and selected another, with only a minute break in my reading. (Granted, I work at a library so it wouldn't be hard to find reading material, but it was still nice.)

    All that said, I still love books. If I wasn't planning to move overseas, I would still buy most of my books in paper. However, the thought of mailing the books I already own is enough to make me pass out… so I'm content with the e-books for the moment.