Friday, May 21, 2010

The Future of Books and Bookselling

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent article this morning on the effects of ebooks on books and bookselling, but the tone is particularly negative. The general assumption is that digital books will kill bookstores in the same way that digital music has killed music retailers. I don't think it is quite that simple.

Books are a particularly tangible thing. In music, the CD or vinyl LP was was a medium only--a way to get to the music. For books, though, what we're after is more than just the words. The book experience is key. Holding the book, flipping the pages, dog-earing, underlining, annotating, sharing, and having that physical asset on the bookshelf is all part of what makes up the book experience. I don't think this is only true for book lovers, but I will admit that for those who consume and then dispose the mass market beach read things might be different. It may be these readers who make up the target market for ebooks. The question, then, is what share of the book buying market is made up of these consumers.

Maybe I just want to hold onto the past. Maybe I just want to believe that there is a future in the physical book and bookstore. What share of the market is made up of people like me?