I love books. My house is full of bookshelves overflowing with them. I have countless cabinets stuffed with them and they pour off my wife's and my night stands. We have spent many a night in book stores just perusing the shelves, spying the new releases and I've discovered some of my favorite authors just wandering through the stacks at my local library pulling random titles off the shelf. When my daughter (now 18) was just a day or two old, I sat her on my lap and read her a little plastic book called Donny Dolphin.
I also love gadgets. I'm fascinated by the Kindle, the Nook and the Sony Reader. I'm enchanted by the iPad and the new electronic book shelf and book store. Yet part of me fears that I'm witnessing the beginning of the end of my beloved paper books as these devices become more pervasive. I worry that future generations will not experience the same joy I've had browsing, collecting, holding and reading the paper book.
Should I be worried? Are we witnessing the inevitable march toward electronic media or is it just another chapter in the long history from Gutenberg's press to the present day?
The Market will Shift
eBooks do not have to mean the death of the paper book, but it very likely could begin to take a back seat to the electronic variety. Over the next 10 years, I'm guessing as devices like the Kindle, iPad and other electronic book-reading gadgets become more pervasive, more people will buy digital versions of books. Schools could actually benefit by supplying electronic readers to replace costly text books that quickly become obsolete. In fact, electronic books would be a boom for any book that requires regular updating such as technology books, journals and reference materials.
But even as the electronic versions move to the forefront, I firmly believe there will continue to be a market for the paper ones, even if it's smaller. I look at the resurgence of vinyl records in recent years and it leads me to believe that just as digital music has become prominent, there continues to be a market that likes the idea of the older media. There will always be a group of people, a significant market, that wants to own their media and hold it in their hands, whether it's a DVD, CD or book.
Stores Require Physical Copies
In my future vision, books stores will still exist in our brave new media world, and they will still need physical copies of the books for display purposes, even for people who may prefer to load the electronic version on their readers. Publishers will need to make the paper copies extra special, perhaps using high quality paper and dazzling pictures and art work. Perhaps they will offer electronic and paper bundles to encourage sales of paper.
Of course, my personal nostalgia for books not withstanding, time will (as Steve Miller once wrote) keep on slipping into the future. We cannot stop the march of progress. The paper book may lose prominence in the coming years, but I don't think it's going away altogether. At least a few of us will continue to want both options (just as I do with my music today).