Is Technology Killing the Printed Book?

These days, it’s challenging to find someone who doesn’t get at least a little daily screen time in one way or another, what with Kindles, smartphones, laptops, iPads and the like so readily available. The convenience of these devices is unquestionable, considering the amount of information and number of applications consumers can get. This raises the question of whether technology is killing one of my favorite things–the hard copy book.

The first fact writers and readers have to accept is that an electronic version of a book doesn’t necessarily have to connect to a print copy–that is, a publisher can opt to publish something solely in electronic form. This means that publishers won’t release some writing in hard copy format, ever, and from that standpoint, technology can limit the number of printed books out there. On the other hand, the reduced cost of e-publishing means that publishers can entertain more authors, so while the number of printed books might not reach its full potential, the number of works available in general goes up. That’s not a bad thing in an age when literacy is a hot topic in education circles.

Even though publishers can save a lot of money by putting out electronic books, they have some strong reasons to keep the more expensive print presses rolling. Lots of people like traditional hard copies of books simply because of the emotional and aesthetic aspects of holding them, flipping pages and even taking in the aroma of the paper and ink. These are things a digital copy of a book simply can’t offer. Some people also prefer hard copies because they can so easily write their own notes in the margins or highlight text. Additionally, certain types of books do not lend themselves as well to electronic formatting. A book on art, for example, might be better appreciated if the pictures in the books are not reduced in size due to screen size constraints. These types of books often hog the resources of a viewing device and have slow load times, or they might require plugins or additional applications for viewing to occur properly. Another good example is children’s books, because kids can be hard on electronics and often benefit from hands-on activities.

woman reading to child

Ebooks might not be suitable for everyone and might eliminate some aesthetic positives associated with reading.

Lower income individuals also can be at a disadvantage with strictly e-publishing, because it costs significant amounts to purchase and replace the devices that read the electronic files. Before publishers can eliminate print publishing completely, they have to address the problem of class and financial divides–failure to do so might widen educational and literacy gaps. This is particularly relevant to academic publishers. Lastly, some individuals might not be comfortable with electronic documents or devices, such as the elderly or those with a disability requiring special formatting or printing.

All these things considered, technology certainly is changing the way people read, and it’s giving people more options about what to read. But because technology is never perfect, it likely will be a long time before the hard copy book gets completely phased out.