Monday, February 15, 2010

Are Print Books Dead??

Remember the musical Oklahoma? Gordon MacRae singing to, of all people, Rod Steiger: "Poor Jud is daid, poor Jud Fry is daid..."

Well, the way folks have been talking lately, I'm waiting for the new musical, "Digital World," where a Gordon MacRae-esque editor will stand next to a book and sing out, "Poor print is daid, poor print books is daid, they're lookin' oh, so tattered and passe..."

Seriously, I keep hearing the rumblings:

Digital is taking over.
No one is buying print books.
Brick-and-mortar bookstores are closing every day.
The future of publishing is uncertain.
What does this mean for authors?
How will this change our contracts?

And on and on the questions go. The person sitting next to me on my flight to Nashville last weekend even asked me about this when she found out I was in publishing. We had an interesting conversation about it all, especially I heard some of these same doom-and-gloom thoughts from her.

I just smiled, and pointed to her lap. "What are you reading there?"

She held up her book--not her Kindle, mind you, her BOOK--and we talked about the author. Halfway into a sentence, she stopped, looked at the book, then at me.

And then she smiled.

"Now, look around us," I said. "How many Kindles do you see?"

She hopped up and, on pretext of heading to the oh-so-spacious bathroom on the plane, took an informal poll. Upon her return, her smile was even broader. "Two. On this whole plane, only two."

"How many books did you see?"

Smile shifts to grin. "Too many to count."

"So is print dead?"

She settled back in her seat, hands caressing the cover of the book in her lap. "I don't even think it's sick!"

Agent Steve Laube brings a voice of much-needed reason to the whole discussion. Be sure you read the comments, too. Good stuff.

So no, print's not dead. It's not even on life support. In fact, as my friend on the plane finally concluded, it's not even sick. Sure, things are changing. That's the one constant in life: change. But we authors and editors and publishers need not fear those changes. Far wiser to understand them, what's behind them, and how we can take them in stride.

Peace, all.



Jill said...

Thank you for a clear view that addresses all the hype!

Catherine West said...

Interesting perspective. I sincerely hope that print books are not dead or dying or even close. It's gonna be kind of hard to sign somebody's Kindle when I finally get published. :0) That said, I do enjoy the convenience of being able to download a book in seconds - given the choice, I would jump in the car and drive to Barnes and Noble, but we don't have one in Bermuda!! It's very difficult to get quality books here, especially Christian fiction, so for that reason I love knowing I'm not being left out in the cold. But I do hope we can find a happy medium and be able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Sharon Ball said...

Is so easy to get caught up in "the sky is falling" pandemonium. I'm so glad you're putting everyone's mind at ease. Books are not gone, they're not dying, and we can all breathe ease.

marci seither said...

To say books are dead is like saying that newspapers are dead. It is true that the format may be changing, but I still have more readers in print than on-line. People like holding something in their hands and the electric battery operated things are not the same.
I do think that the need to write better is a big plus. Since there is less print space they are more selective in what makes the cut. It is so important, to borrow the phrase, "Ask not what your editor can do for you.. but rather what you can do for the editor!" :~)

Jim Rubart said...

Great post, Karen. Yesterday I read that 40 percent of households don't have high speed internet. Forty! It surprised me. I would have guessed the stat was closer to 25 percent.

But talking about the capabilities broadband offers makes the news. Talking about almost half the population not being able to watch You Tube videos on their laptop isn't as intriguing.

Same thing with e-books.

It's a fascinating development in the world of publishing. It's entertaining to read about and debate.

But even if e-books double for the next three years, what will we have? Twenty percent market penetration? Twenty five?

If we look at the history of cell phones, DVD players, microwave ovens, etc., we find most of those innovations took years and years to become common among the majority of the population.

It's a good bet e-books will traverse the same path.