The Book is Dead! Long Live the Book

19 thoughts on “The Book is Dead! Long Live the Book”

  1. Great article, Om. So much in it that I’ll just comment on the Kindle aspect.

    I have a Kindle and love it. And you know what I love even more than the Kindle? The idea of the Kindle. In mid-2010, you can get a Kindle WiFi for $139. Buy it for your child. They can instantly download 300 classic books, all available for free. Amazing. Magical and revolutionary, in fact.

  2. You had me on this one…right up until the end.

    I am unclear why discussions around the evolution of media consumption have to tackle the evolution of the media itself. Although as a digital publisher trying to bring the dime novel back for the e-book generation, I believe that the format of books will change. In fact, I’m counting on it (at least for the young-adult market on which we primarily focus). What I don’t believe is that the nature of reading nor the connection between reader and written word will ever change (we could have a long discussion here about the linguistics and cognitive science that create that connection). In fact, I consider all of the multimedia extras that digital publications are starting to include (look at the Wired magazine app on the iPad) to be distractions (less so for magazines than for fiction which are two entirely different reading experiences) because they don’t offer anything related to the reading experience. Just because books are going digital does not mean that they will take on the characteristics of other digitized information (i.e., the fotopedia app which is really cool, btw). There has been so much written and explored around this in the ivory towers (i.e., hyperlinks, transformative multimedia, blah blah blah) with little impact on the fundamental experience of reading and our imaginative connection to the story.

    To make my point, look at what you said about the death of the record store because of the digitization of music and the evolution of music consumption. But ask yourself this: did the way we listen to music change? If I am listening to my iPod, is there a break in the song with some information about the lead signer’s life?

    The reports of the death of the book, to paraphrase Mark Twain, are greatly exaggerated.

    1. Good point. I’m quite skeptical on all the hype about how a new media format is coming to revolutionize everything. Or that video is a natural next step of everything, like email to MMS, search to video search, etc.

      Not that I deny a sea of change is coming. But I think the old basic format is seriously under appreciated. No doubt multimedia will greatly enrich the content for many things, but plain old written words is also good in other areas without the need of extra distraction. I’ll be interested to hear what you’ve found about the linguistic and cognitive connection. For me I will offer a counter perspective to the idea that video is more advance than plain text. I’d content that text is a triumph of human intelligence and civilization that allows us to express and communicate complex concept in abstract symbols. It is the ultimate information technology. Video is more a sensory experience that’s far less important in this regard.

  3. There is another shoe waiting to drop with the sale of B&N that has the publishing industry very, very anxious, and for very good reason. The way that payment works in the publishing industry is that stores pay up front for books, but then if they don’t sell, they send them back to the publisher and get reimbursed. For every B&N store that gets shuttered, its entire inventory will get returned to publishers who will have cough up massive payments for books they won’t be able to resell. Same thing happened a few years ago when borders retrenched.

    With book advances contracting, no abatement or merit to marketing expenses, and the absurd time to market of traditional printing, new authors will turn to Amazon and epublishing and drive publishers further out of business. They were the worst luddites in all of media, so I suppose they sort of had it coming.

  4. One big item we’re losing in the DRM era: used books. How do you sell a used e-book?

    One example of why used is great: go look at any of the paperback cover blogs (e.g. Pop Sensation) to see what’s available used, and isn’t available at the new bookstore (physical or electronic).

  5. Your article is very confused, so you’ve drawn the wrong conclusion…

    As someone who worked at a bookstore for a decade and saw tons of bookstores fail, and record stores, and had endless conversations on the topic, what’s happening is very clear to me.

    The times are a changin’ for many reasons, of course, but here is the biggest one…

    The number of choices for books and music as increased exponentially, and the physical brick and mortar locations which try to offer all that choice inevitably collapse from all that weight.

    Trying to provide a sea of all music/books that’s current to the customers is just physically impossible anymore. It is just as indiscoverable in a bookstore/music store as it is online. There is too much inventory vs. the number of sales possible.

    That’s what you should have talked about here. The book is not dead. The physical book STORE is dead And the use of trees to move the exponentially growing content is able to change as well, thanks to technology.

    There will be new ways to discover that content just like before.

    Do you see the difference?

    Mark Hernandez
    The Information Workshop

    1. But don’t get me wrong, Om, I think you are one of the most insightful people writing in the blogosphere. You are number one in my book, no pun intended. 🙂 I just had to add that I didn’t mean any disrespect, and I realize your article touches on many facets.

      I’ve just heard too many people offer up the wrong analysis as to why bookstores and music stores are closing, and I react. Books, music, and video are all experiencing the same transition because of the same expansion effect. New ways to discover content need to catch up, but we’ll always have the tried and true method for the rest of time — word of mouth, and randomly bumping into stuff on the car radio, channel surfing, etc.

  6. World Heritage sites lovingly recorded? Sounds nice. In a generation, when the pictures and audiovisual interactive dioramas are lifelike enough, no one will see any problem with bulldozing the boring old analog sites. “We need more refugee housing,” they’ll say. “We’ve recorded this place for posterity anyway.”

  7. Different book formats for different needs. Just like the pen or pencil did not disappear with the coming of the typewriter (whether mechanical or electronic) nor with the advent of the personal computer, paper books will still exist years into the future and coexist with their digital equivalent.

    Though digital books make a lot of sense if one needs to reference them often (say in school), paper books require no battery, no charge, and can get pretty damaged before no longer serving their purpose. I’d like to see a kindle take that kind of a beating. And then there’s the whole “used books” argumentative.

    As Jason mentions, the death of books has been greatly exaggerated!

  8. it’s a sad day when a bookstore closed down. I use an iPad and an eink reader for reading but I STILL love going to a physical store and browse the magazines and books, get a hot chocolate and cake inside B&N and enjoy reading. Why is it a good thing for all this to go away? Do you think browsing a magazine is as iPad is as enjoyable as reading an actual magazine? Reading will become an individual activity where you do it only at home. No socializing. No meeting people. That’s NOT a good sign

  9. You may have noticed Roger Ebert tweeting all week about his preference for atoms over bytes where books are concerned. I think your statement here, ” the message is more important than the medium,” very neatly encapsulates where I stand on this. History shows that anyone whose efforts consisted of attempting to block new technology to protect old technology is doomed to failure. Hello Rupert?

    And just want to add that the Fotopedia Heritage iPad app is AMAZING – it has quickly become one of the apps that I use to show off the iPad to friends. The photos are gorgeous and the flow and interface are really well thought out.

  10. Bollocks! E-books, while being tabbed as the replacement for the so called obsolete physical book, are overhyped. Nothing will ever replace a physical book, which can be called upon with no need of data storage, or battery recharging. E-books are an evolved form of the written word but the physical book has been in use for centuries and will be in vogue whether the electronic medium even still exists. Drop your e-reader and see if it still works, drop your book and you simply pick it up and dust it off.

  11. The thought of bookstores closely makes me sad. I will admit, that since I purchased an iPad, I’ve bought more ebooks than physical books (although more from Kindle than iBooks due to the selection.) However, I have discovered some of these after browsing through bookstores. No one merchandises as well as Barnes & Noble to allow me to discover and try new authors. As physical media moves to digital media, we are faced with the same difficulty as finding good apps on the App Store and discovering new musical artists (at least we have the radio). I know I was manipulated in bookstores by the tables out front that publishers pay extra for and best seller lists, but at least I had the option to wander up and down aisles to see what catches my eye. Doing this online is not as easy or enjoyable. I guess where one door closes, another opens, and the opportunity for resources for book discovery increase. Whether it is recommendation engines from Amazon, Genius for iBooks, or simply podcasts like Books on the Nightstand, I’m curious to see what lies ahead. But I will still be sad to see bookstores close.

  12. I own a huge hard-copy library, however now I have close to 400 ebooks (free and paid-for), I was am avid reader, now I read even more, I read 2-3 books a week, with my IPAD Kindle reader, I can’t stop reading almost al the time (except when I am working). Companies that have not got the message with go caput, this is the new reality.

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