What will happen to books in a digital era?

November 1, 2009

Remember CDs? I don’t think I have bought one since 2001, and now that I have an iPhone, iPod, iTunes, there’s no need to ever buy a CD again. One could argue there’s not much need to buy music either, since I spend more time listening online to Pandora or Blip.fm anyways.

So what will happen to books? I wonder if the publishing industry will meet the same fate as the music industry. I still buy printed books — but many people I know have switched over to the Kindle, and Kindle readers buy two to three times as many books as book readers. Or they’re just ditching books altogether and getting their reading from blogs and online magazines and news sites.

Working on the LWM social media team has been interesting because we’re essentially trying to use social media to promote and sell more copies of a print book, which is an interesting concept when you think about it. It’s harder to get people’s attention for a book when people are too busy to read any more and prefer to get their news and information in 30-second bits rather than long-form reporting and writing. And we’re trying to use social media, the very thing that’s contributing to the decline of longer-form writing and journalism, to do that.

So my question is: what will happen to books? Do you still buy books? Will actual hard copy books go the way of the CD?



  1. Living in Australia we often don’t get some of the great books from the US and UK at all, or their release here is significantly delayed, so I tend to buy them online on Amazon.com.

    There’s something fantastic about receiving books in the mail – the anticipation for their arrival is half the fun really.

    However, of late when I’ve been too impatient to wait the 2-3 weeks it often takes to get a book I have been downloading them through audible.com and listening to them on my ipod. I don’t expect to do this all the time but I must admit it is a convenient alternative to waiting the 3 weeks for postage.

    I think this is the same theory about newspapers, there’s just something special about getting the latest edition or newest release in hard copy and sitting back reading it (if and when we have time).

  2. Reading has been one of my absolute favorite things to do since about the age of six. I have hundreds of books that I have collected over the years, from the Babysitters Club to the BoxCar Children, the Chronicles of Narnia to the entire Harry Potter series, Confessions of a Shopaholic to Gossip Girl. I love going down to my basement and seeing all the old, worn-out books from my childhood, or going to my room and looking at all the colorful spines of book after book on my shelves. If everyone decides to only read virtually, those little pleasures will vanish.

    Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to read something that’s actually sitting in front of me, in print, rather than words on a screen. It’s easier on my eyes and it’s easier for me to focus (and I’m only 22!). I guess it’s pretty obvious that I’m still buying (print) books by the armful; I could never work at Borders or Barnes & Noble because I would easily spend every cent (and more) of every paycheck I’d earn. What can I say? I’m a bookworm, through and through…

    Even though online newspapers and sites like CNN are shutting down many of the physical newspapers of our time, look around you the next time you’re on a train or in a company waiting room– how many newspapers do you see? They’re still around, people still read them with their morning coffee. I personally hope they’ll still be around for a long time, although I can see print books outliving print news. Either way, I believe it will still be a long time before the printed word is totally extinct, and personally I hope to be dead before it.

  3. […] “What will happen to books in a digital era?“ […]

  4. I think printed books will be around for a long time to come, if for no other reason than they provide an escape. I read in order to relax. Most of my workday is spent with some type of computer, digital media, etc. The last thing I want to do is pick up another one when I get home and want to relax.

    There is something about a printed book, the weight of it, the feel of the pages, the sense that when you open it up you are about to enter another world. Some little digital box that requires batteries just doesn’t hold the same appeal for me- sorry.

    Plus Kindle isn’t free and with the state of the economy, libraries are still a haven for those who don’t have the money for more costly entertainment. I love and support my local library. Why pay for something you can have for free?

  5. I will always love books, no matter how much we get “digitized.” First of all, you can’t highlight or make notes online, which is essential to doing research (I’m writing a thesis now). But I also buy and check out books to read for pleasure. I don’t read all that many right now because life is so busy, but come summer time I read 10-15 books without fail 🙂 I don’t think it’ll ever become comfortable to read an entire book on a computer screen..

  6. Until you can read e-books without specialized technology, electrical power and in a universal format, hardcopy books will be around and will thrive.

  7. I love reading and I love the easy and convenience of ebooks, not to mention the HUGE difference it makes on lowering my carbon footprint.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love hardbacks and softcovers, but I think protecting the planet trumps my superficial desire to smell a new book (which is one of the best smells ever). I think that’s the nature of developing technology- we don’t read on papyrus rolls anymore, or chisel in stone. So I say ‘bring on the change!’

    Besides, the ebook format has a lot of neat functions that make it easier to read than normal books- expanding font size, changing the contrast from white page/black font (etc) and the ebook ink technology makes it so the glare (and headaches that come from reading on computer screens) is gone. Then there’s the text reader option for blind people.
    Quite fantastic, in my opinion.

    I understand that a lot of people can’t buy an ebook reader, so I believe there is still a niche for physical books, but I think (and hope) that it’s diminishing.

    But if you compare how much is spent on transport to the bookstore and the expensive, newly published books to a one-time cost and reduced prices on books…. ebook readers come out looking great.

    I agree to an extent with the comment by jrandom- until everyone has access to electricity and there’s a more universally compatible format, there’s a place for the book industry.

  8. Among other things, it will never be as easy on one’s eyes to read something digital, as to read from paper. We will always need regular books.

    It is very convenient to have research and information on line. So, I think that the need for specialty publications and academic journals will diminish. Easier to print, and let the 30 people who need the article download and print.

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