Thursday, August 19, 2010

the DEATH of books as we know them

There has been a lot of hype out there about the new digital age and all the technology surrounding ebooks and the future of books and the imminent death of the printed book.

click here for photo domain

Yes, it's so full of drama, drama, drama.

One of our great readers, Mizmak, left a question in our Just Ask section awhile ago, and I'd like to address the question today. Mizmak left a link for us to to peruse, titled Technological Advances Usher in the Future of Reading.

You should at least go scan this article. It's very interesting, stating such things as:
The newest generation of readers — the texting, chatting, YouTubing kids for whom the term "offline" sounds quaint — has run circles around the fusty publishing process, keeping its favorite stories alive online long after they're done reading the books.

Some scholars fear that this is breeding a generation of readers who won't have the attention span to get through "The Catcher in the Rye," let alone "Moby-Dick."
Some argue that reading is quickly becoming a lost art, that our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter with each generation. This could possibly explain the new adult love of middle grade and young adult fiction - it's shorter and usually more simple in nature - fun reading!

Let me share a few things here. I recently self-published my novella, Cinders. I had the choice to offer this novella as just an ebook or as a printed book in addition to an ebook. To me, there was no question. At all. I wanted to be able to hold my book in my hands, flip through the pages, see it on my shelf. Now that the book is out and selling, it's interesting to watch the sales numbers on both printed and ebook versions. Ebook sales are more, yes, but printed sales are significant, as well. I also get responses like this about the printed version when people receive it in the mail:
It. Is. GORGEOUS! This is like a one book argument for never, ever letting the world go entirely to e-reader.The artwork is so stunning. It feels so wonderful to hold it in your hands and turn the pages. It would have been pretty hard, too for you to sign my e-copy and I do love a signed book (I will treasure this one! You're the best. ~February Grace

FYI, before I even crack open the book, it's absolutely beautiful. The cover and print and everything. It looks so professional and gorgeous, and I'm happy to have it on my shelf. You did a really awesome job. ~XiXi from Icy Roses
Just got my package from you in the mail!!! It looks even better than I expected!!! ~Olivia Lowry Cook
I haven't received any responses like that about ebooks arriving on people's Kindles or in their inboxes. Hmmm, there's something special about holding a printed book. It's like a piece of art, and as far as I know, people haven't stopped painting with oils and watercolors or using chalks and pastels just because Photoshop exists.

My Opinions.

(1) I do think that the newer generations are getting shorter attention spans - and yes, that might mean YOU have a short attention span. Do you think you could get through Anna Karenina on your Kindle in less than two weeks? Would you want to? Honestly ask yourself why or why not.

(2) I do think that reading longer, more literary and complex works is a dying art form.

(3) I don't think the printed book will EVER die. Film hasn't died. Paintings haven't died.

(4) I do think we're already in a digital age and it will only get more and more advanced and prominent, but publishing (self and traditional) will grow and change with it even if some of it dwindles first.

(5) I do wish people would stop freaking out about the printed book dying. If you're frightened for the printed book, go to your bookstore and buy some books, and get your friends to buy some, too. And I honestly must admit, there's something much more tangible and rewarding and lasting about holding a printed book in my hands. I'm much more likely to remember it when I see it on my bookshelf and read it again.

Let me ask you this:

Did you skim any of this post?


  1. LOL, Michelle. No, I didn't skim.

    Great perspective. (And one reason I will never root for the demise of print publishing, even if publishers turn to product placement to pay for the printing.)

  2. Interesting post. Im agree with you and am sick of hearing the doom and gloom about the death of the printed book. I know ebooks are gaining and I think it will continue so. But I do think there will always be readers who want paper books. And not just in our generation either. I know plenty of kids and mg-age readers who devour books the same way I did as a kid. I do think attention spans are shrinking in this society of instant gratification, but I don't think they are dissapearing completely.:)

  3. I opened the link to the blog from Facebook, skimmed the article, decided to ask a question about the art on Facebook rather than here, so clicked my tab back to do that, then returned here and read the whole post.

    In a way, this proves the new way of reading.

    But in a way, not.

    I actually prefer all my academic books to be in print because it makes them easier to skim than digital. Have you tried to skim through a book on the Kindle? Especially nonfiction? Ugh. It's a nightmare. And don't get me started on trying to find quotes for research papers. NIGHTMARE.

  4. You make a great point bringing up painting. Did the camera bring about the death of the visual arts? I'm sure people predicted it would. But on the contrary, it brought forth the Impressionists: when painting was no longer the only visual recorder of events. artists were free to play with image. Books may change in wonderfully creative ways we haven't thought of yet.

    And yes, I know that sensual thrill of holding your first book in your hands. Not a whole lot of experiences can ever give you that high!

    And yesterday I heard Chris Andersen say the Internet is dead, because iPhones/Pads/Apps have supplanted the Web browser. Oh please. More techno-nerd-than-thou people make me tired.

    I think new technology will exist along with the old and make our experience of both richer.

  5. Okay, think about this. You're reading a book (printed rather than eBook) and you want to refer to something that occurred earlier in the story, so right away you know about where that part occurred and you can find and turn to it almost instantly. Try doing that with an ebook. That's my biggest complaint with my Nook from B&N. But as Michelle and everyone else has pointed out, this is never going to take the place of the printed book. The printed book is an artform involving many forms of media that come together to make a masterwork. And there will always be people like us who appreciate the print form and will always have a special place in our hearts for them.

  6. QueensGuard, that's my complaint too. But as the tech improves, this may be overcome.

  7. This was the subject of one of the workshops I attended recently. The e-book is definitely catching up to print books in popularity, and as they get cheaper and better, that will probably continue.

    And yes, I skimmed. But I'm much more likely to do that with blogs than with books. It's the only way to keep up with them all!

  8. Nope. Didn't skim. It's a post about death by kindling or something, right?

  9. I decided a long time ago that I was going to keep collecting print books. I don't have a ton, but when I love a book and know that I'll reread it, I want to have my own copy. Even if the print book gets less popular, I think it will stay alive. And, think of how precious those print books will be if there aren't that many of them? They'll be like typewriters or record players or abaci. I remember how cool I thought it was when I found my grandfather's abacus!

  10. The article mentions an e-reader that added graphics, links, audio/visual clips to a chemistry text, and I thought, "That sounds okay, I always prefer my nonfiction to have lots of illustrations." Then came the part that I didn't like -- when they applied the same stuff to a novel (by Anne Rice). So you could contantly interrupt the flow of the text by photos or songs or articles about New Orleans...gah!

    Which got me worried that future readers won't be interested in plain text, either in books or on ereaders -- that they'll need the promise of extra flashy bells and whistles before they'll even look at a novel.

    But then again, I'm a middle-aged, cranky curmudgeon who still has dial-up at home.

    So far, my upcoming book will NOT be available on Kindle et al and I'm happy about that -- as others have mentioned, you can't sign an ereader.

    Painting/Photography is not that analogous -- art galleries were not patronized, by and large, by the masses. Bookstores are, and while books may survive, it is the bookstores that I think are in danger. And while I admit to buying books via the Evil!amazon, I don't want that to be my sole choice.

    I have to run off to a meeting, so this is written in haste and probably will be repented at leisure....

  11. On the other hand, consider this. In the past, parents had to nag their kids, "Stop playing outside! Come inside and read something."

    Now parents have to nag their kids, "Stop reading and writing and go outside and play."

    In what way is this bad for books?

    The main danger to writers is that these days, though there are more readers than ever, there are also more writers than ever. In the old days, only the nerds would write something every day. Now all the popular kids blog, facebook or tweet. And they are still popular. The only advantage the nerds still have is, "Yeah, but my tweets can be read consecutively for sixty thousand words, whereas yours have no plot and cliched characters."

  12. Stephanie: I hadn't ever thought of product placement. That might not go over well with me, but I can see it happening. I hope it doesn't come down to that, though.

    Jennifer: I sure hope they don't disappear completely! I see a bright future for reading despite the doom and gloom.

    Tara: Haha, you're all over the place with reading! Yeah, I agree with you about the skimming thing. I can't find things as easily on the Kindle. I've used my mom's and got frustrated trying to find something for her that I couldn't find using the search feature.

    Anne: I love how you put that - that books may change in wonderfully creative ways we haven't thought of yet. I think that's very true. Your views on this seem accurate - or at least how I like to see it!

    QueensGuard: Yes, it's hard to "flip" in an e-reader. Maybe one day technology will get to the point where you can do that - like an e-reader with actual pages or something. That would be cool... :)

    Michelle: Haha, I knew someone would admit to skimming! It's just how we are, I think. I read so many blogs, and it's usually only the posts that deeply interest me that I don't skim.

    Chuck: Nice. :)

    Davin: You're right! I prize my print collection. I look at it all the time and think how wonderful it is to have the books I have.

    Mizmak: I agree with your GAH! I love your comment, thank you, and I agree with you on those points about the bookstores. I do think they are in danger - kind of like how there aren't many video stores around lately.

    I thought about not releasing my novel as an e-book and just selling print copies through my author site - so I'd just send out copies to people myself, but then I got sad at how many people probably wouldn't read the book because of that. I caved, but it's okay, I think. I'm happy with how things are going. There's nothing like sending out a signed copy, though! It feels so personal.

    Tara: I've thought of that before - the amount of writing that's going on with kids. It does seem illiteracy percentages should go WAY down because how sucky would that be if you're 14 and can't text your friends because you can't read and write? There are good and bad things about both sides of the coin, as always. :)

  13. I'm glad you put your book out as both ebook and print. I bought both. I wanted the signed copy, but I couldn't wait to read it.

  14. Yes, there were parts I skimmed.

    In fact, I skimmed the part about having a short attention span and focused on the meat of your own post.


    Personally, there are a lot of things I like about books, and only one or two I like about eReading. I've purchased one eBook and I could never finish it.

    That said, as a writer, I've made myself not transfer my own reading preferences into a rant about the industry. If people want eBooks, so be it. If people stop wanting books, so be it. If neither happens, so be it.

  15. Also sick of the doom and gloom. Apparently the publishing industry in general has a tendency to be dramatic (if not overly dramatic). Some of the voices on the bandwagon for killing the printed book are rather scary. It seems like a witch hunt at times.

  16. Yes, I confess, I'm a skimmer whenever I have to read very much on a screen. I have a pretty short tolerance level while reading things in electronic formats. HOWEVER, I am not a skimmer when I'm holding reading material in my hands. I read fairly slowly -way slower than online -and try to visualize every word. What makes the difference? Honestly, I think it's my position in the chair.

  17. By the way, I just took my young computer-head kids to an art museum and introdued them to Van Gogh, Picasso, Warhol, Monet... They walked slowly and studied each piece on its individual merit, and never once mentioned leaving before we were done. I don't believe the youths' desire for detail is any less than ours ever was.

  18. Most of the books I read are either from the library or used bookstores. I may one day read from an e-reader but indent to hold out a little longer.

    I love finding old reciepts and sticky notes or even coffee stains in books. It reminds me of the stories of the other people who have read them and makes me feel more connected to people than links would. More personal. You can't wrap an e-book or scrible an inscription on the front page before you give it someone. You can't hit people on the head with them or press flowers with them or smell their pages or leave tear stains on them or . . .
    I'm not against e-books exsisting but the electronic version drains some of the magic out. Like the difference between going to a theatre to see The Tempest and watching Lost.

  19. We teachers often talk about students' attention spans getting shorter. When kids are used to shifts as fast and furious as the images in Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" video, they do have to LEARN to concentrate on a whole book. However, whether that book be on a screen or on a page might not matter.
    I will tell you, though, that all my students prefer reading printed books, even when they can get the same thing for free on their computers and/or phones (public domain books are generally free in e-form, while they must be paid for in print). I've even had several kids print off e-books so they can read them on paper. And these are the same kids that put plastic baggies over their phones so they can text their friends while they take a shower. (No, I'm not joking.)

  20. OMG I was quoted by Michelle Davidson Argyle! Squeeeeee!

    I'm sorry, did you say something after that? I wasn't listening...

    I was seriously worried though the other day when I saw that apparently there is something called a 'Twitter novel'. That was when, at first I wondered if our attention spans are really that short...but afterward I thought, hey, it might be fun to write one of do you do it? Talk about flash fiction.

    I also have to say something else here (and it's not just the pain meds talking) and that's that Cinders should be heralded as the absolute pinnacle of what self-publishing can be. So many people are always claiming that authors who choose this route produce inferior stories and inferior books.

    You are the counter-argument, Michelle. You really are. We need not say any more, just point to Cinders and maybe nod.

    It's the ultimate 'so there'. It's been days now I've had my copy and every time I look at it, I still think it's gorgeous.


  21. Tara: I'm glad I did both, as well. It makes it much more accessible.

    Nevets: I actually like audio books a lot - more than ebooks at this moment in time. That may change, though. I like your so be it attitude. :)

    Crimey: A witch hunter! That IS scary...!

    Lynette: Haha about your position in the chair. That can make all the difference! Thank you for sharing that about your class. See, that fascinates me that they were so interested and and people keep talking about the problems with their generation. Maybe it is mostly drama.

    Taryn: Oh, I love how you describe what you like about books, thank you. I'm with you on all that tangible stuff. I certainly couldn't have much of a release party and book signing for my book without printed copies!

    Paperback: !!!!!!!!! Wow about the plastic bags...I've never heard that before. Your comment just made my day, I think, to see how much kids are more like us than we think.

    Bru: You're too great! *blushes and scampers off*

  22. Audiobooks? Now there's a real love for me. As a 100% non-visual learner, I feel so connected to the story in audiobook format.

    Plus, the anthropologist in me loves the connection to storytelling traditions.

    I've thought before about writing a book whose intended first publication would be audiobook format.

  23. Nevets: YES. That would be really awesome! I just did an audioclip of an excerpt of Cinders on my author site. It was a lot of fun to do, and I keep wondering if I just do the entire book...

  24. No. Very funny though.

    I don't think the book will die, but it will evolve. How exactly are Barnes and Noble and Borders, paying their rent? I can't see them holding onto such huge real estate for very much longer. Thank God for Amazon.

  25. A book is not just a container for words. Yes, of course, some are but I still think of a book as a quality gift. Because of limited funds I often buy books however just to read and by that I mean I’d happily pass them onto someone else once I’m done with them but those aside most of my books I hang onto. I have bookcases full of books although nowhere nearly as many as some readers – I’ve never been the voracious kind of reader. I also have shelves full of tapes and CDs. When you walk into my office and see all of these you’re looking at a sizeable chunk of my life’s experiences, things that matter to me.

    Now I have a few eBooks and some digital music and they sit in a black box about 8" x 4" x 1" and I find I don’t care about them in the same way that I care about my books, CDs and tapes. I read a lot online everyday – I think the Internet is a wonderful thing – but I think of it as a tool. My tools sit in a tub in the towel cupboard. That’s what I think about my tools. I’ve never even bothered to buy a decent toolbox to keep them in.

    I think that the generation that’s coming will develop less of a bond with literature and music. Just as they throw away their clothes they’ll let fashion dictate what they read and listen to. So I don’t see reading dying but I suspect that rereading will big time.

    For the record I read all you article bar the three quotes which I scanned.

  26. T. Anne: It's interesting because every time I go into Barnes & Noble, it's super busy and there's always lines. That says that at least in my county it's doing well. I hope it keeps up!

    Jim: That's such a good point about bonding to paper books differently than ebooks. I buy ebooks, and read them, but if I love the story I go out and buy the hard copy every time.

  27. I didn't skim.
    And I really don't like the new digital age.

  28. I read most of it ( I just came back from somewhere). I'm digging the Grim Reaper pic also. Great symbolism. I still read some books, old or new.

    I hate that people text when walking or driving, though. Like the Grim Reaper, IT WILL KILL YOU. Speaking of, there was this one shirt of the Grim Reaper saying "Not now, I'm texting."

    He's probably texting some fool texting while driving, right?

    But again, who knows?

  29. Glad to have made you smile, Michelle. :)

  30. The number of times I have read articles along the lines of 'The book is dead'. To all those people remember these:

    - Hardbacks were predicted to die with the introduction of paperbacks. They didn't.

    - Home taping would kill music. It didn't.

    - The internet would kill off the postal service. It didn't

    A lot of these articles are space fillers in newspapers and can be treated with disdain. Some are from people with a vested interest in keeping print and worry people into buying more books.

    There will be a need for print alongside ebooks, for what happens when the format is no longer supported?

    Just because we all have cars, doesn't mean we no longer walk anywhere.

  31. Aimee: Glad you didn't skim!

    Shigune: Hah! That shirt definitely could go for the subject of this post, too. Interesting!

    Paperback: Very much appreciated. :)

    Martin: I absolutely love your take on this, thank you. Those are great examples of the same type of thing. Every time I hear about the paper book dying I just laugh. It seems ridiculous. :)


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