Ringing the Sad Death Knell for the Book – Day 149

Sunset on Chapters
February 1, 2011.

Chapters' staff already push you to the website at the drop of a hat rather than offer to order a book for you. Will this store be here in 10 years? Or even five?

Let me preface all this by first stating that I embrace change. And then by qualifying it by saying that of course I mean “good” change, and recognizing that like most people (especially over the age of, ahem, 20-ish), change can be difficult for me sometimes.

But when I heard the CBC Radio show Ideas on Monday night talking about “Closing the Book” – quite literally – I started to get a little nervous.

The idea in a nutshell is that within 10 to 15 years, according to one of the interviewees, the printed word will be dead. There is already a move towards the ebook, and that will set about a chain reaction whereby the number of people who prefer to read an actual book will fall close enough to zero that it will no longer be economically feasible to print them.

The proof? By 2012, it’s projected that 50% of book sales will happen in actual book stores, 25% will be purchased online, and 25% will be ebooks. The digital format will grow in dominance for the next decade, wiping out books like iTunes destroyed CDs.

The show is quick to point out that it won’t be writing that will be destroyed, just the physical book itself. It also added that over time, the structure of “books” as we know them today will likely change too with its new medium.

“What really matters in the connection between writers and readers,” according to another interviewee.

I have serious problems with this statement. Although I agree the connection is the most important thing, it’s not the only thing that matters. I’ve tried using ebooks, and except for my limited experience on an iPad, I don’t like them. The Kobo Reader I tried immediately attempted to connect to the Internet when I picked it up to demo, and locked up as it search for a non-existent network. I put it down after 5 seconds.

That aside, I’m not a fan of the current screens (hard to read) and the device itself seems a little small.

(In fact several people have asked me my opinion on what my favourite ereader is, and I’ve told them all that I’d choose an iPad if money was no object or wait for something better to come along…)

On the other hand, I love the feel of a book. The type is just right, turning pages is effortless, and they never run out of batteries.

I know I’ll get used to ereaders, especially as they improve. I suspect I will have to in the near future (the book is not dead yet, but I fear it’s mortally wounded). Just as audiophiles cling to their LPs and, I imagine, those before us clung to their horse-drawn carriages, I think it will be a sad day for me when books finally disappear. Like LPs for music and horses for travel, there will be something lost in the reading experience when books do finally go. It will be passing that book lovers — not just “readers” but book lovers — will mourn.

I embrace change. I like change, ultimately. But I will miss my books.

You can hear the whole documentary (less than 30 minutes long) here:


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9 Responses to Ringing the Sad Death Knell for the Book – Day 149

  1. Tami says:

    Hello! Here following your comment and link on Steve Hall’s blog (hi!).

    You tickled my curiosity in here and then cruelly left her unsatisfied. I’d be very interested to hear your opinions on the matter of just HOW the structure of books may change with the growing popularity of eBooks. Do you think things like acceptable length will change? I don’t personally think that the basic building blocks of a good story will change, though they may become more flexible.

    My personal hope is that the change in publishing landscape from ebooks will be to further legitimize printed books (publishers would be much pickier about which projects they’d pick up) but that ebooks would become a viable alternative for the authors who no longer need a big name publishing house in order to get distribution. Ebooks would pave an authors way to publishing houses, in effect. (I have been known to Pollyanna too often, so I’m probably being overly optimistic about the future here).

    Anyrate, I’d be very curious to hear your own thoughts on what sorts of changes you think will be appearing.
    Tami’s most recent blog post: UF Novel Giveaway!

    • Graham Strong says:

      Hi Tami,

      Didn’t mean to tease – lol. I was merely reporting what the interviewee said on the show, and he didn’t give specifics.

      But what I think he meant was that when technology changes, we tend to do the old process with the new technology until eventually the medium changes the message, as it were.

      I’m trying to think of an excellent example, but I’m at a loss at the moment. (I know there’s one out there…) A good example though was when TV came along. It was the radio stations that started broadcasting video. At first, television was just video of radio shows, until eventually it became a medium on its own and started exploring what TV could do without the limitations of radio, i.e. no pictures. (Does that make sense?)

      So for ebooks, the tendency right now is to simply transpose text from books to electronic format. But since the electronic format is capable of so much more, eventually the definition of the “book” will change.

      I’m not quite sure how it will happen or what it will be, though for various reasons I’ve given it a lot of thought. You might start seeing videos in the middle of a book (because you can) or links to other associated readings. You might have the author or teacher build review questions directly into the text, complete with links back to the appropriate passages. Maybe even have whole exam questions built in.

      For texts like “The Lord of the Rings” that have poems or songs in the middle, maybe there will be an option to “hear” them.

      As I said, I don’t know all the possible options. But what I’m fairly certain of is that within the next five years (or maybe less), these changes will start to happen. Subtly at first, but I’m pretty sure it’s inevitable.

      All driven by the change in technology.

      For the record, I don’t think things like the basic building blocks of storytelling will change. They didn’t with the invention of type, movies, or TV, so they won’t change now. It’s the “how” that will change, not the “what”.

      Acceptable length will continue to get shorter I think too, generally speaking, though not because of things like the cost of paper and printing but because of readers’ attention spans. You may see the rise of the “serial” again though, with longer works being chopped up into shorter “books”.

      All speculation of course. It might be a great topic for another post though.

      Great question!


      • Tami says:

        I remember reading a blog post on JA Konrath’s blog where he talked about the interactive ebooks (including ads).

        I wonder if I’d like it? My initial reaction is no, I wouldn’t like it at all – I like to get totally absorbed in the story that I’m reading and being jolted out so I can watch or listen to something doesn’t sound appealing at all.

        On the other hand, I initially thought I’d dislike ereaders. I don’t own one, but I’ve had the chance to test drive one and I definitely liked it. I’ll be getting one as soon as I feel comfortable doing so (Paper books taught me that once I own a book, it’s mine and I can do what I want with it. Amazon deleting people’s books, DRM, and the till-recently iffyness of sharing books have kept me at bay.)

        I’m hoping that length will become more fluid, not necessarily shorter. I’ve read a few good books lately that I thought would have benefited from a longer length (and yes, I’ve read plenty with the opposite problem as well!). I like the idea that a book can be the length it needs to be, though I also see the problem that authors are not always the best people to decide how long it “needs” to be.

        Agreed on the attention span thing, though. TV is in many ways more popular than movies.

        This is an interesting discussion – the more I think about it, the more I think you’re right and that the definition of “book” is going to get pretty flexible. *ponder*

        *laughs* Love the reference to the “serial” there – I’ve got a webserial myself, so am tickled! ( http://choose.cogsworthy.com if you’re curious)
        Tami’s most recent blog post: UF Novel Giveaway!

        • Graham Strong says:

          Ooh, I didn’t think about that. Ads in books! Ugh…

          I see though on your own site, you’re already creating “value added” books with your author commentary and reference discussions. This is all content that wouldn’t normally be in a book, because printing costs would be too restrictive. But with ebooks, the cost of delivery is nothing!

          So there you go. You’re already at the vanguard of changing the definition of “book”.

          And that’s only the beginning…

          Length will be more fluid, but I’m hesitant to say it will be a good thing. Publishers are very savvy, and they tend to know what the optimum word count is, not just from a printing standpoint, but from a readability standpoint. I think you’re going to see more of books that are too long because they didn’t have the proper editing behind them to cut out the chaff.

          Again, all speculation. But it stands to reason: the fewer books that are professionally edited, the more problems like this will crop up.


          • Tami says:

            I totally agree on the self-editing thing. Steve Hall voluntarily edits my stuff for me, and I can’t imagine not having his services. I’m just not yet qualified to look at my stuff with that eagle eye.

            I’m hoping that after the initial ebook scuffle, the separation will become more obvious – the bad ebooks will sink and the good ebooks will float and everyone will have the opportunity to be read. (Pollyanna again, I know)
            Tami’s most recent blog post: UF Novel Giveaway!

  2. Graham Strong says:

    Even Stephen King needs an editor. Everybody needs an editor. You’re lucky to have someone like Steve around.

    I think you’re right about the good books rising to the top, no matter what happens in the publishing world. It’s happening already – word spreads around those Kindle Boards pretty quickly, apparently!


    • Tami says:

      I am VERY lucky to have Steve. I hope he realizes how much I appreciate him. (I tell him as often as I can)

      I’ve heard good rumors of those kindle boards! Haven’t quite made my way to them yet, but I will be by the time Volume 2 is ready. (I’ve already had a request for a Nook version, too! *boggle*)

      <3 Love for your blog and <3<3 Double love for finding a blogger who replies to comments. TREASURE.
      Tami’s most recent blog post: Headache Go Poof

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