EBooks: Supplement or Supplant


The future of the book Ramin Setoodeh suggests, is coming into view. Quickly. What exactly this future will look like is anybody’s guess, but the publishing industry has reached a tipping point.

Electronic books now outsell paperbacks on Amazon, the retailer recently announced. And Borders, the second-largest bookstore chain in the United States, is reportedly considering a bankruptcy filing. (Newsweek)

Setoodeh asked some book-blokes what they foresee, and here are a few takes on the future of publishing in the digital age.

Books are going to get both longer and shorter. I think they will be more affordable. Books are pretty expensive. Publishers are so silly because they focus on “We’re not going to be selling so many hardcover books at $26.” Yeah, but you’re going to sell infinitely more electronically, so what are you complaining about? ~ Judith Regan(book editor and SiriusXM host)

You have to give readers a choice, between a richer experience with paper and board and cloth, and a more sterile experience through an electronic reader. We just try to make every aspect of the physical book as good as it can possibly be, because that’s our greatest hedge against the dominance of e-books. ~ Dave Eggers(author and founder of McSweeney’s)

The new immigrants don’t shoot the old inhabitants when they come in. One technology tends to supplement rather than supplant. ~ James H. Billington (librarian of Congress)

We’ve maintained in the last few years there will be fewer bookstores. Barnes & Noble will benefit from that. We have the best real-estate and business model in the world. Books are still a majority of what we sell in stores, but they are becoming less and less… ~ William Lynch(Barnes & Noble CEO)

I’m particularly keen on Billington’s take, though I’m not certain he’s right. At first, yes. But over time I suspect there will be more supplanting than he anticipates. Time will tell.

The post wraps up with a quotation from Joyce Carol Oates who reads books and newspapers on her husband’s iPad while traveling but still prefers books. I’m agree. I love books. And yet, I’m a digital native, and frequently surprise myself by opting for digital over print. Sometimes efficiency, accessibility, ease and/or economics trump tastes and aesthetic preferences. Often, actually…