Are we moving towards the end of the printed book?

I’m grateful to Leo Traynor on Google Plus for the heads up on this incredibly beautifully shot Canadian documentary called Epilogue, in which several lovers of print books talk elegiacally about the end times for the printed page…

  • The end of the printed book as a mass-market commodity? Perhaps. But the end of the printed book as a luxury item? Not at all. Books are not as disposable as newspapers, and printed newspapers are still clinging on.

    Books will continue sitting on coffee tables and bookshelves. Also, would you leave 100 quid worth of Kindle lying around on a beach in Minorca? eBooks have their niche, but they face serious problems expanding beyond it.

  • Mister_Joe

    My small town in rural Ontario may not be representative but I discussed this last year with the owner of one of our two used bookstores. He has been in business for about 10 years now and he said that he hasn’t detected any drop off in business.

  • Hedley Lamarr

    As a book collector it looks like the credit crunch has hit bookstores harder than e-books. Also, new hardbacks are much more scarce but I don’t know if the e-book presence has contributed to this. Many new books go straight to paperback without a hardcover version ever being printed. You can’t beat a nicely printed hardback.

    By the way, I enjoyed the film. Thanks.

  • Reader

    Hedley Lamarr: Many new books go straight to paperback without a hardcover version ever being printed. You can’t beat a nicely printed hardback.
    Whereas I find hardbacks bulky and inconvenient. I would only buy one if I thought I couldn’t get the paperback, or if I really, really, couldn’t wait the extra few months for the paperback.
    I am still stuck part way through the last hardback I bought – trapped in an endless network of vanished Burgundies. I might have made it through to some more interesting kingdom by now if the book had been easier to pick up and throw down. (“Are you all right in there?”)

  • I’m so very glad that the comments on Slugger have not degenerated into the “burn every print book and lets get on with the future” themes of so many other threads on . But the merits of the print book and kindle are not the only issue at stake. There are major privacy issues for a start.

    If I buy a print book over the counter with cash, what I am reading, and how I read it remains essentially a private action. Not so with Kindle, and the others. The actual ownership of e-books is essentially still with the publisher/distributor. Note that a book deemed dangerous in any way can just be deleted from the readers apparent “ownership” and the payment refunded. Books “bought” for kindle are regularly electronically tracked by the publisher to return data about how they are read (how often and how long the reader has the book open, when he/she puts it down, at the very least) in order to assess reader reaction so that they can modify marketing strategy on product. Amazon do this sort of thing with browsing history to make suggestions as to what you may want to buy next. But the more sinister possibilities of this invasion of privacy are blatantly obvious.

    The screen is in essence a very different thing from the printed page and, as a culture, we have encoded habits from cinema and television that long pre-date the arrival of the computer. Some excellent research was carried out in the 1950s and 1960s into the difference between reading from a printed page and from a screen, inspired by the kind of post war anxieties that inspired Vance Packard’s “Hidden Persuaders.”

    Research suggested that the instinctive reaction to anything on a screen is to follow the flow, they way a film or television programme works. While this may be acceptable in a pulp novel it is not the way a book actually containing ideas should ideally be approached. Anyone with any sensitivity actually working with texts will have experienced the difference between how you work to and fro within the pages of a print book, and just how very difficult this activity becomes with an electronic text.

    All the vociferous support given to the e-book revolution by the army of neophylics often appears to suggest a real loathing of the printed page in a sizable section of the population. Their sheer delight at the possibility of an end to the printed book is undeniable. The trademark name “Kindle” says it all!!! Piles of burning print books. Possibly this is just a neurotic inheritance, the outcome of most of the population being compelled to read endless boring texts over many years at school and university in order to become waged someday. But how very sad that these vandals would wish to deny those of us who actually enjoy the print books that for centuries have been the very lifeblood of our culture.

  • Hedley Lamarr

    Reader- I enjoy the look and feel of a hardback and the fact that it keeps its shape and condition and gets less shelf-wear than a paperback but I understand its bulky nature can be cumbersome. If I passed on more books I would read more paperbacks for handiness sake.

  • Mac

    “Not so with Kindle, and the others. The actual ownership of e-books is essentially still with the publisher/distributor. Note that a book deemed dangerous in any way can just be deleted from the readers apparent “ownership” and the payment refunded.”

    Ironically, purchased copies of 1984 were removed by amazon from users kindles in an ownership dispute a few years back.

    I have a very nice book collection, ranging from signed first editions of my favourite authors to a hundred or so sci-fi paperbacks from the 60’s and 70’s with the wonderful kitschy covers that were so popular then.

    These days 50% or more of my book purchases are technical manuals, 4 and 500 page monsters that are redundant 12 months later. They are all now purchased as e-books, not kindle’s azn files if I can help it, I prefer to buy mobi/epub books from publishing houses or straight from the author.

    For novels, and non-technical non-fiction, the book is still king. Half the fun of a good book is sharing it with friends, emailing a file or sharing an ebook through the kindle interface just doesn’t compare to handing a book over by hand when having a coffee with someone.

    Ebooks are still too damned expensive, but that’s a whole other story.