Friday, November 5, 2010

Are traditional books on their way out?

Probably. But if so, when?

Scribes sitting in dark rooms transcribing books and writings finally went away, but it took how long? The Gutenberg press was invented about 1441 and the Chinese had a printing press as early as 593, so it took thousands of years for the handwritten version to go away.

The paperback book was supposed to kill the hardback. I mean. The price alone is enough to do it, right? No, they continue to sell and will continue to as long as libraries and textbooks exist and as long as people who have nice personal collections prefer them. The paperback turned out to be a new but separate market.

But then came audio books and surely no one would want either version of the printed word if all they have to do is sit and listen to them. Truck drivers, vision impaired people and on the road salesmen embraced this technology eagerly, but wow, again it was a separate market and did not affect the other two.

We’ve seen DVD’s come and who would read a book when they can have a movie of it right in their own house. Actually I know people that want to read the book a movie is based on either before or after they see it. Different markets.

Now it is digital, and e-readers, the ability to have hundreds of books with you all the time. After the investment in the reader the books are cheaper but in many cases going up to rival the mass-market paperback price. I said a number of years ago that the e-book would not take off until a reader base was trained to read them and comfortable with them. I thought it would be when textbooks got so expensive that the electronic media would be the obvious solution. I’m starting to see some school systems doing just that, but it turns out that readers started getting comfortable with the devices without that happening. I have a book sitting on my iphone right now that I’m reading. They are different markets and while they may have impacted the other markets some each market continues to be strong.

We haven’t seen the last of it. The hallmark of our generation is exploding technology. More and better innovations and each will find it’s place. But every time this subject comes up there are those who say they still prefer to go off with a cup of coffee or chocolate and enjoy a printed book. I read constantly material being submitted to me on my computer. In fact, I wish I had more time to read for pleasure than I do. But the fact remains that if I am reading for pleasure I like to curl up with a book though for convenience I will read them electronically.

Will they go the way of the handwritten scrolls? Maybe someday. Will it take a couple of thousand years as they did? I don’t know, but it it does I expect the Lord will have come back for us before that time so the question is academic. I am pretty sure it isn’t going to happen in my lifetime although as writers it does behoove us to keep up with the new, developing media and to try and take steps to try and get product into it. Regardless what that media is they will always need to have people to produce the stories to fill it.


Katie Johnson said...

Very interesting post. I see this topic come up all the time but have never seen someone address it so thoroughly.

I adore real books that I can hold in my hand. But, as my eyes get older, I'm finding it's so much easier to read books on my Kindle for PC.

At the other end of the spectrum, my college-aged son, who has to buy his own books for school, refuses to buy any book that isn't brand new because he treasures them and wants to keep them around for a long time. (And this is a "kid" with no money, who refused to read ANYTHING until the Harry Potter books came out. Now he's studying world literature at UNM.) But it's what he values.

I'm just happy that so many people are still reading :)

Raquel Byrnes said...

Thought provoking, Terry. You're right. I think the readership has to be comfortable with the technology in order for it to explode on the scale that people are predicting.

I know that some of the draw for those who do purchase their books are the extras. Some e-books, especially non-fiction, offer media enhancements to the text. My kid's books are animated, a cook book I own has embedded video of the recipe...but for all the bells and whistles I still prefer a good paperback.

Not too worried right now. Instant coffee didn't obliterate the bulk coffee market. And as you said, it'll probably be a healthy alternative market rather than a replacement.

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