The Book is Dead, Long Live the Book

Borders going out of business

For many of years, bookstores and libraries played a significant role in the lives of many people including yours truly. We even have a special word for them: “bookstore” (one word) as opposed “barber shop” or “shoe store”. Due to our increasing reliance on electronic media, bookstores are rapidly disappearing. Most small ones are already gone, and larger ones are gradually following suit.

So, what’s next? Where will we browse through books? How will we get a sense of what’s interesting, and more importantly – how will we get that “bookshelf level” breadth of view that seems to only be possible in a bookstore? Electronic books answer these questions through searching, filtering, and viewing recommendation. The technology works seamlessly on the Kindle, Nook, iBooks, and other e-readers, and I believe the written word has a great future indeed.

Before paper books vanish from the face of the earth, though, someone has to solve the following problems:

Book lending: Libraries are evolving to feature more internet stations and such, but how will a library look like without printed books? Like a coffee shop? Indeed, some libraries have opened coffee shops to lure visitors. Still, it’s not clear how e-books will support lending and borrowing.

Used books: This market will die, but the popularity of new books will follow the same decreasing curve it has been following for decades. What to do with less popular books? Sell them for half/quarter/eighth of an already low price?

Hanging out, sipping latte, and browsing books: Borders (RIP) and Barnes & Noble have coffee shops inside their stores, but they won’t last long. Coffee shops can carry loaner iPads and Kindles with limited access to e-books, magazines, and news sources. Most people who hang out at coffee shops bring a laptop or an iPad anyway, so I’m not sure it’ll fly.

Touching and smelling printed books: People will probably have to get used to touching and smelling other things.

Home bookshelves: It’s hard to impress your friends with your collection of Kindle books, unless you have a collection of Kindles to show for (but that can get quite expensive). Ikea re-purposing their iconic bookshelves must signal the end of an era.

Coffee table books. Put a couple of iPads at the dentist’s waiting area? Not a bad idea.