The continued life of the printed word

In response to being interviewed for this article,  I wrote in my last blog post:
All of the complications concerning library ebooks aside, and there are many, booms in technology are bringing new opportunities to libraries.  The internet has not killed libraries, but it did drastically change aspect of our services.  Ebooks are changing libraries, and the needs that we meet are changing as well.  Flexibility in meeting is necessary to sustain demand and viability of libraries, but ebooks aren't the end of the road for books, and books are not the only service libraries provide.
I then found several articles today about how bound paper books might just not be as doomed as everyone's been saying.  In particular tying both my interview and these new articles together, is a Pew Study displaying an increase in ebook reading and a decrease in printed book reading.  What's really interesting about this study is that it doesn't really show the death of printed books, in both cases the changes are rather slight which means a significantly smaller increase in ebook reading than previously projected.  I feel it more demonstrates an increased consumption of books in any form supported by more opportunistic access.

Numerous independent booksellers reported this past holiday season as their "best season ever" for sales.  Interestingly the flip side of that is that the book sales for general retailers and for ebooks was not quite as lucrative as expected.  Ebook sales growth has been slowing down from its dramatic climb to that of a more casual stroll for some time.  Looking at the Pew study the drop in print is less than the growth in ebook.

In particular, I enjoyed this quote from Nicholas Carr in the Wall Street Journal:

"E-books, in other words, may turn out to be just another format—an even lighter-weight, more disposable paperback. That would fit with the discovery that once people start buying digital books, they don't necessarily stop buying printed ones. In fact, according to Pew, nearly 90% of e-book readers continue to read physical volumes. The two forms seem to serve different purposes.

Having survived 500 years of technological upheaval, Gutenberg's invention may withstand the digital onslaught as well. There's something about a crisply printed, tightly bound book that we don't seem eager to let go of."
He also has some quite interesting speculations as to the whys of the slowed growth of ebooks and the continued popularity of print found in his blog, at the end of an post that was rewritten for the article above.  One point in particular that he makes is that some types of books may be better suited to the format than others, and I feel it is worth remembering that the biggest area of consumption for ebooks are romance and erotic novels, the digital equivalent to paperback originals, that are generally low priced and quick reads.  Personally, while I'm happy Pynchon's work is now available as ebook, I do not think I could handle reading Gravity's Rainbow on my nook!

I think ongoing factors will also include DRM restrictions, quality of ebook titles available, ease of discovery, and availability of ebooks to libraries.  The ability to transfer books to the device of choice and not segregated by purchasing store is slightly less of an issue when a reader is committed to a single brand of reader, but with the changing market and the growth of tablets, smart phones, and even desktop reading, the forced arbitrary division of collection will be a source of irritation.  It isn't hard to change the compatibility of the files, but that requires a comfort with computers that most of the ebook consumers don't have.  The quality of the books available is partially tied to ease of discovery, as floods of poorly written and/or edited ebooks impede the discovery of quality titles.  Additionally if most of the books easily found are of questionable quality, it becomes quickly discouraging to make impulse buys.  It is also a distinctly different experience to browse a physical book shelf than it is to browse an online book shelf, which affects ease of discovery.  Lastly, libraries are pretty big boosters in the discovery process for consumers, with "over 50 percent of all library users go on to buy books by an author they were first introduced to at the library."

So, I guess in light of encouraging reading no matter the format, and with the addition of a liquor license to this bookstore's operations, I will end with a message from "The Most Interesting Man in the World"
[Edit 1/8/13]
Additional Reading:
The wrong goodbye of Barnes and Noble
On the difficulties Barnes & Noble is currently facing, and some predictions of doom for the company.  However, also of direct relation to what I wrote above, is on the importance of venues of discovery:
"It gets less subtle than that. Surveys say “showrooming” — seeing a thing before buying it — is an integral part of buying books online. One survey I wrote about a year ago posited that 40% of the people who buy books online looked at them in a bookstore first.

Got that? The closing of bookstores selling print books may also be hurting the sale of ebooks."


  1. Something I read somewhere that stuck with me: Books are like candles-other technologies may seem to take their places, yet every household has some.

    1. It sounds familiar to me as well, but I cannot remember from where. It is a fantastic quote.


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