Are Print Books Really Doomed?

This is the second post in a series.
Part 1: Are Print Publishers Really Doomed?
Part 2: Are Print Books Really Doomed?
Part 3: Do I HAVE To Read E-Books?
Part 4: Do I Have to Buy Indie Books?

Are physical books really going to disappear forever, amen?

Not altogether, like dinosaurs.

But their existences as the primary form of reading novels is definitely on the wane, and in a few years time, reading novels on paper will be considered “cute.”

A few years after that, it will be considered downright old-fashioned and slightly anti-social because of the environmental and social aspects (paper, ink toxins, not sharing your files).

Reading print books will become inconvenient, expensive and awkward:

1.  The cost of print books will climb in comparison to ebooks.

At the moment they’re almost on a par because the publishing industry is still trying on different pricing models for ebooks.  But there is a huge pressure on publishing to lower the price of ebooks.

There is also a huge pressure on them to hoist the price of print books.

Every time they cut down the size of their print run, the individual price of each book goes up, because of economies of scale.  Print runs have been diminishing for years, and now ebooks are skyrocketing in sales, those print runs are going to sharply drop.

Every year, too, the price of paper goes up.  Of course, publishers hand those costs on to the reader.

2.  It’s going to be harder to simply buy print books.

Bookstores are closing their doors all over the world, so if you’re used to heading to your favourite mall for your books, pretty soon, you won’t be able to.  Little independents will drop off quickly, too.

Amazon and on-line retailers of print books will be a last resort for buying books, but you still have to wait two, five or ten days (depending on where you are, and where you’re buying from) for your books to arrive.

It’s hardly the same as instant downloading, like you get with ebooks:  I had a sleepless night the other night, and was listening to an audio book in bed, but had to keep pausing it to go back and re-listen.  It occurred to me that I wouldn’t mind having the actual book instead of the audio version.  So I flipped over to my Kindle software, surfed through Amazon on-line, found the book, bought it, opened to the page I was at, and started reading text instead of listening, all at 3:00 a.m. in the morning.  And I never lifted my head from my pillow the entire time, or moved my cellphone more than an inch sideways.  Mark slept the night through, undisturbed.  That sort of convenience is impossible with print books, and print books are going to become even more inconvenient in the future.

The other purchasing factor that will come into play soon is that some publishers will simply choose not to release a title in print at all.

Printing a book is expensive, cumbersome, and will soon become a waste of time and money as more readers move over to e-book reading.  On some titles, publishers will experiment, and not print the title at all (some publishers already release only in e-book format, and they’re doing quite nicely, thank you).   The list of titles not available in print will increase as time goes on.

3.  Reading in print will become socially unusual

I’m tempted to say “socially unacceptable” except that I think it will be looked at more as an eccentricity than bad manners — like someone who insists on using candles instead of light globes — it’s kind of quaint.

There’s also the environmental impact side of insisting on paper that will become more and more of an issue as more people convert — something to be aware of if you’re determined, by gumb, to have your books and read ’em, too.

4.  Print Books will become cheap and shoddy, or horribly luxurious and expensive

Bet you hadn’t thought of this one.

I’ve already spoken about the price of print books going up because of economies of scale.  But this is a different matter.  There will be publishers who continue to cater to readers who insist, damn it!, on having print copies.  After all, there’s still candles and candle-makers in the world, too.  But print books will split into two different types of books.

You will no longer have the trade paperbacks and reasonably priced, well-produced books with gold-leaf stamped covers, etc.  You’ll get the cheap, cheap paperback versions, and luxury top-of-the-line print volumes for the collectors.

The cheap print editions will be for the eccentrics who won’t read ebooks.  These will be on crappy, flimsy paper, printed in the most economical way possible, and they won’t last.  The covers won’t have anything fancy — no die-stamping, gold leaf, nothing.  Print readers will no longer be the primary market, so the print edition will barely get any attention at all.

But it won’t be cheap.  Oh no.  It will be more expensive that the e-book (paper is still expensive, and print runs are never cheap).  Look to see prices in the range of two to three or even four times the price of the e-book.  Ten years from now, expect to pay nearly five times the price of the e-book for your print edition.  And that’s just for the cheap print edition.

The luxury edition, on the other hand, will be for millionaires and the true eccentric collectors who want books bound in real leather (none of this faux crud, thank you), with gold leaf stamping, brass finishing, the works.  I don’t even want to guess what the price of these sorts of editions are going to run to.

But there will be publishers and subsidiary presses who will make a nice little market for themselves turning out luxury print editions of books like this.   But they’re not really books in the end.  They’re decorator items.  Because you don’t ever really read them.

And alas…I don’t think anyone will want to print romances this way.


So, are print books really doomed?

They’re not about to die out this century, but I think the writing is on the wall.  Companies and groups like Google and Project Gutenberg are already making efforts to bring all text over to electronic because they already foresee the day when that’s the only version we use.

That day is coming.  I just think it’s going to get here a lot faster than many of us believe…or want to believe.

Next:  Do I HAVE To Read eBooks?

2 thoughts on “Are Print Books Really Doomed?”

  1. This article is spot on. Many of those who say ‘I will never use an ebook reader, I will always read paper books’ don’t realise that they simply won’t have a choice, and that it will become uneconomic for publishers to do print runs of trade paperbacks.

    I think you have one thing wrong though. In 10 – 20 years, the only type of books produced will be high quality hardbacks, and luxury editions. I think paperbacks of any type (even REALLY cheap ones) are doomed; within a few years, we will have ultra-cheap ($20 or less, perhaps $5) flexible ereaders that can be rolled up or folded. This will utterly destroy paperbacks.

    Hardbacks will stick around because they’re already low-volume print-runs; they’ll probably improve in quality though, and be for people who want to ‘keep’ a particular book.

    1. Hi Kim:

      I think I did mention that I thought luxury edition hardbacks would keep on keeping on — at a price that will shock the hell out of people. But they’ll stay around.

      The really, really cheap paperbacks…perhaps I’m hedging my bets. Even after having said that society tends to adopt technology at greater and greater rates, I’m still holder out for a longer period of adaptation than I *really* think it will take.

      Ultimately, no one really knows, but I’m damned curious to find out.

      The one thing that pundits DO agree on is that paper books are going to disappear. You and I, Kim, agree there, too.


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