Print is dead? No way!

A recent article in the New York Times states that e-book sales slipped by 10%, during the early part of this year, while there was a corresponding surge in independent booksellers and hard copy sales.

I’m not surprised. E-books are great – now I have a Kindle instead of a Nook – and I don’t miss lugging a stack of books in my suitcase when I travel. But most of my reading is still done just as I’ve always done it: in hard copy, usually from the library.

I rarely buy books. Usually only when I absolutely love it or the book itself has meaning to me as an art object. (And then I try to buy mostly from indie sellers.) The library provides most of my reading material, because, quite frankly, heroin would be cheaper than my book habit.

The article discusses the long-running e-book vs. paper debate, and comes to the same conclusion I’ve had for a while. Print books are’t going anywhere. Not because they’re inherently better than e-books – both formats have advantages & disadvantages – but because this is a technology that’s been around for CENTURIES.

I’m not saying new technologies won’t arrive and new business models created that will make it even easier and cheaper to read books on your favorite device.(iPhone, anyone? 😉  )

At the same time, other new business models and technologies (print on demand, for one), are making it easier for booksellers and libraries to provide near-instant access to hard copy books. Even Amazon, hated though it may be, has assisted in this. Who doesn’t love a book arriving at your door within a day or two – or even an hour or two?

When the first wave of hysteria over e-books happened, I was pretty sure of two things:

  1. E-books were here to stay.
  2. Print wasn’t going anywhere.

Most other forms of media require some form of technology to enjoy them – music, for instance, is highly dependent upon the player. But books? They’re not as dependent upon technology. At least new technology. (That centuries thing again. Recorded music? Not even close.)

You can enjoy a book from the 1800s just as someone did when it was printed. You  can’t enjoy your cassette tapes from high school in the 80’s, unless you happened to save your boombox, too.

One last reason I don’t think print is going anywhere: I work with kids. Kids who run circles around me when it comes to any sort of electronic device. (And I’m pretty tech-savvy. But I wasn’t using an iPhone as an infant.) Many have e-readers, and even more have phones – and they do read on those phones some of the time.

But most kids I know still love books. Print books. They want the print books even when they have copies on their Kindles or Kobos. Sometimes it’s because many kids’ books still have pictures, even if they’re just line drawings at the chapter headings. Sometimes it’s because a book is popular enough to be a status symbol. Sometimes it’s because the battery on the e-reader is dying, and they want to finish this chapter.

I understand why the debate of e-books vs. print came about. What I don’t understand is why some folks still insist there has to be a winner. Seems to me like print books and e-books coexist just fine.

Maybe the real winners are the publishing industry, writers, and readers. We get to enjoy the advantages of both.

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