Posted by: chartroose | April 28, 2008

The Future of the Book

Man, I hate to say this, I really do, but I think the book industry as we know it is finished.  It will die a painful death and the publication of actual bound books with pages and pretty covers will be reserved for only the most highly regarded and/or bestselling authors.  These books will probably be quite expensive, both to produce and to buy.

This is terrible to consider, especially for people like me who purchase and covet hardcover books.  The unfortunate thing is that people like me are becoming more and more of a minority.  We bookish types are fading into the sunset, so to speak.  The publishing industry is still churning out books, but at higher costs to consumers due to diminishing returns.  Mom and Pop bookstores are gone because they couldn’t keep their costs down and compete with the huge Barnes & Noble and Borders conglomerates.

Even book reviewers are becoming extinct (and it’s not the fault of book bloggers, dammit)!  This was bound to happen — less people reading equals less of a demand for professional book reviews.  Newspapers are in enough trouble as it is; readership is down in all areas and many of them are fighting just to stay afloat.  Some of them have already gone bankrupt.

Yep, the book times they are a-changin’and they are a-changin’ faster than you think.  The newest reason that they’re changing at a rapidly accelerating rate can be summed up in one word: Kindle.

It is finally happening.  The book is being replaced by a handheld reading device.  You may scoff at this, but I swear it’s true.  I received my Kindle a couple of weeks ago and I haven’t looked back since.  This little thing is astonishingly convenient and easy to use.  You can purchase books for 1/3 of the price you pay at the bookstore.  You can zip through a book much faster using a Kindle because there are no pages to turn and no book rearranging awkwardness of any kind.  The screen is non-glare and you can enlarge the font to make it more readable.  You can bookmark any page and add pages that interest you to a clipboard for later perusal.  You can subscribe to magazines, newspapers, blog feeds.  (Hmmm, why was mine left out?  I’m going to have to discuss this with Jeff Bezos)  ( :

Kindle has an “Experimental” section which allows you to search the web.  I tried looking up my blog and found it immediately. The pictures display in black and white, and the comments section works.  If complete word processing capabilities were added to the Kindle, the sky would be the limit.  Kindle could take over the world!  Once the glitches are worked out, it could outsell all other handheld computer devices and really give Bill Gates and Steve Jobs a run for their money.  Apple is working on a new, improved Kindle clone right now.  It’s called the “iBook.”  I’m not sure what Microsoft is doing.

This is scary stuff because the implications are quite far reaching.  First of all, if this takes off like I think it will, it will basically destroy the current publishing industry (but it will save a lot of trees)!  Most publishers will have to learn to accommodate the new market by publishing almost exclusively in electronic format.  They will have to lower their prices as well.

Bookstores had better get on the bandwagon or they may end up closing forever.  Why drive to Barnes & Noble or purchase a novel on the B&N website when you can get into the Amazon bookstore via your Kindle, click a couple of buttons, download a brand new book and start reading it instantly?  And for a fraction of the price?  Right now, Amazon pretty much has the monopoly on this form of electronic bookselling.  I’ve purchased and downloaded three books so far, and there are a couple more I’m just itching to buy.  For someone like me, being able to achieve this kind of instant book gratification is almost too much to bear!  I’m going to have to learn how to resist temptation and continute interlibrary loaning books or I’ll soon become a pauper.

One regret I have is that if I’m using the Kindle, I’ll no longer be able to show off the impressive books that I’m reading.  (Thanks, Care, for reminding me of this).  Nobody will be able to tell that I’m really smart and cool because I’m reading The Decameron on my Kindle (not that I would ever be reading The Decameron on anything, but that’s beside the point).  For all they know, I could be using my Kindle to drool over a website catering to adult diaper babies or to read the latest Erica Jong ~shudder~ novel.  Maybe I’ll have to buy a copy of The Decameron and just tote it around with me for affect.  I can occassionally pretend to read it with furrowed brow and heavy sighs so that everyone can see how incredibly cerebral I am.

My Kindle is not really “my kindle.”  It was purchased for me to use at work.  I’m using it at work, and I’m also using it at home.  I’m using it everywhere.  I’ve even purchased this extra small laptop sleeve to keep it in so that my sweet widdle Kindle windle can stay safe and warm:

I bought the sleeve with my own funds, and look, it’s chartreuse!  This Kindle must mean a lot to me because I felt compelled to choose an accessory for it, and it had to be in my signature color.  I don’t even do anything close to this for my pets.  Good Lord!

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Responses

  1. […] Read the original here: The Future of the Book […]

  2. ooh, your the first blogger I’ve read who has a kindle. I was looking at the ad for kindle a few days ago and I have to agree it looks pretty cool. The no-glare thing – does it really work? Also, can you download free books from sites like Gutenberg for example?
    I’m thinking I might have to ask for a kindle for my birthday this fall….hmmmm

  3. Yeah, it really doesn’t glare at all! I haven’t looked for free books yet. Free books? Free books!!! Why, oh why did you have to bring that up?

    ~10 minutes later~
    NOOOOO! I have just finished downloading “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” from the Gutenberg site. Heaven help us now!

  4. wow! Can it play tunes while you read? a combo iBook/Pod? (I don’t have an iPod, yet so it’ll be awhile before I get this… dare I say? toy?!)

    Thanks for the link back. You are TOO cool!

  5. You know, Care, I don’t think it can play tunes yet. There’s a player listed in the “experimental” section, but I can’t click on it. This is okay with me, since I prefer quietude while I’m reading. It could be that I’m just too stupid to figure out how to use the player, though.

  6. I wrote this idea eight years ago in MA dissertaion then a PhD on the same subject. But have to say now the book isn’t dead. It isn’t even sick. It took the codex three hundred years to take over from papyrus, Gutenberg’s press well over a hundred years just to get a proper foothold, another two hundred to go properly mass. Handheld devices will have drop DRM and authors, publishers drop copyright before the book even looks likes keeling over. But in the meantime the two can coexist and should. Books, especially functional no fiction, should appear on portable screens with linked text. But the novel in the paper forms, screens don’t even get close.

  7. I was totally uninterested in the Kindle until this post showed up in my google alerts. If I buy one, you owe me.

  8. Well if books aren’t dead yet, your Kindle lovin’ post is going to help kill them!!!! LOL

    Seriously, this is something I never thought I’d want UNTIL you mentioned that handy little feature about enlarging the font to any size you want. OMG. That is sooooo cool, especially for me and my 40 something eyesight that has recently hit a wall.. I HATE the way I look in reading glasses!! If Kindle lets me read without the dreaded glasses, I’m in!

  9. I don’t think books are dead, nor are they likely to be for a long while to come. At the end of the day it’s up to us to keep buying them and then the market will continue. Book buying reached the height of its popularity between the two world wars, at a time when more people could read than ever before and the paperback made books affordable. There was no competition then from the television or the internet. But in fact more books by far get sold every year now than back then. It’s just that publishers produce so many more titles that the share of the market is distributed very widely. So, there’s no reason for books to fall out of favour and I’d like to think there’s room for both digital and print formats. Are there no books you wouldn’t still like to have in paper form, Chartroose? And I’m not sure about saving trees at the expense of a piece of non-biodegradable hardware that will soon end up surpassed by technology and in a landfill site. Your kindle sounds lovely and I’m so glad you’re enjoying it, but I wouldn’t want one myself.

  10. […] wrote about this very subject today, absolutely raving about this freaking Kindle first came out on Amazon. Even after her rave […]

  11. I go back and forth with my desire for a Kindle. I love the idea, but I love my books more I think. But I feel bad about all the trees. Such a quandary!

    I’m glad you like yours so much!
    Lezlie

  12. Just like the record/cd purists, the book readers will cling to their paper versions for some time. There are several implications to this….. Hmmm.. thanks for a blogging idea… I’ll link back to you 😉

    Been thinking about getting one of these for some time, but as an Apple freak I just keep waiting for the possibility of an Apple version.

  13. Thanks to everyone for your responses!

    Swimanog — I prefer paper format too, and perhaps the two will coexist. That would be ideal. Where can I borrow a copy of your thesis? I’d love to read it.

    Whitney — If you buy a Kindle, let me know what you think. I’m not paying for it, though! Do you think I’m made of money?( :

    Lisa — Yes, I can read on my Kindle with my glasses off, but not for long because my eyes get fatigued and everything gets all blurry again. Drats!

    Litlove — No, I don’t want to give up my beautiful books, but the Kindle is just so convenient and fun! It is a dilemma, and I also think that books are going to be here for quite a bit longer, but they’re going to become increasingly scarce as we become more electronic. You and I should start collecting first editions to leave to our children.

    Lezlie — I wish someone could lend you one for a little while. Then you could see which you preferred. I’m dreading hearing from someone who says they got a Kindle due to my enthusiasm and hated it!

    Tasses — I just looked at your website. It’s really neat! I’m waiting for the Apple version too.

  14. The transition from paper books to electronic devices such as the kindle is something I have extremely mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I love paper books. The way they feel, the way they smell, their weight when I hold them, the texture of the pages, everything. On the other hand, trees. So even though a part of me welcomes the transition, another knows I would really miss paper books.

    I think the change will be a slow one, though…it’ll probably take a generation or two. I do wonder how the bookstores of the future will be. I love going into a bookstore and browsing, and browsing e-books online instead is not quite the same for me.

    I suspect that paper books will probably only disappear completely if we the environmental situations gets to such an extreme that there is simply no other solution. For now, there ARE other solutions (Ecolibris, recycling, etc), so I hope that things never get to that extreme. But who knows. In the meantime, I’m glad you’re happy with your kindle!

  15. Great article. I think that you hit on some good points. I know that I am in the market for an e-book reader because of all the dust that my collection grabs. I would like to gradually eliminate some of these book shelves and just carry my books around. I have no doubt that the future lies in e-book readers.


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