If you believe the hype, printed books are going to follow newspapers into the dustbin of history. But I think that books, like newspapers, won’t die off completely. They’ll just become niche products, consumed by a small, but avid, group of people who still love the medium and find their digital equivalents lacking.
Nothing illustrates the magic of a physical book like this fun stop-motion video from Toronto independent bookseller Type Books.
Ironically, the fact that books are becoming a niche product will revive the fortunes of the small, independent booksellers who have been hammered over the last 10-15 years by competition from major chains. If they are smart, the independents will remain nimble and provide services that the Amazons of the world can’t: namely, curation. Type, for example, leans towards architecture & design, although they do carry a decent selection of general fiction/non-fiction. The reason they remain a going concern is because the owners have successfully identified the kinds of books read by people who love physical books, and they aggressively stock those.
Note that these two qualities aren’t inexorably linked. I’m waiting for the day when an independent bookstore offers e-books alongside their physical products, thereby enabling them to both serve a niche via actual books, and a general audience via digital download. However, such a day will not come so long as e-readers like the Kindle are closely tied to a major chain, with all of the DRM shackles that such an association implies. How long before we see a truly open-source e-reader? And what aspects of the bookselling market will need to change before that happens?