Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Is Print Dead?

The surging popularity of e-readers makes me ponder this question occasionally. Then I ask myself, well, have horses and buggies disappeared since cars became widely available? Is there no market for antique furniture anymore, now that new furniture is so affordable (thanks, Ikea)? Has the supermarket put gardening out of business? Do they still show movies in theatres, or are DVDs and Netflicks the only options?

Granted, these things have become hobbies or indulgences rather than the essentials they used to be, but they are still around. Different, and perhaps less profitable, but definitely still around.

As an example, here are the latest statistics from Paperbackswap.com. (If you're a member, you can check out the stats yourself at the "Pulse of Paperback Swap" section.) These stats almost certainly include a certain number of audiobooks, but I'm willing to bet the vast majority are old-fashioned paper and ink.


Books Available: 4,939,716
Books Posted in last 60 minutes: 1,216
Books Posted All Time: 18,545,250
Unique Titles Available: 663,975

Books Mailed

Books Mailed All-Time: 9,987,353
Books Mailed in last 7 days: 58,541
Books Mailed Today: 4,612

It seems that there are plenty of people who still want the traditional reading experience. Count me among them. I understand the rewards of convenience, immediacy, and adjustable type size that come along with an e-reader. But no matter how inexpensive they get, I doubt I'll be tempted.

For me, the intangibles that come with a book are hard to beat. A well-stocked bookstore--new or used--is a delight to the eyes. Once you get the books home, they look great in any room of the house. Stacking them up in a literal To Read stack develops a delicious sense of anticipation. And unexpectedly discovering a long-sought title in some obscure used bookstore is, well, a superior thrill.

E-reader? No thanks. I'm paper all the way.


  1. The pencil has survived all manner of pen, plus the typewriter and the computer. They each have their own benifits. I prefer a paper book, no one can just take it back sort of embarking on book burning, and it is much much much easier to share a book that isn't locked in with all of your own. Plus if you drool on them in your sleep, they'll still work in the morning!

  2. I like your take on it, Oreneta. And, J.G., you already know how I feel about it. Good post.

  3. These are Susan Hill's thoughts on the subject (from Howards End is on the Landing), sums it up nicely I feel:
    "No one will sign an electronic book, no one can annotate in the margin, no one can leave a love letter casually between the leaves. It is true that if I had no books but only a small, flat, grey hand-held electronic device, I would only needs a very small house and how tidy that would be with just the small, flat, grey ....."
    thanks for sharing

  4. Oreneta, the pencil is a great example! I read somewhere recently that NASA spent a ton of money developing a pen that wrote in zero gravity, while the Russians simply used pencils in space. Fairly dull ones, I assume.

    Brad, thanks. I should have credited you and Teresa at Shelf Love for getting me thinking about the e-thing. Again.

    Martine, what a nice quote. I hadn't considered the pleasure of having a book signed. Something else we would lose if they went away completely.


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