Books are dead; Long live books!

My friend Phooky predicts that children born now will grow up with the same attitude towards printed paper books that I, having been born in the 80s, have towards vinyl records.

This prediction invariably causes our bibliophile friends to clutch their dead trees close to their chest, screaming “no, that could never happen,” and retreat into the stacks of books. As though the digital book revolution might bring with it some sort of mass burning. But friends (Romans, countrymen), I’ve had my nook for just over four months now. I have seen the future and I welcome our new e-paper overlords with open arms.

Before I got my nook, I couldn’t tell you the last book I’d read that wasn’t an O’Reilly manual. Reading wasn’t something I really did for fun, and it certainly wasn’t something I’d take with me on a trip. I’ve read more books, fiction and nonfiction, in the last four months than I have in the previous four years. For those of you on the fence about getting an ebook reader, I present my list of reasons digital readers will reign supreme over paper.


My nook remains the same weight, no matter how thick the book I’m reading. I have a herniated disc in my neck, so carrying even a purse around for a day is a big deal. Anyone who has ever lugged a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince can appreciate having a smaller form factor.

On the same note, I live in a 1000 square foot condo which, while spacious for New York standards, is pretty much out of space to store books. My nook on the other hand still has plenty of space in its on-board memory. Not to mention expansion cards.


Carrying an entire library around in your bag is amazing. I’m in the middle of about 4 different books, and can switch between them as the mood strikes. A few weeks ago I got trapped on the subway for an hour, finished the book I was reading, and started right up with the sequel.


With an ebook, your reading selections are your own dang business. If I want to read Twilight, I can do so without embarrassment.  Sure, in a perfect world no one would need to feel embarrassed about their reading material of choice. But frankly, no one wants to be caught reading a self-help book on finding your inner tree spirit when they run into their boss on the A-train.


If I decide at 3am that I really, really want to read David Sedaris’s latest, I can have it downloaded and waiting for me on my nook in the time it would take me to find pants, let alone a 24 hour book store.

I should mention that in the coming revolution, we’re going to end up killing brick-and-mortar stores which sell intellectual property (books, music, programs). Large chain bookstores will slowly die. And small locally-owned bookstores will need to take a lesson from the record stores that are still around if they want to survive the transition. Every time I visit my parents I heave a sigh of relief that Hole in the Wall Books is still open. Many great bookstores won’t make it, and the loss will be no small tragedy.

Why not?

Still, despite everything I love about my nook, the current hardware and software available for digital book readers isn’t there yet. There are still format wars being fought, and not nearly enough books available in digital format. While I love the nook hardware, the software is pretty weak. And there are some types of books, like textbooks, which none of the current ebook readers handle particularly well. So lovers of dead trees have no fear, the end of printed books is still some time off.

10 thoughts on “Books are dead; Long live books!”

    1. Thanks. I’m curious whether the number of books (in all formats) sold has increased at all. I know I purchased way more books since I got the nook than I had in the entire year before.

      My only beef with the current state of ebook readers is the format wars. I want to be able to read my B&N books on a Kindle, or download Amazon’s book to my nook. Lack of portability is the biggest problem with the e-reader market now.

  1. The only thing keeping me from running to the ebook camp with open arms is the DRM issues. When I buy an electronic book, I want full access to it, to backup as I please. We need to embrace the epub format.

    Also, and this is my personal Scrooge talking, getting $1 off by buying the electronic format is ridiculous. There is no physical product any more, and I have a hard time believing books only cost $1 to print.

  2. I can see it happening but i think we need to take into account a few things; reselling – there aren’t many used Mp3 markets out there, yet i can sell my dead tree books – i can also permanently swap or temporarily lend my dead tree books (bookmooch.com). So unless the cost is cheap enough i won’t care about the lost income or swaps, and the lending technology improves I won’t switch. On the other hand i enjoy reading ebooks; i have the itouch app, laptop app, and sony reader to read kindle, epub, B&N stuff, i haven’t delved into borders e-books yet (oh and all the free scifi, rock!)

  3. While e-books do have technology limitations that they will overcome, DRM may be a fight that lives on. Nobody has to agree or play nice. The squabbling over when to release DVD versions of movies has already gotten petty.

    Until I can really own the content in an e-book and scribble on it and keep it for as long as I want, I don’t want any part of it.

    Whether a technology lives on is one part the technology’s success and one part the cultural zeitgeist of the time. We shall see.

  4. When a new medium eclipses an old one, it is because its advantages are numerous and the disadvantages non-existent.

    Your e-book argument is very similar as those for audio files (MP3, etc.) However, numerous stores continue to sell CD’s. The reason is that without the durable medium, an electronic file alone is frail and just as easy to delete as it is to copy. Plus the CD album is a unit — and as long as artists continue to use this as a medium (i.e. not just a collection of unrelated songs) it is a convenient device to pass around to your friends. Consider the difference between “sure, check out this CD [or book]” versus “sure, let me send you the file and see if your reader is compatible”: the true cost of transfer goes up, ironically enough.

    I fully agree that e-books will change the industry. I disagree that it will completely obliterate any part of it. There is value in the social benefits of even reading a newspaper and the random interactions that come from it (“can I read that when you’re done?”, “do you need the arts section?”, “those clowns in Congress did it again. What a bunch of clowns”).

    1. Stores continue to sell CDs, but I can’t think of any chain CD stores anymore. If guess there’s that mall store FYE or something? Most of the time, they’re lumped into everything else at Best Buy and WalMart. And Best Buy seems to be stocking way fewer CDs than they used to.

      Niche stores, like used bookstores and local CD stores, will be around as long as there’s some good conversation there. But I can’t remember the last time I bought a physical CD other than at a show.

  5. I remember when I got my kindle, my sister gave me a dissertation about how she could never, ever enjoy reading from a digital reader… Fast forward 1 year, the next Christmas. She’s stealing my kindle and secretly pining after one herself. Now, having come from a retail bookstore background and a slight obsession with books, I admit that there is something really special about opening up a classic copy of Picture of Dorian Gray or Pride and Prejudice. However, being able to carry those two books and 250 of their other friends around in your purse? So much better (on most days). I admit, I love sitting in a bookstore, drinking a cup of coffee, and perusing the stacks, but I wouldn’t trade my e-book for anything.

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