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Does Print Have a Future?

September 7, 2011

The continued closure of bookshops and libraries across the UK and the resultant job losses makes for some grim reading. It is also rather ironic as book sales are steadily rising. In comparison to the noticeable decline of feature films and music albums, books seem to have a bright future. But with the increasing popularity of E-Books does the printed word have a future? E-books are great for many things: they save massive production costs for publishers and are also easy for readers to access and search. They also seem to appeal to some people who might not be natural bookworms. The downside is individual E-books are usually so cheap that it does not produce a great profit for authors and publishers. Some readers think E-books take away a certain pleasure in reading. I prefer E-books if I’m scouring for references or information in an anthology, but they do not appeal to me for reading novels or poetry. E-books are definitely here to stay, but I think print has a bright future too. There are so many types of books we love: the coffee table book, the dog-eared paperback, the shiny hardback on the bookshelf. It’s hard to imagine these books disappearing, and I don’t think they will. It would be a terrible shame if Waterstones went into administration or had a revamp that made it look like the now almost bookless WHSmith. However, retail booksellers do have some thinking to do; like many readers I buy most of my books on Amazon or AbeBooks. What’s the point of paying full market price when you can find pulp collectibles online sometimes for only a few pounds? But lately I’ve found myself wandering into bookstores and libraries and thinking it would be a shame if this community-based immediate contact with books was lost.

E-books and print complement each other quite well. I hope both will thrive.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2011 10:55 am

    I agree that printed books are here to stay. Overwhelmingly people tell me that they want the hard copy of a book- especially novels. E books are great for research or reference as you say but the tactile experience of reading books is too important to reader’s enjoyment for them to fall by the wayside.
    Bookstores on the other hand are probably going the way of the dodo. When Borders closed I one comment that I read that I thought summed it up was that Borders couldn’t survive as a showroom for It is a great pity really. Bookstores are friendly places that make us feel good. I think that there is still a lot of scope for second hand bookstores though so maybe the business of selling books is just altering slightly and not going online exclusively.

    • September 7, 2011 12:14 pm

      Thanks for the comment. I think you’re right that publishing is changing and not dying. Truth be told, publishing cannot afford even to contract or make cuts. If publishers produce less books obviously this will eat away at their profits so they need to keep producing a high output, of course the quality of books may go down as they may be inclined to take less risks. I hope Waterstones will pull through as it seems there is a lot of imagination in the store with quizzes, signings and readings hapening quite regularly. I would just hate them to go the WHSmith route and become one vast stationary warehouse.

  2. September 7, 2011 1:07 pm


    Greetings from L.A.

    It is a two-edged sword for authors as well. I have just completed my third book and am considering self publishing as POD and e-book after having Book I published with HarperCollins and Book II with Dutton. The upside is- I am my own editor and have complete autonomy on what stays and goes and can get it to the public at half the price of a hardback and in a few months rather than the usual year or 18mos. The downside is not having it in storefronts or the resources and distribution that normally accompany print publishers. I suspect there are a lot of readers out there that don’t use Amazon etc. I hope the “balance” remains at least for the immediate future. Kindles are great for research, but nothing beats holding a “real book” in your hands.

    Steve Hodel
    Los Angeles

    • September 7, 2011 4:05 pm

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks for the comment. Looking forward to your next book. My first book Conversations with James Ellroy comes out February 2012 and I will be very interested to see what the ratio of print vs e-book sales will be. I work in a university library and we still get printed books everyday and they remain the favourite of students. Still, these are gloomy economic times and I hope bookshops can cope with the downturn.


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