Death of the Book


Going the way of the dinosaur?

The last big technological advance in publishing–audio books–filled a growing need and expanded the number of people who enjoyed books on their commute or during time at the gym. But it didn’t impact the sales or popularity of traditional books. With the surge of the newest technological change–ebooks–people are wondering if it’s going to fundamentally change the publishing industry forever. Here’s what an industry expert says:

”The physical book really has had a 500-year run. It’s probably the most successful technology ever. It’s hard to come up with things that have had a longer run. If Gutenberg were alive today, he would recognize the physical book and know how to operate it immediately. Given how much change there has been everywhere else, what’s remarkable is how stable the book has been for so long. But no technology, not even one as elegant as the book, lasts forever.” ~ JEFF BEZOS, Newsweek, Dec. 20, 2009

My writer friends on the New England Chapter RWA loop had a fascinating discussion about this recently. Many bemoaned the impact ebooks have on mom-and-pop bookstores as well as B&N, the last brick and mortar big boy in play. Others touted the benefits of ebooks to readers–convenience, lower prices & more choices. Writers have more autonomy and control over their own careers with self-published ebooks.

I’m thoroughly addicted to my ereader. It makes so much sense since I live in a small condo, and yet…I miss real books. I have a friend who works with special needs children who always says there is a little autism in all of us that resists change. That’s me. I’m conflicted about this change in publishing.

Professionally, I’ve got a foot in both worlds. This year I’ve been blessed with 4 traditional releases from my two publishers (Sins of the Highlander, Touch of a Rogue, Lord of Fire and Ice, and Touch of a Scoundrel). An embarrassment of riches in writer circles, to be sure. Then on the other side of the aisle, I’ve released 4 ebooks and an enovella as well–Maidensong, Erinsong, How to Distract a Duchess, How to Please a Pirate and Touch of a Lady. It reminds me a bit of when I was a kid at my grandparent’s cabin on the lake and I’d balance between the dock and the dipping boat. I wonder how long I can hold this position.

Yet all we’re really talking about is the delivery method. The important thing–the story–is still there. As long as people have huddled around a common campfire, there have been storytellers. (Wonder if that’s why Amazon dubbed their biggest, best Kindle ‘Fire’?) The switch from oral tradition to written was a sea change, yet the story was still there. The switch from paper to digital is an wrenching change as well, but the story goes on.

I’ve heard some suggest that in the future, books will be delivered in 500 word chunks on our cell phones, a technological nod to the past when Dickens and Alcott’s stories were serialized in newspapers. There’s already been a novel released solely as “tweets.” What’s next?

What do you think? Whether you’re a reader or a writer or both, I’d love to hear your take on the state of publishing, paperback vs ereader, the fate of bookstores… Where do you think the story will go in the future?

15 thoughts on “Death of the Book

  1. Diane P. Diamond says:

    Personally, I’m sad to see so many bookstores closing. I’m probably one of a minority that prefer print books to e-books. To me there is nothing like the feel and smell of a book. You don’t get this with e-books. I love to display my books too. Again, you can’t do this with e-books. I do have a Kindle, but rarely use it. My print books win out every time when I have a choice to make of what to read.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      I don’t think you’re in the minority, Diane. Ebooks are gaining ground, but they haven’t surpassed paper books yet.

  2. Barbara Britton says:

    I don’t have an e-reader…yet. I buy paperbacks and hardcovers.But it’s only a matter of time before the e-readers take over. Kids today are so tech-savvy.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      It’s not just kids. If I can learn to love my ereader anyone can. I was a determined Ludite about this for quite a while. When I finally gave up my attitude that my phone was only for making & receiving calls and learned to use its ridiculously legion applications, I decided technology wasn’t so bad after all.

  3. Marguerite Guinn says:

    I, too, enjoy “real” books, but I download and read many books on my kindle. There is something very heartwarming about curling up with a good book, a nice throw and a cup of hot tea on a cold winter day. I’m not sure you get that same effect with an e-reader!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      There is a tactile component to a paper book that can’t be duplicated by an ereader.

  4. Ashlyn Chase says:

    I just read an interview with publisher Raelene Gorlinsky yesterday. It held some eye opening predictions for the next 10 years. She sees authors getting away from self-publishing and going back to epublishers where a lot of the extraneous work is done for them.

    I read another article that said our youth are becoming less literate than their elders and it looks as if this trend will continue. Visual media is capturing their small attention spans. Maybe that’s why the graphic novel is becoming more popular.

    I don’t think books are doomed. Someday they may be collector’s items, but until electricity and batteries are 100% reliable, we might just need a few books around for “back-up.” We all need something to do during blackouts.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      I’m afraid you’re probably right about literacy declining among youth. That’s why I so applaud Harry Potter, the Hunger Games & Twilight. They have turned so many young people on to reading. Unfortunately, the movies are coming out so quickly, folks might decide just to wait for the big screen.

  5. Kathryn says:

    Yes, it is so painful this whole discussion of e vs paper.

    I love to curl up by the fire with a crinkly hardcover and hot chocolate or strong coffee by my side and relax under the afghan.

    Or, to lie in bed propped with pillows reading a paperback. Last time I did that regularly was three years ago.

    I did notice something about reading in bed versus reading ebooks, because I started reading ePUBs in 2008 and it was a nice change to read romances in bed in 2009.

    My brain was more relaxed when I read in bed.

    Sitting at the computer either I am ….what? Did I say distracted? ..,. or…, yes, distracted. So many tabs, so much going on.

    Reading in bed or on the couch or in a chair, you can shut everything out more easily and just absorb……….. that world.

    But c’est la vie. It’s …. called… progress.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Since I read on the Kindle app on my cellphone, I find it’s easier to read ebooks in bed. The screen is backlit, so I don’t disturb the DH with a light.

  6. I read both print and ebooks. I also enjoy both. While I have no issue with ebooks, I do wonder in the long run what will happen when technology changes again and the format I have my ebooks in will become obsolete. I don’t have that problem with print books.

    It wasn’t that long ago (at least it doesn’t seem like it, LOL) that CD’s were the new format to replace tapes, that replaced records…and now it’s all digital.

    I find myself buying books that I know I want to keep forever in print, and books that I know I will more than likely only read once in digital as a result of that technological fear. For that reason alone I hope that print books don’t become obsolete altogether.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Good point. It’s also one of the reasons my mother encourages me to to print out my manuscripts as I write so I’ll always have a copy even if my computer turns into a doorstop (which it has done quite recently). However, If I printed out every version of what I write, I’d be drowning in paper.

      1. Kathryn says:

        Printing out is good advice. I send many documents as attachments to my cloud storage.

  7. To say that ereaders will ruin ‘real books’ is the same as saying escalators will be the downfall of stairs. ;o) I purchase both kinds of books all the time. Not everyone has an ereader. When I read a really great book on my Kindle, one that I just LOVE then I purchase a copy of the paperback to give to family and friends who don’t have a Kindle or a Nook or what have you. Maybe I’m the odd duck? I firmly believe we can have both.

    Suzan Tisdale

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Excellent comparison with the escalators and stairs!

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