Steve Jobs famously joked that the Amazon Kindle would never make it because no one reads anymore. Sadly, he has a point. 58% of people never read a book after high school!
And while books are not quite dead, the way people are reading them has dramatically changed. While most people do not read books, they often do a lot of reading on the web. But web reading is really a quite different type of reading. It is more random and less focused. It’s easy to start reading one blog and quickly follow a link to another, then stop and google a specific word or concept only to end up in wikipedia which leads you down yet another rabbit hole.
When reading a traditional book, there are not nearly as many distractions. For the most part, you just go from one page to the next occasionally skipping a few or even a chapter. Web reading is much more distracting. You have flashing advertisements not to mention people emailing and IM’ing you. Even if you had no distractions, it can be hard to focus on long pieces of content due to LCD backlighting and the eye strain it causes.
So, is book-reading dead?
I don’t think so, but it is evolving. It’s moving to e-books and blogs. Traditional publishers and retailers may also be a thing of the past as more and more genres move online and people become more comfortable with reading online.
Consider the plight of the computer book. In the late nineties, it was a thriving section of the publishing industry and people were snapping up books faster than they could be printed, but something happened after the dot com bust.
Even though the computer industry came back, the computer book never did. Programmers began to google for code and tutorials. And in many ways, the online version was better. It was easily searchable and you could copy and paste code directly into your compiler to be used immediately. Not to mention that blogs on new technology could be written much faster than books.
Amazon has also changed how books are purchased and read. I rarely ever browse a brick and mortar bookstore now. Why bother when I can see all the reviews of a book plus any related ones on Amazon? With most Amazon books, I can “search inside” and view the table of contents. And with many, I can buy them for $9.99 and have them in 30 seconds on my Amazon Kindle. How can a bookstore compete with that?
I was a bookstore regular and now I have not set foot in one for many months. There’s just no compelling reason anymore. Borders and Barnes and Noble should be very afraid. Books will have a future though they will be transmitted in different ways, bookstores are the ones that are in trouble…
A room without books is like a body without a soul. -Cicero