The Future of Print Books in the Digital Age

Well I did it, I submitted my essay to Writers Cash – now we wait  see what happens – I am putting it here as well, feedback would be appreciated  – I am brand new to the Chicago style formatting, UoP used APA and that’s what I grew adept at using while working on my MBA, so that’s the one area I am not sure is right, but please enjoy!

A book what is it? Is it pages bound together in form resembling a book? Or is it simply words assembled on a page and published into the netherworld that is the internet?  These questions linger on the minds of publishers and consumers across the globe.  The comparison between the two items in question comes down to a basic question of consumer preference; does the beholder prefer a print book – words on paper bound together, or does the beholder prefer the digital format – words on a screen assembled to resemble a book, and read like a book.  As a child we were all told the catchphrase “If it sounds like a duck, then it must be a duck” but honestly I doubt this applies when it comes to literature. From the books in a library to the books on a screen the evolution of print to digital has been coming for quite some time, inevitable as it may seem, it is a basic fact of life – the world is going digital, and consumers will be pushed in one direction or another.  When that time comes it will then be up to the publishers to determine how this very future that is coming will be presented.

What then will happen to the era of the print book? Will those items, those treasures long sought by all be put away behind glass and put on display in museums like the codices of the past?  Who knows for sure, but to a true book lover the very idea is one that is all too scary; having ones treasures put behind glass never to be beheld again is frightening, to a true book lover books are like friends, held dear and treasured.  Richard Nash, head of Alternative publishing formats Cursor and Red demand put it best when he stated “Physical books have a tremendous hold on our imaginations.” [1] When one looks at the stacks of books in a library or even in their home they are pulled into the very depths of their imaginations, curious as to the happenings on the pages of the books in front of them.  They yearn for the freedom those pages offer, and sometimes, even the oldest of bookworms will find themselves lost in the stacks for what can be hours to days at a time.  Books are treasures, not simply items collecting dust on a shelf, the e-book cannot offer this bond between reader and book, that treasure cannot be held as close when one reads an e-book.  Joe Freeman, author stated that “People who need to possess the physical copy of a book, not merely an electronic version believe that the objects themselves are sacred” [2]

I think Anna Quindlin put it best in her interview with Newsweek “What is a book really? Is it its body or soul?”[3] As I wrote this quote in my journal some time ago, right after Christmas – my 8 yr. old daughter was listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on CD in her room while following along in my copy of the print book – my my what a long way books have come, from books on tape, to books on CD to now your Kindle or Nook will read to you while you drive down the road or you can even download audio books, who needs a CD Player or Tape Deck, an eReader or even an iPod will suffice, but what about the e-book or even the e-reader itself? I personally have a Kindle Keyboard and it will read a book to me, or it will download a book directly from the site it functions in such a way that I can put notes on passages, highlight passages, or even send myself .pdf documents.  Stephen King, world renowned author summarizes it best when he said “If sales of eReaders continue to climb, paperback sales will continue to decline.  As market share continues to decrease, display space will follow suit.  There was a period in the seventies and eighties when paperbacks were the tail that wagged the dog.  But as the outlaw says at the end of The Wild Bunch ‘Them days is gone’ or at least those days may be numbered” [4]  It is this sentiment by authors that has caused the increase in sales of e-Readers and e-Books, both of which are very easily attainable.

But what about those book lovers who simply refuse to make the transition from physical book to electronic book?  They have their reasons and they stick closely to them, my husband is one of those who refuse to give up his physical books for an e-reader – even though he’s been offered one many times over.  There are many characteristics the physical book has over the e-book; for one, Books have physical beauty, it was once said that the best book covers were often works of art themselves, Jack Cheng, web entrepreneur, designer and novelist put it best “A nice hardcover is live having a place setting, having dinnerware selected to suit the food.  The story is still the main thing you’re there for, but the choices around it – the paper stock, the way the book is typeset, the selection of fonts – they add their own subtle flavors to the experience of that story” [5] A good quality book will be like holding fine china, it will be formatted perfectly, the book will look as beautiful as the story on the pages bound inside of it.  Secondly, Books have provenance Praveen Madan, entrepreneur on Kemplers 2020 team summarizes this best when he said “I think print and paper has a lasting value that people appreciate.  Pixels are too temporary”[6]  He continues with “Book have been around for a very long time and people have a deeper relationship with some books than most digital content” This rings true to everyone, there is always at least one or two books in your collection that you treasure above all else.  For me it is all of my books, I hoard them like gold and will not for any reason, will not lend them out; and for my husband the story is the same.  I think for a true to form book lover it is the same story.  Thirdly, print books are collectibles Jack Cheng explains this further when he states “Maybe what will lose to digital publishing are the cheaply produced mass market printings on poor quality paper.  And what will gain is a new appreciation for well-designed higher quality hardbacks like the ones folks at the Folio Society are putting out”[7] Having perused the cheap books at a gas station or even in Target and Wal-Mart I can attest to the fact that a poor quality book holds little value to me as a good quality hardback that may have cost me more, but will last far longer than the pixels on the screen of my kindle. And lastly Books are nostalgic – they bring back memories for anyone who holds the book in their hand.  I look over at my book collection and I see memories, each book possesses at least for me, some memory of the time spent reading it.  I do not think that no matter how many e-books I have on my Kindle I will never switch over completely from print books, there is just something all too special about getting a new book or re-reading one in my collection.

In conclusion it would seem that the future of the print book in the ever increasing digital world is teetering on the top of a pin – while the print book may never go away completely, it may eventually become a piece of art or even a collectible.  Especially for those of us who own a large collection of books and treasure each one individually; we may own an e-reader and even have it full to the brim of books; we will never truly step away from our print books for the very simple fact that those print books are they very reason our e-reader is full to the brim.  It will only be with a great deal of protest that a true book lover switches over completely and gives up their treasured print books.  For the passing and casual reader, the switch has already happened, they are 100% electronic books, a library holds no true value to them like it does for a book lover.  The beauty of the book is lost on the casual reader and I do not believe that there are enough casual readers out there to completely alter the face of the publishing world.


  1. Arnold-Ratliff, Katie; Have reports of the paperbacks death been greatly exaggerated?, retrieved October 31, 2013.
  2. Catone, Josh, Why printed books will never die,,  January 16, 2013 retrieved October 31, 2013;
  3. Quindlin, Anna, Reading has a strong future; Newsweek, March 25, 2010 retrieved December 31, 2012;

[1] Arnold-Ratliff, Katie; Have reports of the paperbacks death been greatly exaggerated?, retrieved October 31, 2013.

[2] Catone, Josh, Why printed books will never die,,  January 16, 2013 retrieved October 31, 2013;

[3] Quindlin, Anna, Reading has a strong future; Newsweek, March 25, 2010 retrieved December 31, 2012;

[4] Arnold-Ratliff, Katie; Have reports of the paperbacks death been greatly exaggerated?, retrieved October 31, 2013.

[5] Catone, Josh, Why printed books will never die,,  January 16, 2013 retrieved October 31, 2013;

[6] Catone, Josh, Why printed books will never die,,  January 16, 2013 retrieved October 31, 2013;

[7] Catone, Josh, Why printed books will never die,,  January 16, 2013 retrieved October 31, 2013;

5 thoughts on “The Future of Print Books in the Digital Age

  1. One really nice thing about the digital age is that it makes paperbacks easily available for the self -published with the digital print on demand. That is how I am doing my paperback to get the book into reader’s hands that prefer a hand held book.

    • Yes you are certainly correct about that, many authors who would not normally have had an outlet to being published now can get themselves published easily or through a publisher at a lower price. However, it begs the question of where the future of print books fits into that equation.

  2. Nicely done! As a librarian it’s amazing to me the number of changes that have occurred throughout my career. It’s still expensive for libraries to buy eBooks too – seriously an electronic copy of 50 Shades of Grey may cost a library $84 per copy or more. Publishers need to learn to work more cost effectively with libraries if libraries are to build larger eBook collections.

    • There’s a lot of debate in the publishing world right now about that very topic how to make eBooks and their licenses more affordable for libraries and the patrons who will use them; I’ve seen a lot of articles written about that very debate. If memory serves me correctly, I believe it was also part of the DOJ ruling with regards to the big 5 and the pricing case they just ruled on earlier this year. I think that the DOJ finally ruled that publishers need to make the books and their licenses more affordable for libraries and their users.

  3. Pingback: Week Ending 10.27.13 Budget…It Got Real… | Financial Lessons Learned; Trials and Tribulations

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