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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Will Physical Books Become Obsolete?

I just read a refreshing short story called "Readers," by Rachel A. Brune. You can read the short story in its entirety here. I say refreshing, because it brings up an idea that I think a lot of people are interested in and discussing, but no one have I seen pursuing it to it's logical conclusion. I'm referring to ebooks and their steady rise in purchase and use.

A lot of bloggers and self-publishers have been saying that ebooks will soon match or surpass physical books in terms of sales and readership. What this short story portrays is a world in which it's become abnormal to own physical books. This is something I haven't heard or seen a lot of people discussing. This would, after all, be the logical (perhaps desirable?) conclusion to the rise in manufacture of e-reader devices and the increasing use and even purchase of bits of data strung together to form a replica of something 'real.'
Is this a desirable outcome for the world? On one hand, as "Readers" states, the books themselves will continue to be read. The ideas are just being transferred from one medium to another, like when DVD's replaced VHS tapes. On the other hand, visual mediums, such as movies and television, can be argued to have largely replaced the mediums of print and written word. Humans are visual creatures, and the invention of a way to tell stories visually can be argued to have changed the world for the better. Tell that to the radio and publishing tycoons that were thriving right before film technology really coalesced.
Will a world without physical books be better, or more efficient? Are readers more satisfied by the freedom that ebooks allow (such as the ability to change font sizes, adjust brightness settings, etc.) or is there something more intangible that is fulfilled by a real book that a digital copy simply cannot satisfy?
In my personal opinion, the answer relies upon what devise one is using for reading the digital material. If there is enough surface space for sufficient viewing, and ample control of brightness and other settings, then I would rather do a lot of my reading on an e-reader of some sort.
However, with that said, if I find a particular book of interest, one that ignites that certain spark of magic, where I starve myself of sleep just to get my literary fix, then I may actually buy a physical copy of it. This physical copy would be for the enjoyment of re-reading the book and revisiting the story for many years to come. It is because of this that I feel there will never be a replacement for physical books. The materials on which they are printed may change, but words that you can touch, feel, and visualize in a three dimensional space will never become obsolete.
What do you think? Are physical books replaceable? Especially by ebooks in the forms they are now? Let me know why you agree with me or why you think differently in the comments below!

P.S. Let me know if you'd like to see more stories like this in the future, or if you thought this was lame by messaging me on Facebook or Twitter!


  1. Th idea that physical books will be replaced entirely by ebooks is actually a question of economic justice.Ebook readers are sufficiently pricey that their ownership is by a self-selecting group that has the wherewithal to pay for the reader as well as the book. People of limited means and without credit will not be able to make this initial outlay. Until ereaders are financially available to the increasing poor class in this country, physical books will not go out of style. the nook now requires a wifi connection to buy books. This is an additional disincentive for the poor, whose imaginations could most profit from the reading of sci fi and fantasy.

    1. I agree, but you don't have to have an e-reader. I can just as easily download Aldiko on my Android phone and easily read e-books in comfort that way, if I was really wanting to read something.

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