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Are Books Doomed?

Published on 07/01/11 12:54PM

When was the last time you used something like a map, landline phone, movie rental store, phone book, or dictionary? These are all just a few small parts of everyday life that have become close to obsolete because of technology. Personally, as a 21 year old college student, I live and die by my GPS system, never answer the home phone (why would someone call me at home?), find my movies via Netflix and On Demand, and use the internet to look up words through sites like dictionary.com or Google. In fact, I will probably utilize thesaurus.com to make myself sound perspicacious (just did it) throughout the course of this blog post.

Although these modern technologies may be fads and will eventually be replaced by newer models and technologies, books have been around for centuries. Is it possible that one day printed books, which have been around for thousands of years, will one day join VHS players on the list of forgotten technologies? Although I don’t think so, it certainly might be possible. Until the fairly recent invention of eReaders like Amazon’s “Kindle” and Barnes and Noble’s “Nook”, the standard paper book faced zero competition. Amazon just recently announced that it is selling more electronic books than traditional ones. In May, for every 100 paperback books Amazon sold, it sold 105 copies in its Kindle format (Kafka). Despite how close these numbers are, the differential will undoubtedly grow with the expanding popularity of eReaders and as they become more affordable. 

As a summer intern at Curley Direct, I am surrounded by a large printing operation every day that I come into the office. Although Curley Direct isn’t involved in the printing of books, I can’t help but wonder what will happen to large-scale book printing companies as eBooks become increasingly popular and more widely accepted. Companies that use traditional techniques like offset printing, which has been used for over 100 years, face serious threats from the growing popularity of eReaders. Printing styles like offset are in danger because there are high costs involved in setting up the printing press and producing the plates necessary to create the finished product. Because of this, it is not profitable to print on a small scale. As the demand for printed books continues to decrease, the profits of companies that rely on this method of printing will as well. Despite this, not all methods of printing appear to be doomed. 

It is possible that companies that utilize digital printing or print on demand could benefit from new technologies such as eReaders. That is, at least for the time being. Unlike printing methods like offset printing which require large scale print runs, digital printing allows you to print several books at a time if need be. Using digital printing technology allows you to print and finalize a book within several minutes. Not only is digital printing easy, it is also green; you can print what you need, when you need it instead of storing excess copies. On top of all of these benefits, digital printing creates extremely high quality products. As demand for traditional books continue to decrease, it is likely publishers will steer towards doing business with digital printing companies instead. 

Electronic books and readers are showing no sign of stopping; Amazon is predicting even greater eBook sales in the near future. Although there are people who have made personal oaths to never read a book electronically and enjoy the “turn-the-page feel” to reading a traditional book, it is likely the hefty majority is of the older generation. Younger people are already extremely reliant on electronics and technology designed to make our lives easier, I’m sure most would prefer to own a single tablet with hundreds of books that are easily accessible, compared to having to own a giant book collection. There are already schools throughout the country that are implementing the technologies of eReaders. As electronic books become more and more part of everyday life, regular books may slowly be left behind. It’s possible that one day it will be as strange seeing someone read a paperback book in public as it is to see a stranger listening to his CD collection on their Discman today.

Sources Cited

Kafka, Peter. Amazon Reaches The E-Book Tipping Point: Kindle Sales Blow By Print. (2011). All Things D. (http://allthingsd.com/20110519/amazon-reaches-the-e-book-tipping-point-kindle-sales-blow-by-print/)