Are Printed Books At the Beginning of the End?

Soon to be outdated technology?!
Soon to be outdated technology?!

Why Kindle Won’t Win — Books are Symbols.  So said my colleague Karl Krayer on this blog barely two months ago.  Here is what he wrote to begin his post:

Let’s wait just a few moments before we christen Kindle as the force that did away with traditional books. Although this technology will continue to add available titles, and as sales for the product through will continue to rise, the chances that it will eliminate books with hard covers, paper, jackets, and traditional marking devices are simply not too high.

I wish he were correct.  I too love the feel, the smell, the heft of a book.  But alas, it simply has no chance to be the long-term winner in this contest.  The days of the printed book, the bound book — printed on paper — are bound to disappear.  The unrelenting march of technology will prove too strong.

Two signals from this morning’s news add fuel to this fire.  I heard on NPR this morning that California now has 10 textbooks for high school which will only be available in digital format.  (Students can print portions of them out on paper, but that will be from the pdf that the student downloads).

The book of the future
The book of the future?

And now comes Scott Burns in this morning’s Dallas Morning News:  Printed books nearing their final chapter.  He described how two 80+ year olds visited recently, showing up without a single physical book, but with a well-stocked Kindle.  Making the case that the technology will make it inevitable, he includes this paragraph:

Some readers will scoff at the notion that paper books and periodicals will be displaced by something electronic. But it will happen. It will seem like a long transition, and then it will suddenly be over. Printed books will become accessories for interior decoration, collectors’ items or wood pulp looking for a new use.

Burns predicts, based on how long it took the digital camera to replace film, that it will take between 2 and 18 years for the transition to be complete.  The Kindle itself may not be the winner.  But digital books are coming, and physical books are disappearing.  I, of course, am waiting for the Apple iReader to come out (no, I have no insider information – but there are rumors out there on the internet).

And, for those who find benefit from the First Friday Book Synopsis, I have good news.  Just because a person will download a digital copy of a book into a Kindle does not necessarily mean that he or she will read the entire book.  Just as shelves sit with unread books, so the Kindle will hold unread books.  So Karl and I will still have our work to do, presenting synopses of important and best-selling books, Kindle or otherwise.  I just haven’t figured out how we will give away the copy of the book at the end as easily.

One thought on “Are Printed Books At the Beginning of the End?

  1. I think the jury is still out on this. If books are solely for the transfer of content from writer to reader, then the digital devices are the way to go. But, that is not the sole reason people buy books. Books are symbols. People buy books to put on their shelves in a home or an office to enhance the look and feel of the environment. They display books on tables and desks, in their cars, or in their beach bags to enhance others’ perception of their interests and intellect – whether they actually plan to read them or not. For the record, I do not even agree that digital cameras will eliminate film. Single-use 35mm film cameras are still big sellers, and if you want a good average picture instead of rolling the dice with all the dials and settings in a digital camera which could give you a picture that ranges from poor to excellent, they are good bets. And, by the way, speaking of beach bags, I have NEVER seen anyone reading a book on Kindle by the pool, at the lake, or at the beach. Never!

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