Check out this from The Economist in case you’re still wondering about the future of mass-produced paper books:
To see how profoundly the book business is changing, watch the shelves. Next month IKEA will introduce a new, deeper version of its ubiquitous “BILLY” bookcase. The flat-pack furniture giant is already promoting glass doors for its bookshelves. The firm reckons customers will increasingly use them for ornaments, tchotchkes and the odd coffee-table tome—anything, that is, except books that are actually read.
In the first five months of this year sales of consumer e-books in America overtook those from adult hardback books. Just a year earlier hardbacks had been worth more than three times as much as e-books, according to the Association of American Publishers. Amazon now sells more copies of e-books than paper books…
Is this necessarily a bad-news story, or is it just that fogies like me are too quick to equate the physical presence of books — in ceiling-high shelving units, in stacks on the floor — with literature and even literacy?
The latter, probably. Looking at a wall full of books comforts me. I like the smell of books and enjoy rubbing the pages between my thumb and forefinger before turning them.
I can’t pretend reading paper books is more elucidating than reading e-books. Nor can I argue with those who say it’s more convenient and eco-friendly to store a library of books on your Kindle than crowd your home with hard copies.
On the other hand, it’s likely the brave new world of digitization will undermine the book business, just as it has undermined what used to be called the record business, if only because it’s so much easier to steal and rapidly “share” digital files than hard copy. (Take “Purple Haze,” for example.)
Also, it’s too soon to know what digitization is doing to artists and audiences. Will consumers place as much value on instantly accessible digital content as on works that were packaged and displayed in public, in stores? Are future artists as likely to strive for innovation or even distinctiveness now that works from all eras are being randomly clumped together and accessed via digital gadgets?
William Gibson, an aging writer but not a fogie, thinks artists and audiences will do just fine. He rejects the very use of words like innovation and future, and argues that kids today think in terms of “a sort of endless digital Now, a state of atemporality enabled by our increasingly efficient communal prosthetic memory.”
Gibson and his fellow novelist Bruce Sterling have noted that the present turned out to be very different (grimmer) than many people thought it would be, so much so that it is foolish to think in terms of “a grand historical schema.”
Maybe so, but my endless digital Now isn’t likely to include e-books, even if I could afford a Kindle. And I can definitely live without a BILLY bookcase, just as easily as I live without IKEA’s other crap.