Chain Mail is a telephone tag by email round-robin interview session with authors from the Book View Cafe writers collective. Images are links, connecting to biographical information about an author or more information on their current work. Additional information can be found on the contributors page.
Amazing Stories: Will we still have printed books in the future, or…?
The most likely scenario I see is that they will become art objects, collectible and expensive. There will still be coffee table books, signed limited editions, and I hope there will always be a gigantic unwieldy and indispensible physical edition of the OED.
The majority of casual reading and probably research will move into electronic form. I think this is a good thing, not a bad thing. The current system of publishing paper books (especially mass market paperbacks) is incredibly expensive and wasteful. The ebook is destined to replace the mmpb entirely, I think within the next five or at most ten years. (There! A prediction! Check back in five years and see if I was right!)
I think it likely that reading for recreation or entertainment will move into electronic form faster than reading for information or enrichment.
In a way, ebooks represent a return to an earlier form of the printed word, the scroll, and as such (so far), are not as easy to use as a book for recalling information, and do not encourage the kind of deep reading that changes one’s life. There are simply more sensory clues in print than in an ebook: the location on the page, the look of the text, the thickness and weight of the book before and after the page on which the information was encountered—the sheer tactility of a bound book is of inestimable use in organizing the information it conveys: with it, reading is a whole-body experience, just as is memory itself. One doesn’t care so much about such things in recreational reading, but in the kind of deep reading I’m speaking of, I doubt the ebook will replace print any time soon.
To put it another way, while I expect that within my lifetime the latest romance, mystery, or space opera will most likely exist only as bit patterns, there will always be bound copies of Austen or Aristotle. And it may be that print-on-demand will evolve to the point that one can have the pleasure of a “real” copy of virtually any work, so that the shelves of one’s “real” library would end up being even more of a social signal than they are now!
Books will become a status symbol. Only teenagers will read them because only teenagers are interested in status. I’m sure the old timers will have a library full of books they never read for their status, but teens will carry around copies of The Happy Hooker and Catcher in the Rye forever.
Genre literature, considered disposable, will never see the printed page. The thing that will be most missed is the bin of old books with tacky cover art at tag sales. There you can find the tastes of former generations in the artwork of 99cent paperbacks. I hope someone is collecting up that artwork for online display. It won’t be the same as stumbling across one of yesterday’s lurid covers, though. You do well to snap anything you thusly find today for it will be worth a fortune in another twenty years. That’s my prediction.
Survivalist manuals. Those will always be in print.
Personally, I lost my love affair with printed books when I opened my copy of The Silmarillion and had to toss it because it reeked of mildew.
That said, many people are collectors and book collectors are much kinder to their books than I am. So yes, I suspect print versions of “significant” books will continue to be available for a long time to come.
Given the amount of waste paper and recycled paper we’re still dumping into the landfills, and given that bookstores and publishers are being forced to rethink the way they’ve done business for the past seventy-odd years, I expect that when the dust settles we’ll have cheap paper books again–cheaply-made books, anyway–for the paper-only reading market.
I also bet they won’t be returnable to the publisher for a full refund.
: I think the demise of the printed book is a long way off. In Britain recently there was a move to get rid of cheques – they’re outdated, expensive to operate, and everyone should move to electronic payment. Then came the backlash. People liked cheques. Not everyone had a mobile phone or a computer. And the authorities backed down and reversed the decision.
The same applies to books. Not everyone will want to buy an eReader. The question is: will there be enough of them to make publishing paper books viable? Niche publishers of printed books will say yes. But the big boys? At the moment they seem to be fighting a desperate rearguard action to protect the hardback – where, apparently, they make the most money. I really have no idea how this will play out. Ten years ago, I’d have thought the hardback would disappear long before the mass market paperback. I never bought hardbacks, I always waited for the paperback. But now? It really is anybody’s guess. And the decision doesn’t lie so much with the publishers, but with the companies that own the publishers.
My vision is for books to shift to the true print-on-demand, with all the customization and flexibility that e-formatting will allow. They’re already doing this here and there, but the business has nowhere near matured. It should be like this:
I decide to buy a copy of, oh, Neil Gaiman’s latest. Off to the bookstore I go, where there is only one examination-and-display copy of the work on the shelf.
To buy it I place my order at the counter, selecting from the menu display, which looks just like the one at Burger King and is manned by an identical minimum-wage clerk. Yes, hardbound. My living room is done in hues of blue, so I want the blue cover option – there are a dozen to choose from. I am old-fashioned enough to enjoy it in dust-cover format, too, rather than in a library binding. I want the R-rated text, and display my ID to prove I am old enough to buy it. And while I’m at it, I might as well spring for those racy illustrations by a noted graphic artist – Gaiman’s comic-book roots always make his fiction very visual, so this is a worthwhile investment. Since I am in the US, the default is American English, but I can toggle it over to British spellings if I like, and I would do it for a more deeply Brit writer.
Paper stock? I am rather picky about tactile input, so I upgrade from the cheap light paper to a slightly more heavy bond. Extra-black ink please, to accommodate my visual handicaps, and yes, let’s have it at 14 point in Garamond, my preferred font. All my books are in Garamond! Deckle edge? Fancy colored first letters to start off each chapter? Only a small upcharge, miss! Oh please: talk about overkill. What is this, the Book of Kells? They’ll never quit coming up with new little features to try and lure the dollar out of my pocket! Forget that, and the matching slipcase too.
When I am finished ordering, I go and have a cup of coffee and browse the other books. In fifteen minutes my Gaiman novel is printed, bound and ready, exactly as I ordered it. The clerk slips my purchase into a bag, and I clutch it to my chest as I head home. It is deliciously warm, like freshly-baked bread – hot off the press.
I’m a printer’s daughter, and I love the feel, weight, look, and smell of books. I would be sad to see printed books disappear, and I don’t think they will, if only because paper is so much more durable than electronic storage media. Acid-free paper, when kept clean and dry, can last for centuries.
It used to be that owning printed books divided those people who read from those who didn’t (with the exception of people who did all their reading in library books). Actually, once upon a time, only wealthy people could own books (or subscribe to paying circulating libraries, which were the only kind in existence.) Now we have 3 categories: people who read and own books; people who don’t read; and people who read and don’t own books. This is a very interesting development. Just as the introduction of the free public library and cheap paper-backed books changed the book-owning and reading habits of generations, I think epublishing will do the same.
Right now, there’s still an aspect of novelty about ebook readers, but eventually many people will become accustomed to doing most of their reading in that form. Then perhaps printed books will be the next hot thing – wow, you can lend it to your friends! Everyone can see what you’re reading! Whether that happens or not, I think we’ve passed the threshold of acceptance of ebooks as an enduring part of the menu of reading options.
That’s interesting that they tried to phase out checks in Britain, Maya – I missed that bit of business. Here in Texas, checks are making a comeback, because credit card fees are now crazed for businesses. I get $5-$10 discounts several places by writing a check instead of using credit.
Also, records, of all things, are making a status comeback. So why not books? I see a world with much of what has been suggested – art books, an OED for those who can afford it, and Brenda’s wonderful take on “Have it your way” books are just the beginning. I thought that trade paper would replace mass market paperbacks, but ebooks have pushed trade to one side and are charging ahead.
One thing I would like to see more study on, though. A recent lengthy article talked about whether we don’t remember an ebook as well as a printed book, if computers are better suited to certain types of reading. I actually think that may be true, for me – but is that because I started with bound books, and had all those physical, tactile clues to help me remember a book? Do younger readers have that same association with an ereader event as I have holding a real book?
What everyone else said. I’ve adopted an e-reader and love the experience, except for remembering to charge the battery. As I age and my vision changes and my fingers stiffen, I find the Nook—an old black and white version I bought 18 months ago—easier to handle and I can adjust the font. That being said, it is more difficult to read during a power outage even with a clip on light. We have some lengthy dark sessions up here in the mountains, about hour 5 I begin to long for a print book and candle.
Recently I was dealing with a fellow author in Croatia. His English is near perfect and idiomatic, as are most of his age group in Eastern Europe. They all have computers, but have to go to cyber cafes to access the internet. E-readers and e-books are very rare. They buy print books in English because they can’t get them in translation. Until the rest of the world catches up with US and western Europe, there will be a market for print books. How long? I don’t know.
Just last month my colleague was delighted to be able to download the Kindle app to his computer in a cyber café and install it on his own computer at home. Now he can read e-books, and proof read the electronic stories and books he sells to the US markets. He said he’s leading the pack of his friends in achieving the freedom of e-books.
For a time we will have both. I don’t think we’ll ever totally lose printed books, for many reasons.
I expect the printed book will become a specialty item: a way of preserving exceptionally beautiful or valuable or important material. The love of the physical book will go the way of the buggy whip—i.e., still thriving in its narrow niche of enthusiasts and hobbyists, but not an essential item in every household—and electronic will become the default form. Then lovers of the ebook will deplore its demise in favor of whatever format supersedes it (direct download into the reader’s brain?).
Unless of course the Pulse happens. Or the collapse of civilization. Or the Butlerian Jihad. Then we’ll all be back to copying precious texts by hand.
Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff and Vonda N. McIntyre chose to pass this question.
NEXT we ask: Are Author Co-Ops The answer?