Before embarking on this blog post, let me first explain a few things: I am a physical bookseller. I have a vested interest in the ongoing relevance of physical books in society. Without physical books, my bookselling business is kaput.
On a personal level, I love reading physical books. I love the tactile feel of the pages. I love curling up on a couch next to a raging fire with a good book on a cold winter’s day. I am a regular library user. I love the dog-eared corners, the notes made in the margins, the fact that a full bookshelf is somehow indicative of my personality and my past. I love browsing the shelves in bookstores. I love that my wife has colour-coded the spines on our home bookshelf. I love the smell of books.
These are all common arguments for the perpetuity of that wonderful thing called the ‘book‘.
The problem is: the average 17-year old couldn’t give a toss about most of those things. They live their lives through their mobile devices. They consume content – news, video, music, social media – through their mobile devices. And they read books on their mobile devices.
Given the choice between a physical book and a smartphone, which do you reckon a Gen Y will reach for?
As those young whippersnappers grow up and move through the age brackets, what becomes of the humble book? Will it become an anachronism like other forms of physical media: the floppy disk, the video tape, the cassette, the CD, the magazine, the newspaper?
To those who argue: ‘there has been a levelling off of eBook adoption and the physical book has won’, I say that this is only a temporary situation. eBook technology will get better, the market with shift, traditionalists will die off, and new digital citizens – some of whom haven’t picked up a physical book since school – will take their place.
The physical book will be with us for some time yet, but its fate has already been sealed, sad as it may be.
I hope I’m wrong.