Why will printed books go the way of the dinosaur?

The answer is simple, but first let me ask another question. How many of you still have a car phone, cassette player, VCR, or even analog TV? Not many, I would guess. I’m happy to have my iPhone, CD and mp3 players, Blu-Ray disc player, and widescreen, high-definition TV. They are all improvements. Does the eReader improve on traditional books?

For those who travel, eReaders are a joy. And think of the convenience when you’ll be able to download all the research materials you need from your local library—for free! Do you hate to see your kids lugging backpacks that weigh as much as they do? No more will they risk permanent spinal damage when they can download all their textbooks to an eReader. There are more pros—and cons—but let’s move on.

Printed books have been around since the mid-15th century. Isn’t it time for a change? Oh sure, we have audio books, but if we can, most of us still prefer to read the words ourselves. Until now, publishers of printed books have reigned supreme. But now they’ve been challenged—by the electronics industry.

We’re consumers. We’re techno-junkies. Of course we all want eReaders. And manufacturers are reveling in orgasmic glee because they know we all want the latest, shiniest, fastest version available and we’ll line up 24-hrs before they go on sale at midnight to get one. The content of the books won’t change, but the devices to read them will. Again and again.

Marketing genius is the real reason printed books will become obsolete.

Now, tell me, have you ventured into the eReader frontier? (For the record, I don’t own an eReader—but I’d be happy to try one if anyone’s feeling generous.)

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42 thoughts on “Why will printed books go the way of the dinosaur?

  1. I hope real books never disappear. I have never cared for the idea of the e-book at all. It’s something that just does not appeal to me. Sadly, I’m probably an exception. I don’t think all technology is an improvement. Sure, computers are nice, and so are MP3 files, but not keen on other things myself.

    There is nothing like holding a book in your hands, hearing the sound of the page being turned, the smell of the paper, the way it feels. E-books cannot give me any of that and I hope they never make real books obsolete because that is going to be a very sad day…sigh

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    1. @Agatha82 – You just gave me a perfect idea for a new product. A paper cover/case that would make the e-read feel like a book but with aroma therapy releasing the desired scent for the user. Different settings: Old and musty for some old works, “never opened” for some new releases, “roses” for some romance novels, “time to change my shorts” for some horror/fiction. 8)

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      1. I think you are sadly correct Linda. The new generation already lives online 24/7 and so, they will definitely take to the e-book. Meanwhile, I will end up like one of those vintage people who still listen to LPs. Providing they were still books in paper form in the future…sigh

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  2. Great post. I also agree that the same change we see in other parts of our lives will eventually hit all the other areas we take for granted.

    I currently only use e-readers on my PC. There isn’t one that is perfect. (Actually I need to write a post about what I think is a perfect e-reader some time.) I have tested the Kindle (and like it for reading books, but not periodicals), I’ve got my hands on a nook and was truly underwhelmed, and have reviewed the materials on the Que (and am intrigued) and got my hands on a iPad and was extremely impressed.

    My physical space in limited for books and almost completely full. The last time I moved I gave a bunch to the local library and allowed my 13 year old to sell another bunch to a local used book store. I am now in the process on planning the purchase of an e-reader and at this time I would pick the Apple iPad. You can add the B&N Reader, Kindle Reader and iBooks as apps so you have the best of all worlds. I have not tested periodicals on it yet though.

    Hope that helps.

    Good Hunting.

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    1. Welcome to my blog, Tim.

      It seems you’ve done your research. I know there are advantages to switching to electronic books, but I’m not going to rush into it. At this point, I’d buy a Kindle if Amazon gave me the e-version free when I bought the hardcopy, but I don’t see that happening. I’ll stick to paper until the reasons not to are irresistible.

      Very smart of Apple to allow you to bring all your previous books into the iPad.

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      1. Thanks Linda for the welcome.

        What would be an intelligent move for the publishers is to allow each hard copy to come with a ebook license. The practice of offering 2-for-1 deals would go for about 5 year (I think) and the industry would change radically as the acceptance of ebook readers for books and periodicals would exponentially increase.

        This would be a major positive impact in the logistical costs associated with the print industry.

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  3. Sigh. I love holding books. I love the look of them in my bookcase. But I know you’re right. The future is electronic. The whole textbook thing and my kids that you mentioned in your post, swayed me. I’ve been fighting this, but it is the future.

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  4. I believe both will exist in tandem. There is something nice about books, and as long as there are bibliophiles, there will be books. In a hundred years though? Who knows.

    And lets be honest, anything we can do to reduce our paper usage can only be good for the planet.

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    1. Surely in my lifetime, there will always be paper books, Merrilee. The younger generations may not mourn their passing as much.

      Environmentally, manufacturing and disposal of electronic equipment has a negative impact too. Though I don’t know which is worse.

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  5. “Marketing genius is the real reason printed books will become obsolete.”

    What if they are just better?
    Those who prefer books cite aesthetic reasons which really cannot be argued with.
    But the advantages of ereaders are also inarguable: less weight, lower cost per book, no storage, greater access to content, etc.

    I say all this as someone who buys a paper book ever other month, and who has not bought an ebook reader — yet. I’ll get a 2nd gen iPad, and more for its other functions than its ebook capability.

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    1. There’s no doubt eReaders have advantages, but for me, at this time, those are not important enough to me. Hermits rarely leave their homes, you know. 🙂

      As for lower cost, is it still the case that you really only have the book “on loan”? Remember in the early Kindle days the hullabaloo over the Dickens(?) book Amazon sold, which turned out to be a copyright violation and they erased it off the Kindles of everyone who had bought it? I mean there’s a sci-fi story waiting to be written here. In the future, when all paper books have been destroyed, either Big Brother, some alien force, or technical glitch erases all eReaders. Eh?

      Seriously, I know I’ll end up with one. I’m just not too anxious for that right now.

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  6. You are missing one thing though – a mobile or cell phone is an improvement over the car phone. A digital television is an improvement over the analogue. The electronic book is a shift from the printed. It has the advantage of being able to hold more than one book but print books can bend and be tucked into your back pockets and you can curl up on your side and hold them tightly and they are still easier to read then the screen adn turning a page is easier then flicking a button or running your finger over the screen. An e-book isn’t necessarily an improvement, just a shift. The two will attract different readers for different purposes.
    I love the idea of e-books and I am getting an e-reader and I am really excited, but I will not be giving up the printed book any time soon.

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    1. I did ask that question, Cassandra, and you put it in good perspective by saying it’s only a shift, not an improvement. I’ve never even viewed an eReader, but I can’t imagine it’s the same experience.

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  7. Hi Linda, I was just reading the first page of your blog – what fun and great posts you’ve been generating while I’m in the world of baby (and of no functioning laptop!).
    Just today I was at chapters looking at the ereader while I was in line – the poster size add over all the cashes: ONLY 149$$ I had a fleeting moment of, why not? but then my senses took hold and I said no. I am just not a technologically inclined girl. I love paper. I like my books to be made of paper. I love the smell, the texture, the visual of it. Yet, I agree with Cassandra – we all like different things.

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    1. Aww, Jennifer, thanks for taking some of your precious free time to read my posts. I hope all is well in “world of baby.”

      I’m definitely not against these readers. I will eventually own one … probably about the time my library has ebook capability. 🙂

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  8. Linda, I have to say I haven’t ventured into the world of the e-reader. It’s not that I’m opposed…Well, maybe just a little. I too love the sensation of books, the smell, the sound and feel of the paper. I’ll get over it, of course. But for now, I haven’t so much as held one in my hands.

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  9. I haven’t switched to an e-reader for a variety of reasons. One, the expense. I rarely buy new books because the local library keeps me well supplied. I can’t afford to shell out $500 for one. Two, I spend enough time on the computer as it is; a lot of the time I turn to reading to give my eyes a break from the screen. Having an e-reader defeats that purpose.

    Three, I like to read while I eat, and I can’t imagine an e-reader would translate well. If I get a bit of soup on a book, it’s not a big deal. On a $500 e-reader? Yeah. Four, I like laying in bed to read, and in that regard I suspect the e-reader doesn’t offer much comfort. Five, I question the durability of them. Can I toss one in my purse and go about my business, then expect it to come out unharmed, like the way I can do with a paperback?

    I’m not really interested in getting an e-reader right now, though several of my friends have and they seem to enjoy them. Maybe I’m just being stubbornly old-fashioned, but I really see nothing wrong with a (free!) trip to the library for new material.

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    1. Chibi, have you not read on your friends’ readers? I’m curious because I was told the experience is not like reading on the computer, the screen is not back lit so it’s much easier on the eyes.

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      1. My friends who have e-readers all live quite far away; no one who lives close has chosen to invest in one yet. Maybe if I held one and got the opportunity to use it, my feelings towards it would be different. That’s a valid possibility, but right now it doesn’t appear to be an option.

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  10. I believe books will stand the test of time and be around at least through my generation which is another 40 or 50 years. After that who knows. Then again, I won’t be around to suffer the loss of something I feel is precious to me. So at that point I don’t think it will matter anymore. Now watch, I’ll live to be 140 just for saying that. LOL

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    1. It sounds very sci-fi futuristic to image a world without paper books, doesn’t it, Trista? I won’t live to see that day, I’m sure. Then again, it will only be a matter of time before someone declares paper books the hottest retro fad and they’ll be back, at least for a while. 🙂

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      1. Reading the comments this morning made me feel like loosing paper books is moving backward in time. I had to remind myself that the information would not be lost! It also made me think of my children. How would they have responded to books if they had not been paper? Even now, how would my 7 year old respond to books on a screen? The way he interacts with a book and a computer is completly different. I never even bought my kids a leapfrog. I wanted them to hold a book. Of course I understand an ereader does not have the feel of a computer. Yet…

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        1. Jennifer, this is one thing I would regret about loss of paper books. I can’t imagine a two-year old holding an e-reader and turning pages while she pretends to read. Maybe they will continue to make children’s books long after they do books for adults.

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    1. Paul, Nathan has been a big proponent for ebooks for a while now. Actually, reading the post you linked to was the one that got me thinking about writing my post. I want to say it isn’t so, but I think the world is too “computerized” not to wholeheartedly adapt this technology.

      However, I was secretly pleased to see Amazon’s recent announcement of ebooks outselling paper challenged. It seems Amazon skewed its statistics.

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  11. I just bought my husband The B&N Nook. He’s a voracious reader and loves it. He says he forgets he’s reading an ebook when he gets caught up in the story.

    I’m still holding out because my Apple-adoring side wants an iPad just because it’s beautiful, but my eyestrain self wants a Nook – compact, e-ink, lightweight.

    A year ago, I said “never”. Now it’s just a matter of time and budget as I’ve come to realize it’s the story and language that I love, not the paper and cover. Although, I do love my bookshelves full of friends … then there’s the yard sale we had last weekend with boxes of books sold and given away, while inside the house the shelves appear nearly undented!

    I can’t begin to imagine a child loving an e-reader like a picture book. Can you tell I’m ambivalent?

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    1. I heard the Nook was better than Kindle. I have iPad envy, but a friend told me she didn’t like the weight of it. I’m not in position to buy any of them right now, so maybe by the time I am, the perfect one will exist.

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  12. What a great question, Linda! I don’t have, but will probably one day have (after the dust settles and the quirks are worked out and when the differences between competing versions are common knowledge) … an e-reader. However, I cannot imagine that I would not want my most treasured books in hard copy with pages and binding and ink. I’m not particularly trusting of the “powers that be” … and if all written knowledge were stored in electronic form, I’d be too fearful that somehow, one day, said powers would pull the plug and alas, then we would would be in a pickle!

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  13. I like watch Star Trek where everything is so high tech … and then you see Picard in his room reading a real PAPER book. They show people reading “ebooks” too, but I like the idea that even that far in the future there might still be printed books. I love books of all sorts. I look forward to seeing what happens. So much speculation out there!

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  14. Handwriting didn’t become extinct because of the printing press, and so I think there’s room for digital and hard copy. As we speak young bibliophiles are being initiated – my niece is 13 and loves her real library. I cannot imagine her or myself being excited by a virtual library with no smell, sound or feel.

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  15. I have a library full of books (including my own on my shelf-oh joy! *grin*) and books on my nightstand, and books on my husband’s nightstand, and books downstairs in the guest area – books everywhere!

    However, I am considering a kindle – for when I travel – especially if I can download my manuscripts on it to read while I’m out of town w/o having to take my laptop…:)

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