Book Chaos by Sharon Drummond (AKA dolmansaxlil) on Flickr

As a professional writer, you could say that I have a vested interest in the future of the book publishing industry. After all, I’ve already co-authored a book that is available both in paper and digital form.

There are different schools of thought when it comes to discussing the future of the physical paper book. Some people say that the printed book will never die and it will always have a place in society. Others say that it’s only a matter of time before books go the way of the VHS tape. So, who’s right?

The Allure of Physical Books

In this day and age, some people wonder why the physical printed book still exists. For my part, as silly as it sounds, a big part of it has to do with feel. There is a definite appeal to having a printed book in your hands as you flip through the pages and “smell” the paper. Having the paper run through your fingers is a unique experience that just isn’t replicated with a “cold” electronic device like a Kindle or Kobo.

The issue of eye strain has been partly addressed by e-ink technology in certain e-readers, but it’s still not quite the same as reading the printed word on actual paper. There’s also something to be said, culturally, about having bookshelves stocked with books. It demonstrates (to yourself and to visitors) that you are educated, knowledgeable, and cultured. Whether or not that is actually true is another matter altogether, but that’s the impression that it gives. Consider the office of a traditional university professor.

The Convenience of E-Books

Of course, given that a good deal of what I do as a freelance writer surrounds the world of technology and cutting-edge gadgetry, I also understand the appeal of the e-book format. It’s just so convenient.

You can quite literally have hundreds of books in the palm of your hand. You also don’t need to go to the physical store or wait for the delivery person to get a new book; you download it and have it immediately available to you. This has also lowered the barrier to entry for authors, allowing more people to publish e-books of their own.

Learning from the Music and Movie Industries

There aren’t too many people out there who still buy CDs, but I think comparing the relationship between CDs and MP3s with the relationship between physical books and e-books is a little unfair. A compact disc still contains digital music, which you also receive in an MP3. By and large, there is no different in quality and experience.

Books and e-books are different. Certainly, more and more people who read a lot of books are turning to the side of e-books, but I see the printed book surviving for some time. Can the book publishing learn a lesson or two from the world of music and movies? Perhaps. Kindle has become the de facto format for e-books, just as iTunes has become go-to place for music, but both industries see a great deal of fragmentation too.

What do you think? Do physical printed books still have a place in the digital age? Why or why not?