We as writers are always wondering what the future holds for printed and electronic books. Since we have to make the choice of publishing work in either formats or both, it becomes really worrisome to some authors because WE ALL WANT OUR BOOKS TO SELL!
With this pressing question constantly on my young mind, i went ahead and asked some really experienced and knowledgeable people in the writing field and their answers were a mixture of illuminating and practical.
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THEIR TAKE ON THE QUESTION:
Printed books, specifically, aren’t going anywhere. The reason for that is not everyone has access to internet services and printed books are the way they are able to get the information they need. If nothing else, printed books are going to become a hot commodity once printing starts to decrease. The only reason it will decrease is because there will be a push for everything to be on devices.
There will be a push for all information to be accessible on devices and with this being the case there will be an issue of who owns the information and who has the ability to change it. As for ebooks, their future is bright due to there being a push for everything being portable.
Bookshops have already proven their worth. Will there be a far and few in between? Yes, but they aren’t going anywhere and not just because there are people who love physical books but because there is a need to have uncensored and unmonitored information.
I don’t think bookshops are going away any time soon. In recent years, ebook sales are dropping, while physical books are seeing a rise in sales. Indie bookstores, in particular, are seeing a boost in support. While COVID-19 definitely hurt some bookstores and will force some to close, I think it also forced a lot of indies to adapt to online retail, which in the long term will be an asset to keep bookstores and physical books alive.
I think ebooks are the future. Even the staunchest book lovers find themselves reluctantly getting an ereader and reading more. I think audiobooks will continue to grow as people multitask. I don’t think paper books will go away, but will be more like an occasional treat.
I hope bookshops don’t fully go away, but I think COVID-19 might be the final nail in the coffin for so many smaller bookstores. Our big Barnes and Noble here in my town just shut down and Trader Joes is taking half of the space. We are all hoping Barnes and Noble decides to stay in the other half, just making it a smaller store, but honestly, now that we have the pandemic, I wouldn’t blame them for not reopening. How do you clean books?
Tatiana Dengo Villalobos:
I’ve always found this whole printed book vs. e-book debate a little eye-rollingly annoying because it’s always the same re-hashed argument from 10+ years ago, and it also attracts loud, self-righteous, and pessimistic people who disregard simple human nature in favor of robotic practicality. These are fatalistic people who assume that print books are dead and that it’s a “losing battle” against e-books. They also presumptuously disregard that not everybody on the planet has equal access to technology, or the means to afford it. Currently not everybody on the planet has equal access to books, nor the means to afford them, so how can we expect e-books to be any different anywhere in the near future?
We are tactile creatures, we enjoy the feel of books, their fragrance, the sound of the pages flipping. We just cherish books as physical objects too much, not to mention the joy of walking into a quiet, welcoming space such as a bookstore or a library. There’s also the psychology of collecting. Collecting things is just fun, it tickles our brains in pleasing little ways, even if we’re collecting old candy wrappers or a pile of rocks that we found while hiking, humans just love collecting things and being able to see them all together. E-books don’t have the same effect because you can’t see the amount. And lastly: home decorating. Books will never be out of style when it comes to decoration.
So I have no reason to believe that printed books or physical bookstores will ever “outlive their time”. There’s also no evidence to suggest that people around the world vastly prefer e-books over printed books. If you prefer statistics over emotional arguments, there’s plenty of stats to support this. 🙂
E-books are certainly a complement to printed books, but they are not a replacement. Take the news for example. You can either consume the news through: the radio, TV, in print, or online. None of these mediums replaced the other, we just all choose through which one we prefer to consume information. As for what the future holds for printed books: cooler covers. Publishers haven’t thrown the towel on printed books, they have just made them cooler as physical, collectible objects. 🙂
And finally: the only overwhelmingly positive argument I could see towards e-books is if someone invented a Braille tablet so that books in Braille are more accessible and affordable for visually impaired people.
p.s. I do read in both print and e-book format.
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I still see a lot of readers that prefer print to E readers. Even younger readers sometimes have that preference. People, even experts are notoriously bad at predicting future outcomes, but I would say that print will continue for at least another generation. Only time will tell!
I am optimistic about the future of bookstores. I think readers are loyal and thoughtful and will continue to support them. I also think there will be continue to be new ways to support them — like Bookshop.org and things like author events.
HEA Novel Thoughts!
This is probably wishful thinking on my part, but I think that physical books stores will always have a place in the world. So many people love to hold an actual book in their hands to read. I personally own a couple hundred books but most I purchased at book signings, rather than book stores. So, even if large brick and mortar stores don’t last I believe that smaller/ independently owned stores will always have a place in this world.
Being a published author of printed, e-book and audiobook, I keep a track of trends in the international publishing industry. My recent study tells me that e-books and audiobooks are the future of the books industry. The chief reasons for that will be reduced making cost and ease of availability.
Once created, an e-book or audiobook may be sold for years without any additional making cost. With the increase in paper cost, space consumed in the storage of books, lesser repeat-read value, ease of reading anywhere and people becoming more comfortable with digital reading, e-books are the future.
However, there is a whole set of readers, who still prefer to read printed books. It’s a bitter truth that amazon has already captured book store sales. There are very few book stores who make profits. Many readers just visit the book store to glance at the content of the book and then buy it at a cheaper rate on amazon.
Conclusively I may say that it has become mandatory for a writer to have his content in all formats and on all platforms.
Your question certainly implies “trouble” for printed books and bookstores. But neither is true.
Casual followers of the book industry are usually surprised to discover that ebooks reached a peak in sales and interest approximately seven years ago. From that point on, overall, they declined and have now seemingly leveled to where they’ll be for the foreseeable future. Not only that, they never even got close to “wiping out print books,” as many people predicted and some people still think. At their peak and today, ebooks have solidly been a clear minority in book format purchases. In fact, last I saw, audiobooks have surpassed ebooks. But if it you lump ebooks and audiobooks together as “digital,” they don’t exceed the sales of print books.
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So what does this mean for bookstores? In general (and I’m only answering for what I know here in the United States), independent bookstores were experiencing a strong comeback before Covid-19, with a total of around 2,300 in the U.S. However, although some people are confident in these indie booksellers adapting and surviving through this pandemic, I’m less confident. Yes, of course, many will — especially the strong established ones like Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. But those are a small percentage, and according to the American Booksellers Association, sales were already down, and many indies were not in solid financial shape. But ultimately, bookshops will remain once the pandemic is under control. How many? How prosperous? That’s hard to say, of course. But it’s not as if retail bookselling will disappear. Anyone who loves going to a physical bookstore will tell you the online experience, for all its conveniences, simply does not compare. After all, Amazon itself has physical bookstores.
So, I think the future holds just what we see in recent years — barring some dramatic shift we can’t imagine now, people’s preferences have settled down. A certain percentage of people like to buy their books online and will continue to do so; a certain percentage prefer physical bookstores and will continue to; and others are a mix. Likewise, you can say the same about printed versus digital books.
Books will go on forever. They may change forms, but books are very popular in all forms. Print books have held their own while ebooks are kind of flat at the moment. Audiobooks will continue to increase growth.
I think bookshops are holding their own. There were a lot of closings, but they seem to have stabilized. They are having to reinvent themselves for this new world, and maybe we didn’t need as many as we had, but they seem to be doing ok. COVID is throwing everything upside down, so that will probably really effect things, but once we get through that they will find their place.
I think printed books are here to stay. That being said, however, the future of books may be somewhat different that their status today. Folks will always want books in both printed and electronic formats. Printed books, in particular, may see a significant change. Folks, like myself, collect books and love to read. I do not see that changing. What may change is the publishing industry where print on demand books and publications by small, specialty presses may become the norm. Large publishing houses have struggled to make any money from printed books. A Forbes Magazine article reports that “99% of titles printed will never sell enough copies to recover all the costs associated with creating and publishing them”. This leaves large publishing houses in an ongoing state of crisis which will not be sustainable for the long haul.
Small and speciality presses may step up to fill the shoes of large publishers as those big publishing companies close their doors for good… A large number of books in my personal library are books produced by small, speciality presses. I find the quality of books tends to be much higher when produced by these small presses. Often, authors agree to sign the production of small press houses thus making the books even more attractive to book collectors. Are there enough book collectors to support even small presses? Not at present but if books become harder to acquire, they will become more precious and more collectible.
Regarding the future of ebooks, I think this will be the way books are consumed in the future. I started adding books to my Kindle account and now have almost 400 books in my Kindle library. I used to have boxes of books around my home waiting to be taken to a used bookstores to be sold or to be taken to the library to be donated. It meant schlepping boxes of heavy books around to get them disposed of. Now I load books onto my Kindle and if I am moved by or if I really enjoy a book well enough to want it in my library, I can then go online and find and buy a signed, first edition to add to my collection.
As for your question about how long bookshops will last before they outlive their time… I hope but do not expect that bookshops will remain a part of the urban landscape over time. Used bookstores in small towns across the country may play many roles in their community including a gathering place for “readers” to congregate. These small town bookstores may have a very loyal group of customers to make their continuing operations more likely than used bookstores in cities and larger urban areas. The rise of the internet makes shopping for many things (like books) easy to accomplish online. The American Booksellers Association posts an article in just about every month for a few years saying the sale of books is down in that month. They report, “Retail sales at U.S. bookstores were down by 7.6 percent in December 2019 compared to December 2018, according to preliminary figures from the Bureau of the Census. “ and a similar article is posted for each month except for June, July and February 2017 for some reason. The trend is definitely showing down for “retail” bookstores profitability.. Overhead is not being met and is becoming a bigger issue for both new and used bookstores.
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I began collecting after I read a quote by Jorge Luis Borge who said, “I have always imagined Paradise to be a kind of library.” As I approach retirement, it became important for me to have a collection of well loved books waiting to be reread and unread books waiting to be discovered and enjoyed. I have well in excess of 1000 books in my personal library with a large number of signed, first editions and a sizable number of small and speciality press books as well as fine bound books. I am still collecting and do not see my collecting slowing down any time soon.
I sincerely hope books and bookstores will last long after I am gone from the planet but I am keeping my fingers crossed on this.
Yep, I agree with Bruce. Bookshop’s are being supported by local customers (independent bookstores). I think the future of chain bookstores is grim; ebooks are here to stay but they really haven’t grown much in the past few years, and in fact in some genres have lost ground. Print books are going to be important regardless; a solid 60% of the book-buying market across the board prefers print to ebook, and print profitability outstrips ebooks by a good margin.
It’s not an either-or proposition for most readers I know (including me) … I may buy the ebook to read; if I love it, I’ll order the print version and put it in my library. If I really love it, I’ll also buy the audiobook to be able to listen to while I commute. A lot of people buy in multiple formats, and I think always will.
I think there will be a market for printed books and eBooks for many years to come. Bookshops will continue for a long time. They will probably adapt and become more like a coffee shop that sells books where book lovers can meet up and chat about books.
L. Stewart Hearl:
Book stores will remain as well as print books. Many people prefer real books and the difference in price doesn’t matter.
I think libraries will always be here, and you can already see in most places in the US libraries offer free computer/internet access. I can see them providing paper/3D printing services, being able to check out software, and maybe VR experiences. Just look to technical university libraries, many of them are moving books offsite (with them being able to be requested and delivered) and moving to study/work spaces.
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Are you satisfied with the answers or do you have something to add? Have the answers given you hope or more insight? Do you think book shops and Printed books are doomed? Which format do you prefer and why? Which format would you like to publish book as?
Give your answers in the comment section below!
I am a fifteen year old book addict and writing enthusiast from Ghana in West Africa. I love potato chips and jelly, pizza too but not so much. If you want to know more about me, you can follow me on other social media platforms. Don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter!!!!