Dr. Nicole Basaraba

Assistant Professor in Digital Humanities, TCD

Nicole Basaraba


The fate of books…or should I say ebooks?

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Yesterday, on the metro ride home from work, I saw two people one standing in front of me and one beside me and both were reading a physical book. This made me smile.

I have tried reading a book on a Kindle app for my computer. I thought that it was an easy and cheap way to try it out. It took me at least three times longer to read the book on my computer than it would to read a book in print. Why?

Well after spending 8 hours a day on the computer at work, then checking emails and social media after dinner, at the end of the day I want to sit in a comfy chair or in bed and read on paper. My eyes are tired after staring at the glowing screen for 80% of my day. I predict that with all the fads that go around these days, like fashion, diets, and gadgets and along with some of these things always come health problems.

I think eventually there will start to be studies and reports of people suffering from eye problems, back, neck, and even wrist problems from constant computer usage. Ok maybe, I’m going a little bit too far here. But the point is, I think that all these touch-screen items and e-readers will eventually become the next thing that was once exploding and then leveled off.

I truly believe that self-publishing, Amazon and e-readers are changing the world of publishing and how the public consumes books. I think that reading will now become more popular, maybe those kids who thought that it was “geeky” to read a book in their spare time will now proudly pull out the latest e-reader and be in the spotlight of all their friends. Millions of people who weren’t self-proclaimed “readers” and buying e-books by the dozens and filling up their e-readers faster than publishing houses can keep up with or even react to.

I watched the market change over the past year and I know that’s not very long to be following it, but the number of articles, newsletters and blog posts I’ve read on the subject all make it seem like either (A) the printed book is doomed to an untimely death (B) its just a fad that will pass and thus publishing houses don’t have to worry so much.

These are the two most common sides I’ve seen taken and I’m sure there are many others. I have avoided posting a blog on this topic just because its so hot. I also wasn’t exactly sure what I thought of it until I could see what the outcomes might be.

I finally decided to write a passion-fueled post after reading the article, “Frankfurt Book Fair 2011: TOC Keynote Sets Bold Tone” by Andrew Albanese in Publisher’s Weekly.

There were a few points that stood out to me.

1) Bob Stein, innovator in digital publishing, has a current venture called “Social Book” which “aims to turn reading from a solitary pursuit to a networked experience, where readers and authors can read books together, in constant communication, transforming the book from a staid object in the print era, to a live, active place online” (source).

This is a very interesting venture and I’m sure it could be a big hit with the masses, but I also think that some regular readers will stick to the print books. As the first two comments on the article were:

“I want to read a book, not interact with you or the author or the publisher while doing it, I just want to read books.” 


“But I LIKE reading as a solitary pursuit!” 

So it goes to show that these ladies who were probably always interested in reading will continue to read books the traditional way. Yes, there are readers out there who will embrace ebooks and read only in electronic format, but there there will also be readers who do a bit of both.

But ebooks opens up a whole new medium to the masses. (Wow this reference brings me right back to my comparative literature classes at the University of Alberta. You see Dad I did learn something there). E-books are the new Pulp magazines. Pulp magazines were published from 1896 through to the 1950s and were collectively called Pulp Fiction. They were inexpensive and thus appealed to the masses. E-books are, and should be, cheaper than the printed book. Of course, there is a hefty price tag for some e-readers, but there are also free downloadable applications for e-readers and it may be that the larger up-front investment pays off in the cheaper ebooks in the long run.

2) And on that note, as digital marketing expert, Mitch Joel (author of “Six Pixels of Separation”) said:  “Someone has opened up an opportunity to sell anything anywhere, and we’re fighting it? Is this normal?” (source).

My conclusions are:

  1. The face of publishing has changed with the addition of self-publishing/e-books.
  2. I don’t think the printed book will disappear.
  3. I think eventually most publishers will have to deal/manage with e-publishing in most author contracts if not all.

In the end I think the theme of this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair says it spot on “Tools of Change”. The world of publishing and books is changing and everyone knows that some people resist change and others embrace it.

I know I’ve opened up a debate here. What do you think? Are e-books going to diminish print books? Or are they a new (positive) addition into the mix?

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18 thoughts on “The fate of books…or should I say ebooks?

  1. I like e-books are a welcome addition. I don;t think they will replace them completely, but over time, as kids who grew up with e-readers I think the percentage of e-books being sold is going to pass paper books, but that will take a generation or two.

    1. Thanks for the comment Alica. I really wanted to know what others think. It could be that there is a different in sales in terms of fiction vs. nonfiction with e-books and print.

  2. I don’t think e-books will completely replace paper, and I read both, nor do I think e-books are a fad. E-books are here to stay and overall I think they are a positive addition to the world of reading.

    I will say if you get an e-ink reader (non-color nook, kindle, sony, etc) it is just like reading on paper with the advantage of being able to increase the font size. There’s no glare, can read outside in sunlight, etc. I’ve had eye strain in the past so am very careful and when my eyes are tired, reaching for my Nook and upping the font size is my go-to way to read these days. And I suspect as I get older I’ll rely on my e-reader more.

    Now on the price end of things. I will not pay more for an e-book than its paper cousin because as a reader I don’t have the same rights (sell, trade, gift, etc.) that e-book and generally well only consider e-books priced at, or below, half the paperback rate. If I have the choice of the same book, in paper and e-format, for the same price I’ll buy the paper every time.

    Interesting post, I’ll be curious to see what response you get.

    1. I was wondering what e-ink readers were like. If its like you say, almost like reading on paper, I say bring it on. It would be sooooo helpful to have lots of books stockpiled since the paperbacks tend to be pretty expensive over here. Also handy for traveling.

  3. I would like to have an e-reader for travel. And if I were doing research, I would like (love!) to have the search function. But when I just read, I want a BOOK. And even when I’m doing research or reading a textbook, I like to be able to flip back and forth between pages. However, I don’t get to say what will happen; I just get to adapt. (But, of course, I want to see my book-someday-to-be in hardback, face out on the shelves. With my name above the title.)

    1. Kathy I couldn’t agree more. I don’t mind reading a fiction book on an e-reader, but when it comes to books you want to study from, I prefer the hardcopy. I would also like to see my book in print on the shelves with my name on it, above or below the title, no biggie on the placement. 🙂

  4. I have to agree with just about everything Raelyn Barclay says. I think ebooks are here to stay and things will balance out – paper and ebooks will learn to live together as equals.
    I agree, reading on your computer would suck and you really shouldn’t judge ebooks and reading on an ereader by your computer! Reading on an e-reader is totally different and very similar, if not better, than reading on paper – I love my Kindle e-ink – no glare etc. It’s fantastic. I read on the beach, in bed, in high sunlight, in lowlight (I have a case with a light)! It’s fabulous! I love the highlighting and notes function, built-in dictionary, and search capacity as well as being able to change fonts etc.
    I would probably pay the same for an ebook because I just want the book – period! Honestly, it doesn’t matter much to me. I am not interested in reading “paper” format any longer. I would agree that the books should be priced less but if it’s a book I want, I’ll pay the price – that is the bottom line.
    I have realized in reading some “craft” books that I’d actually rather have paper books so I can flip back and forth more easily. I was surprised because I thought my paper books were over but for text book type stuff, I think paper is likely the way to go.
    There you have it. Try a Kindle and let us know what you think of ebooks then. 🙂

    1. Thanks Natalie. I plan on trying out what ever brand of e-readers they have for sale in Canada when I go home for christmas. Maybe they will even go on sale after Christmas. Here’s hoping.

    2. I love my Kindle too and find that I actually buy MORE books on an e-reader, not less. Don’t get me wrong, I still buy paper books, but it’s got to be a really great author to get me to spend the money and lug it around. 🙂

  5. I thought I’d never want to read books electronically until I discovered that they don’t have a computer screen but something called e-ink which is pretty much like reading a normal book. No back lit screen – you can get ereaders that aren’t e-ink though if you want colour and fast touch screens that the e-ink doesn’t have yet. Anyway, I got my ereader and add that books are cheaper, it’s lighter to carry and I don’t need a bigger house to hold all my books and I’m sold. However print books will always be around, but I think they will become more expensive – a luxery item perhaps. Reading will always be a solitary passt ime, but the opportunuties for intereaction with electonic media will encourage some who don’t read now to do so. It all comes down to choices. We’ll just have more of them.

  6. There are a couple of reasons why I am gradually making the transition towards e-books. First of all, I have no more space in my apartment for “real” books; I am almost buried under piles of books and DVDs. Second, we travel a lot and instead of taking kilos of books with us, we just buy travel guides for our Kindle application. Light and handy!

    1. Oh how I wish I had my own library. My apartment is also too small to start a real collection, but I plan on it once a house is purchased….sometime in the far future. In the meantime, maybe an e-reader is the way to go. Thanks for the comment.

  7. Great post, Nicole! I would love to have an e-reader. As of yet, the cost has been prohibitive and I have stacks of print books in my TBR pile and closet to select. The reason I’d like an e-reader is to enhance my selection of books. Many of my writer friends have ebooks for sale and I’d love to support them, as well as read great literature. But I’m not interested in purchasing an ebook to download onto my bulky laptop. Like you, my eyes need a break from the computer after a day of work and evening of writing. I want a REAL book.

    I agree that ebooks open up another dimension to publishing, and I don’t believe print books will disappear–at least I hope not. As long as there’s a demand for print books, doesn’t it make sense they’ll still be printed? Even if only as POD?

    Great discussion. 🙂

    1. Love your point Jolyse. “as long as there’s demand for print books, doesn’t it make sense they’;; still be printed? Even if only as POD?”

      Makes perfect sense to me. I know I will always want print books, even if I load up an e-reader in the future with a few books for vacations etc.

  8. I myself am traditionalist I like to open a old book, experience at times that old book smell that comes with them. I do however like the addition of ebooks though aswell as i am constantly on my ipad, not having to carry the weight of a few different books in your bag is great!

    1. I think I too am a traditionalist. I like opening a book to read and I also love collecting books and filling bookshelves. I think the e-reader will be useful for me for living in a foreign country where English books aren’t as accessible and also for traveling. Thanks for the comment.

  9. Hi Nicole,
    I had this similar discussion on how people are “disposing off” their entire libraries off late because they are moving to Kindles.
    And then I thought some more about it and just started (today!) this blog: storiesaboutbooks.tumblr.com
    Was looking for an image to use on the blog, and found your blog. So want to ask- can I use your first picture on this post, the bookshelf, on my new blog as the avatar/ blog picture?

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