The Imminent Murder of The Book

Books as we have known them since Gutenberg printed the first bible;  paper, glue, boards, cover artwork, all the physical attributes will soon disappear the way the dodo did.

The latest news of the Borders bookstore chain losing their fight to stay alive, hammers one more nail in the coffin filled to the brim with hardcovers, trade and mass paperbacks.

So who is responsible for putting the book on life support? Barnes and Nobles? They, more than any other chain went out of their way to polish off  independent competition, and dictated to publishers what they wanted to see published. And publishers obeyed. There by  lowering the quality and quantity published.

Amazon? By offering titles at such a significant discount they undercut both independent booksellers and B&N, Borders, etc. Plus, they offer on their site the option of buying from used sellers–some of whom purchase brand new books and sell them at even more ridiculously low prices, undercutting Amazon itself.

The publishers? Whose bottom line to pay out millions to a few authors thereby limiting new output and variety of titles produced. And perhaps by doing so, alienated a great deal of the reading public, who stopped buying.

The machines replacing the paper book? The kindles, etc, e-books that hold  more titles than an entire barn of stacked tomes? If they weren’t invented and available from the very people who are now selling *real* books, would people be clamoring for them?

Oprah? Just recently she questioned Barbara Walters on her choice to carry the large bio of  former Secretary of Defense  Rumsfeld on a plane trip.  Almost ridiculing Walters for not going electronic, Walters explained how she needed to research and write notes in the margins–an app yet to be developed for electronic devices, but no doubt on the horizon. More than any other powerful individual, Oprah has championed reading, but now she’s pushing the e-book as the only method one should use, at least that’s how it appears. Has anyone  asked her this question?

So, whodunit? All of the above? None of the above?

Time marches on, ‘progress’ is in lock step beside it.

Thinking about the demise of the book, I began to wonder about certain important issues not yet explored.  What happens to children’s books? Are 3 year olds expected to scroll down for Hey Diddle Diddle? How will illustrations fit into the mix? Will dust jacket and cover artists be out of work too? Or will the e-book keep the artistic expression of the story within by a ‘page’ with title and art?

And what will the people employed by paper works, printing companies, even loggers, do when their jobs are unnecessary? Already the 19,000 employed at Borders need to retrain for another profession, there aren’t enough jobs in the remaining bookstores to cover them, let alone the employees they now have, what with cuts to what’s being published in paper.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Many a huge industry has fallen throughout the centuries, morphed into more ‘sophisticated’ forms, but none as personal as the written word for the reader.

So picture the future with just e-books. What about those countries and areas too poor to pay the price required for a kindle? The devices aren’t cheap, not the cost of a hardcover or paperback, naturally. We keep being fed just *how many* books will fit upon/within, the electronic toy. Therefore the price needs to reflect this. OK. Will every school be provided with e-books for all students? Will poorer school districts be using obsolute history books because they  can’t afford the latest e-text book?

And how reliable are these contraptions? What’s the mileage, metaphorically speaking? Are we the public going to be hoodwinked into buying the newest, most tricked out e-book each year as the e-powered people produce a new model as often as a person sneezes, as they do with laptops?

Will the e-book be repairable? Or will this be another environmental disaster, heaps upon heaps of non biogradable  kindles? Acknowledged, trees will be used less for paper–yet, we’ve learned how to recycle paper finally, now that we won’t be using it.

The kindle, etc., are  aesthetically devoid, no matter how one tries to sugar coat it, e-books are small monitors. Period. Sure, the plastic could have color, an app may even change the color of the text. However, the sumptuous atmosphere a reader receives, for example, feeling the texture of brown paper, the eye candy of a succulent peach on the cover of A Debt  To Pleasure by John Lancaster will be absent. The bright lithos within a typical picture book will be muted and flattened under the screen. And the aroma of crisp new paper, or musky old pages will be a fleeting memory, for those who once held a book, a real book, in their hands.

So the murderer is?

The next and next and next generations who grow up staring at computer screens and think nothing of it–find it normal, usual, right. And why shouldn’t they, if given no choice, no alternative to lifeless bright glaring monitors?  Having never experienced the joy of: cracking open a newly minted story; endpapers of an intricate design; an artistic  title page; the back jacket flap proclaiming the talents and other works of the writer–with a posed picture; or the sense of the book as a great companion, friend—the thought of  lugging around 5 pounds of  paper, glue, boards, and cover art, wouldn’t be appealing in the least. Without the paper option, and maybe even with, most readers won’t miss the physical book.

Time, progress, and people who know nothing but what is given them, will kill the ‘real’ book.

This is how it looks from my point of view at this point in time. I’m hoping like hell I’m absolutely, unequivocally  wrong. Please tell me just how wrong I am. Tell me at the last moment a hero appears and saves the ‘book’ from a certain death! I’d appreciate it!

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  • I work at Barnes & Noble. Every day I say a little prayer, as I sell another Nook, that my job lasts another 7 years, until I am eligible for Medicare. I LOVE books, I breathe them, they ooze out of every pore. I never thought I’d work for a big box store, I worked for indies for years. Then a divorce forced me to look for a job with health insurance, leading me to a great job at B&N. I love my job. I feel for every Borders employee today, facing an uncertain future. I wish them all only the best.
    Are ebooks the future? I can’t see any other possiblity. When I read on my Nook, I read faster, and enjoy it more. REALLY. When I pick up a book to read it, I don’t like the weight and how it feels in my hand. Did I ever think I would feel like this? NO WAY!!!
    You ask if a three-year-old should be “expected to scroll down for Hey Diddle Diddle”. When I recently watched my 3 year old grandson, Carter, I was in awe of his ability with his dad’s IPod. He was way past scrolling, touching this and that, swiping his finger across the screen to get where he wanted, he was an expert!
    Do you think e-readers are going to be the norm? 30 years ago, I was amazed that my young children could play games on our t.v., using Atari and Colecovision. Now, who doesn’t have a game system? 20 years ago, I would have been shocked if you’d told me I’d be paying for television. Now, who doesn’t pay $50+ for cable? 15 years ago, I could not imagine carrying a phone around with me. A friend had a car phone that was as big as a lunch box, and I could never see everyone lugging one of those around. 10 years ago, I browsed through my local music store at all the lps and cassettes, never thinking those stores would soon be extinct. 5 years ago, I was amazed by something offered by my cable company (bringing my bill up to $100+) – a DVR. I threw out all my old VCR tapes and could tape anything on my t.v., anytime at the touch of a few buttons.
    A little over a year ago, I was the first one at my B&N to order a Nook. I loove it. I’ve loved it since the day I got it. Want a book? Click, there it is. Want more? Click, click. I couldn’t live without it. Am I putting myself out of a job? I hope not. But, no matter what, the future marches on, and we along with it; either kicking and screaming or enjoying the ride.

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    • Suzze, I’m shocked, shocked you feel this way, lol! I am interested to hear how you enjoy the kindle more than physical books. It’s fascinating to me–and I *know* how much you respect and love the written word, not doubt about that. I suppose I was painting a broad generalization about booklovers, in that we wouldn’t want anything to do with something we couldn’t touch, feel and turn real pages.

      And sadly, you are doing yourself out of a job–at least in the current form-but, it may morph into a job involved with e-books, selling them, or something related, we can’t know the future at this point.

      My point about a 3 year old was misstated-I was trying to evoke the image of a mother and child holding a picture book together, reading, turning pages, enjoying the illustrations. I’ve no doubt that a newly born could work a computer better than me, lol, that’s just the progression of learning–the young learn quicker, easier, than the old, which includes me. Ha. And yes, a mother and child can still read together, with a white screen instead of paper. My point is something intangible is lost. The spirit of reading. My opinion only.

      I’ve absolutely no doubt e-books are the inevitable future. I believe that was my point–the death of the physical book is time, progress, and generations who know nothing about the physical book.

      The only quibble I have with your analogy with tv, phones, tapes, VCRs etc, is they were always in some sort of mechanical/electronic etc, form. The form continued to change, but it stayed within that world.

      Books are not, or at least until now, considered a mechanism, something to turn on, off, powered. To many they have an individual presence, spirt, if I get all poetic about it, that machines can never possess.

      Do kindles and Nooks make life easier, or at lease less awkward, not needing to balance stack of titles while walking to class, or the library, or a picnic spot? Naturally. Do they afford an individual the ability to read a ton of different books at one time, skipping back and forth? Sure, if that’s the kind of reading one does. Clicking a book into being isn’t a horrible thing, and I don’t think those of us unhappy with the way electronics are taking over are going into the future kicking and screaming, I think what we are asking are valid questions, about the consequences involving the brand new world, and hoping that within this world we don’t dispose with the solid printed page altogether.
      I hear vinyl records are now making a huge comeback not just with collectors but the public in general. Wonder why that would be?

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      • Diane,
        Today at work I was reading a book (yes, a real one!), and I was trying to balance the hardcover in one hand while eating lunch with the other. As I told a coworker, I “resented” the book. It was hard to manuever with one hand, and heavy. If it had been on my Nook, I could have set it down, and swiped a finger to turn the page. I think I have went to the dark side. LOL

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        • Suzze, lol, no, not the dark side–a different side, and I think that a nook while eating is probably a better idea. My contention will always be, don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. That we can and should have the option of both. But in a world of new is always always better, I fear it won’t be so.
          I was reading before sleeping last night, thinking about what you wrote, and I tested the weight of my small hardcover, thought about whether it would be easier to have a nook at that moment, but I couldn’t picture it. In bed with a book will always mean print on page to me.

          When I go on road trips, I bring 4 or 5 books with me, even though I NEVER get to read them, lol. They are some kind of comfort, or reassurance that I’m never far from a mystery. I keep pondering if it would be the same if I had those 5 books on one little screen, thereby taking up no space, and no hefting of weight bringing them in and out of the motel.

          And I still can’t decide, lol. There is something about the dust jacket or paperback cover that says book to me. However, having never used a nook, I can’t be sure that wouldn’t change–at least for road trips.

          My dream world would be nooks full of *tons* of formerly out of print books, because it would be so easy to turn them into e-books, but newer titles offered both as an e-book and a physical one. I want the best of both worlds. Ha. Who doesn’t?

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  • “Books will soon be obsolete in the schools…Our school system will be completely changed in the next ten years”
    This was said 98 years ago, in 1913, when Thomas Edison talked about motion pictures. He was wrong — and I doubt books will vanish that fast, or even in our children’s lifetimes.

    http://www.reflectionswithcoffee.com/2011/02/books-obsolete.html

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    • I’m certainly hoping you are right. Of course, Edison was bragging about his invention and making outrageous claims as to its impact. He had a slight ego, lol.
      I’m of the thought that ‘books’ will probably end up in the short or long term future, as electronic ones, but still books. Edison must have believed his movie machine would be the new form of teaching and info. And yes he was certainly incorrect on that view!

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  • I too share a love of the boohatehat does it matter if folk are reading on hardbacks, paperbacks, kindles iphones or rolls of toilet paper? As long as they are reading.

    Did radio kill newspapers? TV kill radio? Internet kill TV? No, did radically them, but all those media are still with us. More or less.

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    • Unfortunately, TV did kill radio–as the entertainment art form-serials, plays, live variety shows–killed by TV. Yes, a different platform was born, music and talk radio. Still, the radio as the family gathering spot, died.

      The internet is killing news in print, has been for several years. Newspaper after newspaper are folding, due not to TV, but to the instant news found on the internet.
      And the internet is slowing eating away at TV–if you can stream a show online, why bother with the actual TV.

      True, all medias are with us in some form, so far. Not as strong, not as vibrant, but there.

      What form writing is in matters only if there ends up being just one–electronic. I understand the lure of e-books, I’m simply stating that with this form comes many repercussions, one most likely being the end of physical books, which for many is a great tragedy.

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  • Apologies for the sloppy writing, on a mobile phone. So much less reliable than the typewriter.

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  • Good article — but you forgot to mention the decline of reading along with the death of the physical book. People also read much less than they ever have, in the age of video and internet. Why buy a book on ‘how to’ do something, when you can pull up a video on Youtube that will show you how? Kids would rather play a video game or watch a movie than read an adventure story. Maybe you can write an article about that aspect later. It really will have an affect on the book market in general, in how we seek entertainment and information. Many of my heavy duty book readers are older, retired people, and I’m a little afraid after they die that the retirees that follow won’t care a whit about reading. I suppose that’s a little paranoid, but I don’t see the next generation taking their books habitually on a screen, unless they are the reader’s digest versions with moving pictures and color. It really could get quite ridiculous in the not-too-distant future.

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  • Stephanie–you have excellent points, and some I should have addressed. I too fear when my generation, or one generation after me, die, no one will be interested in reading in general, book or e-book. I agree, the internet although a god send in many ways, is also numbing the viewers to reading literature or real non fiction, not just what they find on wikipedia.
    I keep thinking how eerily today seems to mirror the future in Fahrenheit 451, with the populace more interested in ‘their shows’ projected onto ‘walls’ than reading, to the point where books are banned for fear the people may learn and question. Well, books won’t need to be banned, they will disappear, and e-books too if few people use them. You’re not paranoid at all. And that scares me too!

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  • John Philip Sousa regarded the introduction of the phonograph with suspicion, predicting: “a marked deterioration in American music and musical taste, an interruption in the musical development of the country, and a host of other injuries.”

    As a typographer I winced at the introduction in the 70s of photo-typesetters, and cried when the rigging company put all our monocasters, linotypes & composing equipment on skids for shipment to SA, or worse—the junk pile. In the 80s Linotype Corp introduced the laser cathode ray tube typesetter (digital) little did we know it would only be a few years till Apple completely pulled the rug out from typographers. I remember going to TANY meetings, (Typographers Association of NY) and hearing members declare “customers will never be able to set their own type.”

    In HS I remember studying about the industrial revolution and smirking to myself how about how silly the Luddites were to try and stop progress. I never thought it would apply to me when Bob Dylan sang . . .

    Come gather ’round people
    Wherever you roam
    And admit that the waters
    Around you have grown
    And accept it that soon
    You’ll be drenched to the bone.
    If your time to you
    Is worth savin’
    Then you better start swimmin’
    Or you’ll sink like a stone
    For the times they are a-changin’.

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    • Steve, your post made me laugh in recognition of how one thought as a member of that era. The times they are a changin’. I wonder how well Dylan has taken to ipods and downloading music, and kindles and if it was the kind of change he meant, ha.

      I don’t think I and others are being luddites in wanting the book as a physical thing to survive the onslaught of technology. I don’t believe people are trying to stop kindles etc., from existing or being used. I suppose the way I see it–several new technological advances have been made in art mediums-computer graphics, illustrator, photoshop, ipad art, etc., and beautiful works of art are the results of such technology.

      So, should oils, watercolors, charcoals, pen and inks be eliminated? Should artists be forced to use only the technology available?

      I suppose it’s not a good analogy, reading isn’t creating. But as I’ve explained before, I see a physical book as more than the components it’s make of, I see it as something spiritual, connecting to the reader in a way a kindle just can’t.
      Again, this may only be me, and makes me nutty.

      Not like I’ve never been called that before!

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  • I will admit I always have a “bed” book, and it does not involve my Nook. And, I can’t imagine a world without books, I don’t think that will happen. But, I can imagine my living room neater. Right now I have a 27″ t.v. flanked by 2 tall bookshelves. With a nice flat screen LCD t.v. hanging on the wall, and my books in my Nook, think how much neater my room would be. BUT, when I go to someone’s house, I look at their bookshelves to learn more about them….I guess it would be impolite to ask to look at their ereader!!! Pros and cons….

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    • LOL!! Oh how I feel your pain. I was scanning my shelves here at the mother’s and thinking of the shelves at the apartment, and the boxes of books in the basement and the ones on the porch and the ones in my workroom and the ones in my bedroom and thought–wow, they’d all fit on to a nook or whatever.

      But at least one half to three quarters are collectibles, books I bought by design to keep. So, that wouldn’t help with the clutter problem–especially the children’s illustrated–the entire reason I own them is for the artwork.

      However, and I know you have the same dilemma, tons of the books on the shelves have been inscribed to me–so hard to toss them aside for a nook.
      Most of them have not been read, tee hee, so having them on a nook *would* be a good thing.

      Yep, pros and cons.

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  • Sixteen years ago a man brought his little son into my bookstore and told him, “Look at these. Soon they will be obsolete.” That man is still buying books.

    Seventeen years ago a science fiction writer flew from Texas to Michigan to tell a live audience that soon people would not gather together in rooms but only connect electronically. We could have watched him on closed TV 17 years ago, but he chose to make the trip, and we slogged through the snow to see and hear him.

    Typesetting is becoming an artisanal activity in Two Rivers, Wisconsin.

    We are physical beings, and physicality will always be an important feature in our lives.

    So far my unscientific observations in my bookstore (obviously a self-selected group and not a random sample) are telling me that young people still love real books (as I call them), and it’s the older, retired folks who need larger fonts and are in de-acquisition mode, anyway, who want e-books.

    The energy question is a big one for me. I wrote about it recently on my blog:
    http://booksinnorthport.blogspot.com/2010/12/i-am-not-luddite.html

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

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