But does the rise in e-books sales (which have actually leveled off over the past two years) really mean the demise of the printed book? In a word: no. One thing must always be remembered about the Kindle and any other e-book reader (including your tablet or iPhone): they are first and foremost electronic gadgets.
There was for some time an assumption that if books were offered in the same format as every other form of media, then people would automatically prefer that method. However, this is simply not the case. Games, social networking sites, and even newspapers are a good fit for computers, cell phones, and other hand-held devices; books are not, for several reasons:
1. Printed books provide a tactile experience. Music is heard, and films are both seen and heard, but books are experienced both visually and by touch. There is an aspect to the feel of books (the smooth glossy cover, the roughness and even smell of the paper) that provides a physical sensation that is both separate from and intimately linked to the story you are reading. We bond not only with the author (novels being the only art form that requires many hours of commitment on the part of the audience) but with the book itself.
2. Great novels, from War and Peace to The Shadow of the Wind were not meant to be read on a digital screen, no matter how much “like paper” they try to make that screen. Most of us spend our entire workday staring at a computer screen, plus additional hours in front of a computer or television after we get home. The last thing most readers want to do is spend even more time staring at a screen.
3. Books can be written in, dog-eared, loaned to friends, stuffed in your back pocket, browsed for on rainy afternoons, thrown at the cat, and then sold to a used bookshop for cash to buy yet more books. Try that with a Kindle.
4. Most readers (and we have always been remarkably few as percentage of the total population) like having a personal library. It may or may not contain highly collectible items like a signed Hemingway or first-edition Faulkner, but a bookcase loaded with books can be much more than a simple collection. It can serve as a timeline of our lives: the copy of Homer you read in the same college class as your future wife, the Robert Parker Spenser novel you read in the hospital waiting for your son to be born, that copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets you read to your daughters over a snowy weekend, and that biography of Maugham you discovered in a cool little shop in London. These are books you pass down through generations, write notes in, and cherish even though they may have value only within the context of your own family. Once again, you can’t do that with an e-reader. The books in a Kindle don’t even exist except as bits of binary code.
Finally, we need only look to our own history to see that printed books will always find a way to survive. Books have weathered far greater threats than the Kindle for over 100 years. The book's demise was first predicted with the advent of radio, then with the arrival of motion pictures, television, video games, and finally the Internet. It was even thought that the launch of Penguin Publishing's paperback book line in 1935 would quickly spell the end of hardcover books; 80 years later hardcovers are still around. And given our attention span with gadgets in general, I think that printed books are quite safe.
If you love printed books as much as I do, you can help bring a bookstore to downtown Fort Worth by clicking the GoFundMe button at the top right of the screen or at the link here. Then go grab a cup of coffee and a book.