Will Ebooks Make “Real” Books Obsolete?

Reading has always been a hobby of mine. If someone was to describe me as a “bibliophile” I certainly wouldn’t object. However, over the last couple of years, I have come to understand the word bibliophile in its more literal meaning.

So basically, although bibliophile is very often used to describe someone who enjoys reading, strictly speaking, it refers to someone who likes books.

That may sound a little like splitting hairs – but I don’t think that it’s just an exercise in semantics.

amazon kindle 4 ebook readerLike Books, Like Reading – Or Maybe Both?
As someone who likes to read a lot, ebook readers and ebooks were something that I welcomed with open arms. Ebooks had been around for years of course, but it was the advent of e-ink technology displays that made all the difference for me.

Reading on an e-ink display is as close to reading text printed on paper as it’s possible to get. After you have been using an ebook reader for an hour or so, you won’t even be aware of it. It really is a lot better than reading on a back-lit computer monitor.

E-ink displays also use a lot less power than the average computer display – so you can go for a long time between battery charges. Battery life is typically measured in weeks rather than hours, which is handy if you’re travelling as you won’t need to pack cables, chargers adapters etc.

The ability to carry thousands of books around with me on a device which is smaller and lighter than the average paperback is also great. Once again, very useful for anyone who travels a lot or who just wants to read when out and about.

Best of all, for me at least, is the fact that, whenever I finish a book, I can download a new one in under a minute. Being stuck in a hotel room, jet-lagged, unable to sleep and with nothing to read is my idea of hell.

I could go on. Ebooks are cheaper and more environmentally friendly. You can download out-of-copyright books free of charge – make your reader pay for itself if you like. The list goes on – but how about if I just say that, in my personal opinion, ebook readers are the perfect gadget?

Enter The Bibliophiles
Many of my friends and work colleagues are also keen readers. In my enthusiasm, and quite possibly, innocence, I shared my new found love of ebook readers and ebooks with them. I may, if I’m honest, have been approaching evangelism at times.

So imagine my surprise to learn that, not only did many of my fellow book lovers not share my love for digi-books, but that they even looked upon them with a certain element of disdain.

Some said that they would miss the “feel” of a book in their hands. Fair enough – I suppose that there is a certain tactile pleasure to be had whilst reading a good book.

Yet others said that they would miss the smell of a book. At this point, I did start to wonder just what kind of books they were reading. Presumably something from the “Scratch ’n Sniff” literary genre.

However, it soon became clear to me that the physicality of printed books is, for many people, an important element in their enjoyment of reading. And why not? Personal hobbies should be about enjoying yourself. If you like the feel (and even the smell) of a bound volume in your hands whilst reading, then go right ahead and do what you enjoy most.

picture of leather bound booksSo Will Ebooks Replace Printed Books
It’s a question that has been asked, and answered, many times on blogs, websites, newspapers and magazines. I don’t know the answer any more than the other pundits out there – but my opinion is that printed books will be with us for a long time to come.

Amazon has reported that it now sells more Kindle books than hardcover and paperback books combined. Barnes and Noble has also confirmed that the growth in its digital division, the Nook reader, tablets and associated ebooks, is much higher than that in evidence in its more traditional bricks and mortar outlets.

Of course, Amazon and B&N are the number one and two players respectively in the ebook reader market. You might therefore consider them to be just a little atypical and wonder how those figures compare with other booksellers and publishers. I also suspect that, were you to remove free downloads of out-of-copyright ebooks, then the figures may be less impressive as far as ebook sales go.

Atypical or not, slightly skewed or not, Amazon and B&N probably represent the way that things are going to go in the book market in future. It seems reasonable to assume that ebook sales will continue to grow.

Whether they will be read on dedicated ebook readers or tablet computers is a different question, but they will make up an increasingly large proportion of total book sales in future. In fact, I suspect that ebook sales will be in the majority – and not just for Amazon and B&N – much more quickly than many people imagine.

However, selling more ebooks than printed books is a very different proposition to having printed books disappear altogether.

It seems clear to me that there are plenty of people who have a strong preference for printed books. There are certainly more than enough to ensure that printed books will be with us for the foreseeable future – and as a reasonably priced alternative to ebooks rather than as collector’s items or rare curiosities.

For myself, as much as I like ebooks, that makes me happy somehow. So maybe I am a bibliophile after all.