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This article was published on April 22, 2011

Why Books Will Probably Never Die

Why Books Will Probably Never Die
Francis Tan
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Francis Tan

Francis Tan is the Asia editor of TNW, who is based in the Philippines. He is particularly interested in Asian Internet startups, social me Francis Tan is the Asia editor of TNW, who is based in the Philippines. He is particularly interested in Asian Internet startups, social media and e-commerce. Get in touch with him via Twitter @francistan or Email [email protected].

With all the talk about the Future of Media going on at TNW, I’ve decided to take a step back and look at the past of media — printed books. Articles claiming the “death of printed books” are everywhere and although there are valid points made, I’m not entirely sold on the whole idea.

While smartphones and tablets have quickly been chipping away the market share and overall significance of printed books, I don’t think it’s time to write an epitaph for it just yet. Yes, print publishing is continuing to shrink with all the new gadgets and apps that eternally make reading a whole lot easier but I have three good reasons why it will never be dead.

Reading a book is an experience.

Although there are different technologies that will make reading a whole lot easier and more convenient, books have never really lost their functional way of delivering content. It’s very simple — books don’t need anything apart from themselves to operate and they provide a unique multi-sensory experience that gadgets have yet to emulate.

It’s a very subjective argument but the fact is, there are people who still cherish this experience and as long as they exist, there will be a market for printed books. I will skip the cheesy part where you probably expect a discussion on a book’s captivating character, smell, touch, and whatnot. The mere fact that it is something tangible is something that avid, old-school readers value.

As long as there’s a demand, there will always be a supply.

There will always be a digital divide.

An argument based on nostalgia alone won’t make it. Surely, you didn’t expect that this entire article was just going to be about that, right? There are sensible, more concrete arguments as to why books will never die as well.

Which brings be me to my second point: That there will ALWAYS be a digital divide. It could be for different reasons — either lack of access to technology, financial setbacks, or just refusal to adapt — I don’t think the world will ever be completely digital. Not in the near future, at least. We are actually fortunate to have computers and mobile devices to read blogs but as hard as it is to grasp, there are still those with practically no option (or who prefer) reading printed books.

This divide does not only apply to readers but to authors as well. As long as technology is not 100% adopted by the entire population, books will remain alive.

Print Technology is evolving as well.

And perhaps the strongest argument that I have is that as much as digital distribution is evolving, printing technology is doing so as well. What needs to be understood is that the business model is changing, and traditional print needs to adjust to those changes and make new opportunities for itself.

The very nature of a book may be redefined when it ceases to be based around the traditional relationship between an author, a publisher, a distributor, and a retailer. As a matter of fact, self-publishing is quickly becoming a trend both online and offline.

Books nowadays can be printed on demand. There are sites like Amazon, BlurbLulu or Cafepress that let users do this with no minimum printing quantity required.

The future of media is content

As Jeff Jarvis argued for The Guardian, perhaps the biggest flaw that anyone could make is to define content by its medium. We are in an age where content and ideas are kings, and everything else is just secondary — whether it be consumed in print, or in digital — it’s all up to the reader because technology makes it possible. No matter how one purchases a book, the important part is that authors are getting paid, even by association, so that there will be more content for us to enjoy.

Of course, being a tech junkie, I could say that all these changes in digital media consumption are for the best. Not only would they save trees, but also they’re an overall improvement in the efficiency of publishing and distribution – not to mention the robust information digital content can provide.

I agree with Mark Barret when he said that maybe there will come a day when the mass-market print publishing we know becomes reduced a smaller niche aimed at collectibles or high-end artisanal products. However, at the end of the day, books themselves will still retain the utility they have always had.

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