Books are all around us—in the shop, on the MAX, and even hidden among the apps in your iPhone. The pressing question is: What does the future hold for books? You may have heard your more tech-savvy friends claim to foresee the disappearance of physical bookstores and the print book along with them, while your English-nerd friends cling tightly to their hardcovers and say, “Not this day!” And as these two sides fight about the fate of books, you may find yourself wondering, which is it? What does the future hold for books and booklovers?
Since the first commercial success of an ereader (Amazon’s 2007 Kindle), many people have predicted the impending doom of the print book. In a world where multiple books could be bought and stored all in one convenient device, why would anyone continue to purchase bulky copies outside the comfort of their own home? In our very tech-oriented era, the ebook has seen increasing popularity among casual readers and book nerds alike. Perhaps one of the most alluring aspects of ereaders is that they allow you to read discreetly. Before the ereader, many people read certain books only in the privacy of their own homes. After the release of the first Harry Potter book in 1998, thousands of adults could be spotted reading hardcover books without their slips. This was the only way that adults felt they could get away with reading a children’s novel. The creation of the ereader has made it possible for adults to publicly read children’s books to their heart’s content, along with other controversial books, such as those by Bill O’Reilly or the thousands of free erotica books from the Kindle store. The more people enjoy the privacy and convenience of ereaders, the more unusual it may become to see people reading physical books on the MAX.
And yet, almost ten years after the release of the Kindle, physical bookstores continue their existence. Even Amazon has joined the fray by opening physical bookshops in places like San Diego, California, and even in our own Portland, Oregon. Any book nerd will tell you that there is something magical about holding a book—the warmth of its weight in your hands; the beauteous sound of rustling pages; and the intoxicating scent that fills the air as you open it up. Even more rewarding than enjoying a book yourself is sharing the book and discussing it later. Sharing is just something you can’t quite do with an ereader in the same way you can with print. When I was in the fourth grade, my friend shoved a particularly large book in my face and demanded I read it. I started the book that night and stayed up far later than I should have on a school night. Had my friend only recommended a book to me, I would have been less inclined to seek it out. The absolute best aspect of owning print books is that they can be signed by the author. I don’t believe Amazon has quite figured out esignatures.
So what sort of future do books have? Currently it seems that neither form of reading is entirely better than the other. Perhaps the future will create a sort of hybrid reader—people who love their ereaders and buy all their books on the device, but save a place for those special, signed print copies to be displayed on their bookshelves. What do you think the future holds?