Are Books On The Way Out?

There have been concerted efforts to digitize books and make them available in electronic form. These are convenient for vacations and research, are more environmentally clean and have undisputed economic benefits.

I read a lot, and always have. I have always liked used book stores and still have good ones in my town. With the Interwebz, books have never been more available and possibly at lower prices than ever before, especially if willing to consider textbooks possibly a few years out of date to be acceptable for your needs.

So is the handheld book going to be a thing in the future? I think they will increase in value from where they are now. People have always loved books and digital versions just are not the same even if they are. Yes, people may have less storage and environmental considerations may be more important. Thank Baal people are starting to read again, if only in part due to pandemic pressures. But what says you?

What ??

I think it’s clear enough. A digital book has the same information without the heft, romance, gravitas or physical presence. People like books due to nostalgia and because they like beautiful objects. One study stated people remember reading from a physical page three times better than from a screen. This seems an important study, and if that is true, I wonder under what conditions.

It was not clear at all from what you typed.

I doubt if “real” books will ever disappear.

Twenty years ago every big-mouthed commentator confidently predicted that dead-tree books would disappear. It’s certainly true that many bookstores died, though part of that was because of the big chains. And you would think that COVID restrictions would kill off the rest. However, the number of independent bookstores actually have increased slightly since the start of the pandemic.

What’s sustaining them? Readers just flatly refused to switch over entirely to ebooks. A 2021 study found that the 72% of American who said they read a book in the last year break down this way:

  • 37% of Americans claim they only read print books
  • 28% say they read both print books and e-books
  • 7% say they only read e-books

The other numbers from that study are fascinating. Print books outsell ebooks 4-1. A plurality of people in every country studied read more print books. Though you might expect that seniors are the ones holding on to print, the 18-29 group had a higher percentage reading print books.

Pricing seems to make a difference. Publishers realized that despite their production costs being much lower, they could get away with pricing ebooks much higher than they thought, almost the same as discounted hardbacks. Many books, especially those with images, don’t work as well in ebook form. And the look and feel of print books has evolved to fit readers’ tastes over hundreds of years while ebooks are still figuring out what presentations work, despite all the changes of size and font available.

People just like books and the concept of a book hasn’t really changed. Culturally, it’s still that rectangular prism that been around forever, with seemingly* ever title ever published now available for barely more than the price of postage. I don’t see the situation changing for a very long time. The ebook business needs a complete overhaul before a book is just a few words on a screen.

* I say seemingly because if you’re a collector, researcher, or historian you quickly find out how true this isn’t.

My Wife and I always read in bed for an hour or so at night. There are tons of advantages to a digital book for that.

Back lit means you don’t need a light on.

Light weight means that you don’t need two hands to hold it and you can stay warmer in bed. All it takes is a finger swipe.

The book sync’s with my phone, so if I’m ever left waiting, well, my book is right there.

My Wife and I can share any book any time.

If you finish, and want to read more, just search and download it and you’re all set to go.

Much lighter for travel so you don’t need to take a few books with you. And much easier since an e-book takes up so little space but can have unlimited books on it.

The downside is illustrations. I recently bought a paper hard cover book because of this. But holy crap, the type font on this one is so small I need a real strong light to read it. I have very good eyesight but that’s annoying when trying to read in bed.

Another downside is that you need to keep it charged. But depending on the e-book, it doesn’t have to be done that often. Maybe once a week depending. But we all have chargers anyway.

I’ll read e- and audiobooks, but prefer paper. I try to buy a few books from independent sellers every month. I went on Amazon and Audible to download some books I’d already purchased, but Amazon is down. That’s worth paying attention to as well.


It doesn’t look that way to me.

Then you’re lucky. Amazon, AWS, Ring, Prime Video, etc. have all had glitches yesterday and widespread outages today.

I got rid of a huge number of books I had accumulated over a lifetime, before moving across country to go to grad school relatively late in life. I kept most of my favorites, and figured that any of the older books I could remember, if I wanted to read them again badly enough, I could just re-order them from the likes of Amazon.

Last week I reordered two. Yes, I prefer the solid, paper-smelling books over the electronic alternatives. Not that I have anything against screens: I love watching YouTube and surfing the web using my tablet.

Oh, maybe it’s important to note that the two books I ordered were both used books. Not current bestsellers. So I didn’t exactly do much to help the “book” industry except provide the sellers with a few net dollars of revenue.

I have a friend who is travelling and it is in remote location, but thankfully there is Internet access I thought it would be nice to send them a travel book I found about adventure travel. So I search and search and discover the title I am looking for is not available on an E-book. I guess there will inevitably be a large number of books that will not be available in e-book form unless the publisher thinks there is a big enough market or the legal copyright protection runs out. How many decades is that?

Only a few E-readers support all the various e-book formats out there. Many are restricted to certain formats unless you have the knowledge to jailbreak them and change the software. Some seem to have a business model that prefers to keep the users of a reader in a walled garden. Their reader, their format. Converting between formats does not always work well.

Print books much less expensive than an E-reader and have no batteries to run down or fail. How many people have an old tablet that is next to useless hidden in a cupboard?

E-readers are not very good at displaying images or diagrams. Many are monochrome to save power.

Books have a resale value.

Really, there are a lot of short comings with the technology in its current form. Maybe it will be get better in a decade or so. I am sure it is good for carrying collections of weighty novels if that is the kind of reading you do.

I think this is somewhat misleading, and that the demographic trends are not necessarily rosy for print books. More people in the younger demographic read print books, but only because more people in the younger demographic read books in general. If you look at the percentage of people in each demographic that read paper vs e-books, the paper book percentage is basically flat, while the ebook percentage grows a lot as you get younger.

Richer and more educated people also read a higher percentage of ebooks, and it’s going up. Rich educated people are by far the biggest market for books in general, so watch that trend to see where the market is going.

And the ebook experience is going to keep getting better. Faster refresh, better design, cheaper devices, etc. Paper books can’t really improve much. A lot of people have mentioned illustrations being the weak point of ebooks. But just wait! There will be full color ereaders. It’s only a matter of time.

If you looked at digital vs film camera sales in the early 2000s, you’d get data that looked a lot like this, too. But the tech just keeps getting better.

So, are print books going to disappear in the next 20 years? No, of course not. Are they going to continue to be a smaller and smaller part of the market? Yes.

Quoted for truth. I’m a history pro, but when I’m doing research just for my hobbies, I’ll have to hit dead-tree books to get much anywhere. Millions of pages of useful printed information has not been digitized and never will be.

A major difference is that digital photos were eventually recognized as consistently higher quality than photos from film, as well as more reliable, easier to share and cheaper.

It’s difficult to imagine e-books surpassing print editions in quality or being more enjoyable to read (sharing I have no idea about). Convenience and cost savings, OK.

I can’t imagine paper books going away in the foreseeable future, but they may come to occupy a position in the book market similar to that of vinyl in today’s music market (although probably less niche, since no special equipment is required to enjoy them).

I doubt physical books will vanish any time soon.

I have an e-reader and I love it. I would rather read an e-book than a physical book, and not just because of price issues. However there’s a few situations where a physical book is still better:

  1. If I’m learning or writing. I like to write notes on textbooks. Advanced e-readers let you write on the textbook but that technology is still not reliable. People complain about pens a lot. (The pens are electronic devices and the tips are too “fat” to write properly. The screen isn’t detecting the physical contact but something electrical.) Even S-Note (a pretty good Samsung writing app that can convert handwriting into text) often gets things wrong, like when a friend sent me his phone number and I had to email him to ask for it again.
  2. Many scanned PDFs make bad ebooks for e-readers. If the PDF has lots of charts, graphics, or just color, you will be missing out on those features (although a Kepub can zoom into images… if you have a Kobo e-reader only). These PDFs can be easily read on a computer, however, just not an e-reader. In addition, many “text” PDFs are poorly formatted. They have multiple layers, one of which (a graphic layer) is what you see, and one of which (a text layer) is filled with typos, split words, etc. You’ll know when you covert that into a proper ebook (such as an EPUB) because it will get worse. Making matters worse, most e-readers aren’t good at displaying even good text PDFs (the zoom is horrible and it’s not reflowable). Generally this is not a problem with recent PDFs, but a scan of a document from the 1700s isn’t going to make a good ebook.
  3. Some black and white comic books and manga. Even on my large e-reader, which has a screen the same size as an average trade paperback (so the size of a manga volume) the comics are often harder to read, typically due to poorer contrast compared to … a page.
  4. “Everyone” has a smartphone (will be closer to literal in the future), but a smartphone is an energy hog, unlike a dedicated e-reader. My smartphone can go two or three days between charges. My e-reader can go over two weeks without charges, since it only uses energy when I change a page (assuming I turn off the light, wi-fi and sync, the latter two completely unnecessary for everyday usage).

I think in the future, people will write fewer and fewer books that are inappropriate for e-readers. Now most fiction books I see on Amazon or Kobo (not a valid sample!) are available as ebooks. I’ve never bought a textbook as an ebook but those are frequently sold now, so I assume they are designed to be e-reader friendly.

There is already a large library of non-fiction publications available as PDFs. These don’t make good e-reader ebooks but are still easily read on a computer screen. New books that will become historical sources in the future will be text-friendly and e-reader friendly, so there will be little need to print these books physically.

Print books are pretty much out for me. . . yes, I do think they are on the way down, but they’ll never be out, just more and more quaint. I hardly read anything that’s printed on paper. And I have no paper files in my office.

The above text could have been lifted from the year 2009, when I bought my first e-reader (Kindle). The experience got only marginally better (if at all) in the past 11 years since then.

Ebooks have their place. Good for travel when you can’t get to the library, good for impulse purchases, good for people who have a high book metabolism. But I tired of mine long ago.

It seems to me people here do not much like illustrations as shown on e-readers. Illustrations are not very important for most of what I read, but they are often important for math or engineering works, children’s stories, things using maps and specific other books with skilled illustrators.

It seems to me most digital books are a basic copy of the text of the printed book with a scans of varying quality for the pictures. But in theory digital illustrations could be a lot better - animated sequences, movie quality graphics… but aren’t. This may be due to technical limits, most illustrators didn’t work in electronic formats, no one has thought about it or wants to bother.

Are they any digital books known for extravagant digital graphics where the same conventional book has simpler illustrations? Does it work?

Amazon has a few “Kindle In Motion” e-books with moving illustrations (Here’s one example). It’s a neat idea, but so far it doesn’t seem to have caught on in a big way.