Print Books vs. eBooks: The Latest Twist

by Emma Cueto

For all the hype about old-fashioned, paper books dying off to be replaced with ebooks, it really seems to be just that: hype. For one thing, Amazon itself, the great bringer of the Kindle, is willing to invest in a (highly problematic) drone delivery system for its books, which would be spectacularly stupid if physical books were only ten years away from death. But if you don’t believe in Amazon’s business sense, you can believe the poll numbers: almost 70 percent of people in a recent study say they aren’t likely to give up on printed books in the next few years.

The full report, titled “The Evolution of the Book Industry: Implications for US Book Manufacturers and Printers,” suggests that although ebooks are gaining in popularity, their dominance has been greatly exaggerated. People, as it turns out, say they most appreciate features of print books that ebooks will likely never be able to replicate, such as the feel of paper and the ability to add titles to a bookshelf. Even notoriously broke college students say they prefer printed textbooks to the digital versions because the hard copy versions make it easier to focus.

So what’s the take away from all this? Well, probably that ebooks and “real” books can and do coexist quite nicely. Some people prefer one or the other and some people use both (I know I do). But I guess “eBooks and Print Books Peacefully Coexist Like Lots of Other Similar Products” is not a sufficiently sexy headline.

The impulse in talking about ebooks is to link them with the idea of The Future, of a world dominated by and made unrecognizable due to technology. And it’s not an unreasonable assumption — after all, society is definitely changing drastically, and things like cell phones and the Internet are a big part of that. However, when it comes to books, it might be more accurate to think of ebooks as just another type of product, not as some new technological force.

After all, for all the hype about how they are going to revolutionize the book, ebooks actually try very hard to emulate real books, right down the flipping the pages instead of scrolling. Attempts to "reimagine" books or create multimedia ebooks haven’t been very successful so far. And, of course, ebooks still haven’t taken over the world. Both Barnes and Noble and my local indie bookstore are still standing last I checked (which was yesterday, in case you’re curious).

So will this report stop the click-bait headlines about the death of the book? No. But it does mean those of us who love a physical book can stop worrying and just get on with our reading list in peace.

Image: Wikimedia Commons