Are Books Dead?

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

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

8 thoughts on “Are Books Dead?

  1. Interesting post. There is something about holding a book in my hands that I love more than the instant gratification of downloading words into a computer/kindle machine. I love turning the pages. I love bookmarks. The experience, for me, is more than just the words. At least for now – who knows, though. I once said the same thing about music and now the instant gratification of downloading it from iTunes outweighs everything else.

  2. @YFNCG: Thanks! That is one of the hardest things with a small business because there’s always more work to do.

    @Jenn: I never thought I’d “give up” on books either but I think amazon really nailed it with the kindle. It’s enough like a book because it is not backlit and allows bookmarking and notetaking that they won me over.

  3. I love diving into a good book. One I can sink my teeth into. I would like to try an Amazon Kindle when I get back to America, we’ll see if that beats the feeling of having a real book in hand. I can’t stand all the distractions that go with reading online, distraction is the great enemy for our generation.

  4. Bryant,

    this is an interesting post for a couple of reasons (and excuse my spelling, it is awful)…

    1) Before I started seeing Betsy (and I didnt make this discovery about her until we were married), I had never, EVER, heard of anyone who ever skipped pages of a book, or, dare the thought, entire chapters…but now that I think about it, I was the only one of my friends that read books and I never talked to anyone about reading books, so because I read every page (to include preface, afterwords(sp?) and ackknowledgements, but then again I have always cleaned my plate) I assumed everyone else did. This is incredibly fascinating. I would like to see some research on this.

    2) I almost bought Betsy the Sony version of the Kindle while we were living in Virginia and I read such poor reviews on the concept…then I read a piece on Slate further stating why it was a bad idea and I chose against it…one point in the article is that some people enjoying owning the book and putting it on their shelf when they are done, in some cases as a badge of honor. For instance, I have been slogging through the Barnes and Noble edition of the Tolstoy trifecta – Cossaks, Anna Korina, and the formidable War and Peace. I am almost done with the Cossaks (My problem is that I read 4 to 5 books at a time over the course of months, and my reading opprotunities vary greatly week to week) and I promise you this…the second I finish that entire 15 pound book I will build a golden shrine and sacrfice a fattened calf to honor MY dedication to literature. What was my point? Oh yeah, that people (especially “collectors” like me) like to own books and build a library…to show off (I am a sad pathetic man). It appears that you are above that, as I think Betsy would be too, so please let me know your thoughts on the Kindle as I may reevaluate my possible Christmas gifts for Betsy…of course the biggest question is: Is the Kindle two year old proof?

    3) I dont think that book reading is dead…I just think that casual reading among the majority of folks is dead. The people with intellectual curiosity (man I hate my spelling) and a desire to learn will continue to soak up a wide variety of topics to feed their hunger/passion. The rest…well, they will be reading fewer and fewer books.

    Bryant, I enjoy your blog. Keep it up.

    Steve

  5. Hey Steve,

    Glad you found and enjoy the blog. Here is my 2 cents on your points:

    1) For me, skipping pages is just a time-saver. There are so many books I want to read and so little time is this life. Non-fiction books often repeat the same thing over and over. Most of the time these authors have one great idea and their publisher tells them to make it long enough to be a book, so there’s a lot of filler…

    2) The kindle rocks! I use it every day. I wrote a blog post about my main reasons for buying it here: http://www.bryanthankins.com/index.php/2008/07/13/what-did-you-buy-for-your-birthday/ It is pretty sturdy unless your 2-year old gets a hold of a lot of water…

    3) Agreed!

    And don’t worry about your spelling, I won’t look down on you for it 😉

  6. I frequent the book store a few times a month to kill time.  I never actually buy anything anymore.  Mainly I take pictures of book covers on my iPhone so I can download the books onto my iPad.  Dead Tree Products are, thankfully a think of the past.

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