Are eBooks Pushing Print to Extinction?

There is something about the aroma of a worn book that induces a sense of nostalgia. Print aficionados have fought to maintain the sanctity of printed press, but as the popularity of eReaders and tablets continues to rise, how long can book-advocates withstand the pressures of a technology-driven society?

With Apple’s iPad, Amazon’s Kindle, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook leading the revolution, more and more readers are turning to the instant gratification of eBooks and digital readers over more traditional mediums. They can now hold entire libraries in their hands, buy a book with the tap of a finger, and read until their screens go dark. So what’s not to love?

Some argue the experience is not the same. A book’s battery never goes dead. Browsing an App Store can’t compete with wandering the shelves of a bookstore and running your fingers along the spines. Holding a book in your hands, with its binding and tangible pages, doesn’t feel the same as holding plastic, aluminum, or glass. Books are permanent entities whereas digital media feels ephemeral; an ebook you own could be there one day and gone the next, but a printed media will withstand decades. Actor and journalist Stephen Fry said recently, “Books are no more threatened by the Kindle than stairs by elevators.” Other authors would agree that while eBooks are convenient, they will never replace print.

However, some statistics show that the move towards eReaders is happening more aggressively. In a recent article, The Wall Street Journal estimated that one in six Americans now uses an eReader, a number that has nearly doubled since 2010. That statistic is estimated to more than triple in these next few years, which leads to the question, what will become of print?

The bright side to this new trend is that eReaders aren’t entirely replacing books in American households; many readers own both an eReader and a hearty bookshelf filled with volumes of print. According to the Wall Street Journal, amongst eReader users only 6% admit to not purchasing a single book in the past year, which is a much better percentage than the 32% of Americans who haven’t purchased a book at all in the past year. Perhaps the accessibility of books on an eReader increases not only book sales, but also reading and literacy rates.

Both book lovers and eReader advocates have strong feelings on the topic. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for both print books and their digital counterparts.

15 thoughts on “Are eBooks Pushing Print to Extinction?

  • February 25, 2012 at 3:13 pm
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    Great blog, guys. I am a self-professed “print aficionado.” But I’m also an environmentalist, so one of my biggest conflicts is with the issue of waste that comes with book-production. I like the physicality of books, holding them and turning their pages. I even like how a book ages—the smells, looks, textures that change many years after you first bring a book home from a book store—but I have to admit that books don’t really hold a strong argument against a “sustainable” future. This brings me to a sort of unrelated, but interesting question: is digital sustainable? A question to be answered at another time perhaps.

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    • February 27, 2012 at 4:00 pm
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      I never really thought about the sustainability issue. You bring up a good point. Print can be wasteful, but eBooks also require consumption of energy for both use and production. I’d be interested to see how they compare in terms of sustainability.

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      • September 30, 2012 at 4:13 pm
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        Interesting points! When e-readers first came out, I had the same thought as Christine did – that although I do love the physical presence of a book, the times were changing and we need to become more sustainable. Printing less paper sounded like a great idea in that aspect. However, Superstition Review, you make a good point. I also wonder which outlet is more sustainable at this point, with all the different types of tablets and e-readers that are now available. The production of all of these electronics certainly costs a lot of money and energy.

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  • February 27, 2012 at 2:29 pm
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    Personally, I don’t find reading an e-book as fulfilling as reading a paper book, but working at Barnes and Noble has given me some insight into the whole e-reader trend and I think it’s a great thing. Honestly, e-readers might be just the thing our culture needs to remind everyone that reading is an awesome form of entertainment (and, I would argue, experience) that can indeed fit into your lifestyle of Angry Birds and Netflix streaming. It updates the experience of reading a novel and makes it ‘cool’ in a way. I’ll probably get an e-reader at some point, but I’ll never stop buying books. I don’t feel like I own a book unless it’s in paper, and I love to turn the pages and know the text is actually mine.  

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    • February 27, 2012 at 4:02 pm
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      I sue both a Nook and print books. I can’t live without either one. I enjoy the SimpleTouch because it offers less distractions (like Angry Birds and Netflix). If I had a fully functional tablet, I don’t think I’d ever finish a book.

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    • February 27, 2012 at 4:04 pm
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      I love reading from both my Nook and my print books. I enjoy the Nook SimpleTouch because it offers a purer reading experience without the distractions (Angry Birds, Netflix, ect.). If I had a fully-functional tablet, I might never finish a book.

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  • February 28, 2012 at 1:58 pm
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     I own an eReader but truth  be told I haven’t touched it in nearly two years. Some books that I had purchased on it, I went back and bought in print. However, I agree with Sam that our technologically inclined society might just need the eReader in order to be reminded of the great joys of reading. I think that eReaders are for some people the better choice. I think both digital and print have their merits and, because neither medium can really last forever (I have to disagree that books are permanent), what we should focus on is definitely the accessibility of the texts and the retention of what is read.

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  • March 1, 2012 at 5:08 am
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    Like Christine below, I am a print aficionado because of the sensory experience a printed book offers. Ebooks just don’t offer the same weight, texture, smell and feel as printed books.

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  • September 28, 2012 at 3:05 pm
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    I am very much in favor of print and part of that has something to do with my poor memory. My room is lined with hundreds of books that I have read over the course of my life and just walking into my room can remind me of a book that I would be hard pressed to recall off the top of my head. While this may be accomplished by an e-reader, I do not think that it would work in quite the same fashion. Walking into my room happens at all times of the day and gives me a chance to reflect, even if just for a moment, on any number of books, depending on where my eyes land.

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  • September 30, 2012 at 12:13 am
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    I have to say that I make the list of one of those Americans that own both books in print and those on the Kindle. I like the convenience of my Kindle because i can sample books before I buy them, but whenever I go to the bookstore, I cannot help but buy a book. I love having the book in print because there is nothing better than owning the book physically and indulging in one without it disappearing if my battery runs low or if i happen to travel and electronics are not allowed during turbulence, takeoff, and landing. Sometimes though, people can judge you based on the book you are reading which is why I love my Kindle in those instances. The kindle gives the reader privacy if one is reading a controversial book about politics or something that gives too much away too your character. I love walking into my room and seeing my book shelf packed with books because it reminds me me of my love for reading. Another plus to the kindle is that I can rent a book for free through Amazon Prime every month. I use this option when there is a book I must read and I cannot possibly run to the bookstore in the middle of the night. This happened to me when I started reading “The Hunger Games” series and I finished the second book at three in the morning. I knew I ABSOLUTELY needed to continue and so I went ahead and rented it for free until I could buy my paperback the next day to have the whole series in print. Other instances alike occur, if I like the book enough and fall in love with it, then it leads me to go buy the print edition to add it to my book shelf. The kindle serves for me as method of surveying books before I buy them.
    In reality, I cannot have a preference between both my Kindle and my books. They are both as useful and beloved to me. In my opinion, because of the reasons I stated earlier, I doubt books will ever go extinct. True book lovers will always exist and will crave for a brand new paperback to hold in their hands in read on a sunny day at the park.

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  • September 30, 2012 at 7:59 pm
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    I agree with Stephen Fry’s comment on this one. I own a first-generation Kindle, and it’s very useful for airplane reading (especially when I don’t want the passenger sitting next to me to know what I’m reading). I like that I can get classic (read: too old for the copyright to still be valid but still beloved enough to be in print) books on it for free, and that it can download PDFs. Do I use it as my primary source of reading? No. Do I think it poses a threat to real books, with that real musty smell and real crackling spines? Absolutely not.

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  • February 25, 2013 at 3:11 pm
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    I love this controversy because I recently had a discussion about this with my dad who is 55 years old. He got a NOOK about a year ago and LOVES it. I was surprised because I thought he would be “old school” like me and prefer print. I actually had a NOOK a couple years ago when they first came out and HATED it! I sold it on Craigslist and used the money to buy print books! I’m also a little snobby because I really like big hardback books. The ones you get when the book first comes out. They are my absolute favorite! I also order most of my books online, so I like getting packages every so often. My biggest beef with the whole ebooks thing is that newly released books cost just as much in print as they do electronically. This just doesn’t make sense to me. Also, since I am a big coupon person/online shopping person, I can usually buy a newly released print book for less money than an electronic one AND get it shipped to my house for free. (Currently at my preferred book store you cannot use coupons on ebooks) So for me this issue is a no-brainer. Long live print!

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  • October 19, 2014 at 8:30 pm
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    I’m also one of the many who prefer print books over e-books. When I was first hired by the Chandler Public Library, I taught classes on how to download e-books from the digital library, so I’ve grown to appreciate the convenience of e-readers, but I still prefer the feel of a physical book in my hands.

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  • October 19, 2015 at 9:29 am
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    This is good news! I love my Kindle, but I don’t think I could survive without print books! Shopping at used bookstores is one of my favorite hobbies. I understand that it’s a lot easier and cheaper to publish ebooks, but I really hope print books don’t die out!

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