Books Aren’t Dead, But They Will Be

Seth Godin is a pretty well known book author in the business market. His books are prolific and most people interested in business have probably heard of him. He has written 12 best-selling books.

Well, he made some waves this week by publicly declaring he would no longer publish books in print format. In his upcoming interview with MediaBistro, he says:

I’ve decided not to publish any more books in the traditional way. 12 for 12 and I’m done. I like the people, but I can’t abide the long wait, the filters, the big push at launch, the nudging to get people to go to a store they don’t usually visit to buy something they don’t usually buy, to get them to pay for an idea in a form that’s hard to spread … I really don’t think the process is worth the effort that it now takes to make it work. I can reach 10 or 50 times as many people electronically. No, it’s not ‘better’, but it’s different. So while I’m not sure what format my writing will take, I’m not planning on it being the 1907 version of hardcover publishing any longer.

This sparked another debate about the future of the dead tree model of publishing. We now live in an age of the Kindle and the Ipad. Buy a book online (which is a lot cheaper than the print version, usually) and have it instantly downloaded to your device. That rocks.

However, many just can’t stomach it. They prefer print books. The feeling of the book in the hands. The ability to highlight it up. The ability to lend it to your friends. The feeling of seeing a big bunch of books on your bookshelf.

While there are still many people out there who prefer a physical book, the truth is that the industry is going to move toward digital whether we like it or not.

Just look at what happened with video stores. Companies like Netflix have completely demolished the old model of the video rental store. My old video store near my house just went out of business recently, and you’re seeing it happen everywhere. How can these old-school companies compete with unlimited, digital delivery? Netflix, for $9/month, gives you unlimited DVD rental (1 disc at a time) and unlimited streaming to any supporting device. That same $9 would get you maybe 2 movies at the video place, which you’d have to return in a couple days or else face fines. Ugh.

I think digital is much better when it comes to books. Here’s why:

  • I no longer have to figure out what to do with the book after I’ve read it. Old books are a HUGE source of taken up space and usually just end up cluttering up closets and attics.
  • In the space of one book, I can store literally hundreds or thousands of them.
  • It saves trees.
  • I’ve got a dictionary built right in, making it super easy to look up a word while reading.
  • I can easily make notes to myself while reading, then view all my notes at once after I’m done with the book.
  • I can highlight stuff in the book, and access it all in one place when I’m done. Makes for an easy way to review all your most important parts of the book.
  • I can pipe my notes/highlights into another format, such as Evernote.
  • I can see what parts of the book OTHER people view as most important.
  • I don’t have to go to a bookstore if I don’t feel like it.
  • I don’t have to pay $30 for a pile of paper. I can usually get the same book for a third that price.

Books might not be dead yet. But, give it another 5 years. I think you’re going to see traditional bookstores following their video counterparts into the dustbin of history. Today, we stream movies rather than buy them. We download music albums rather than buy CDs. The book will follow suit. Eventually. It is all but inevitable.


  1. As much as I like having a physical nook in my hand, I like the idea of having countless books on a device like the Kindle. Overall it just feels more convenient.

  2. You’re right, it is going to happen. To some extent. But look at the Vinyl, it’s had a massive resurgence. There will always be a small crowd that likes it a certain way. Just like it was small that people preferred the digital way.

    I still like to read hardcopy books. They are easier to read. But I don’t have an iPad or a Kindle yet, so that’s like why i’m not a convert. But I do enjoy have books available for others to read. There’s no way to share a book when purchased via Kindle or iPad, is there?

    Also – for me as a kid I loved my parents and my grandparents book collection. Now maybe that won’t be the case for younger generations – since it’s all available on the internet. But I know when my grandpa gave me his old old hardcover copies of Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Allen Poe and The Count of Monte Cristo it was the coolest thing in the world.

  3. The book will become the souvenir, rather than the item. Buy the ebook OR buy the ebook with a signed leatherbound version and a cherry on top.

    I’ll resist this…I hate it 🙂

  4. I like the idea of digital books, but typically it is harder for me to read a book in digital format and ingest the material than in print format. Not sure why? Maybe it is because I am trying to read on my laptop? I haven’t gotten to the point of getting a Kindle or Ipad yet. Maybe that would change my opinion.

    Short reads like a blog post are a different story for me though. I have been wanting my magazines in digital format for a while now. Wake up Velonews!

  5. Yeah, there will be holdovers, as with vinyl. Books aren’t going anywhere by any means. I just think that the sale of physical books will dwindle alot and will no longer being economical or practical when compared to digital delivery. And hence, the broad market demand for books will shrink.

    Its inevitable. It has happened with pretty much every form of media. Its just a matter of time with the printed book.

  6. Yeah, reading on a computer sucks. It is a different experience when on a Kindle or an Ipad.

  7. True. Plus, there are tons of books out there, so they aren’t just going to go away. It is more about the economic side of it. It will go digital.

  8. Something to consider:

    A library of over 100 hard copy books take up half a wall in my office. Have a question, pull down the book go to the index, go to page read it.

    I also have a directory on my server that has over 500 pdf/document files. Have a question, search titles for correct subject, oppps PDF’s for the most part don’t have an index (the ones I write don’t for sure) so you need to search the pdf for the answer.

    The thing I am getting at is they both have their use. Most of my books are out of print or have been superseded by newer editions.

    So if you have a PDF you can get it printed or you can print it yourself if your printer has the stamina to print 400+ pages. 🙂

    Too bad if printed books may go out of style, some of it could/should be your children’s inheritance.

  9. I doubt they go completely away. The popular books will still be…books. But the fringe stuff will probably only be digital…why pay to print something that’s never going to sell?

    However, when you include the cost of the device, I don’t know that they’re really cheaper. Most people don’t read enough books to justify the cost. Not that this will stop them, mind you…like those who get a new hybrid so they can save a few miles per gallon.

  10. I’m with you on this, but I think Nathan’s right when he says paper books will become a kind of souvenir. I think the bulk of reading will be done on devices, with people buying the occasional “special” book in print. That appeals to me – I read a heck of a lot and have a major storage problem.

    Shawn’s point is interesting about there being no way to share Kindle style books. As an author that appeals to me! 🙂

  11. I think you’ll always be able to get printed books. I just think e-books will become the first wave and much more normal. Actually, I think an option we may very well see is print-on-demand books.

  12. Joshrules001 says:

    I like ebooks better than printed books better cause of convince their always with you on something you take everywhere with you anyway your cellphone but until the w3c or someone comes up with an official format print will always be their right know their are alot of formats the most popular is epub cause of kindle but odf and text is also good

  13. Which appeals to you as an Author – someone being able to share your book? Or the fact that if someone wants to share it they effectively need to ‘buy it and gift it’ instead of just saying ‘here read my copy’?

  14. Do not forget libraries. I can take out a book and then return it. No cluttering of the closets.

  15. most paperbacks of new releases do not cost $30 dollars, more like $10-15. For the people who only read about one book a year, hard copies are still a better option, since they won’t have to make a large initial investment (which in the case of the Ipad will be considered outdated in a year or so). When comparing saving trees, you forget the embodied energy and materials involved in a kindle or Ipad, which is 10’s if not 100’s of times more than a single book. You can always give the copy you have read to another person, or donate it to a library.

  16. It was meant tongue in cheek, but the latter!

  17. I agree with You Bradley and here’s why you “ingest” the information differently on a screen, either computer or kindle vs a hard copy book. There are energetic transfers occurring between you and the actual physical apparatus ie physical book or electronic device as you are “absorbing” the material. This energy transfer is effected by the different formats/devices etc. as they interact with your energy system. In a nutshell, the full experience of reading (ie the emotional, physical, imagination interaction) is muted to pretty much left brain analytics when reading from elec. devices. Hence, hard copy will never go away…they are much more enjoyable to read… IMHO.

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