Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Books Are Here To Stay

This is my second Road Trip Wednesday. If you don’t know what that is, check out the details from YA Highway’s blog.
Today’s question: Assuming we make it through the 2012 apocalypse, what do you imagine the publishing world will look like 100 years from now?

The best answer? I have no idea, and no one else does either.
I do know that digital will be a huge part of the publishing industry.
I also know that physical books aren’t going to disappear.
There will have to be changes. Obviously. Things are changing right now. We’re on the cusp of physical and e-books being affordable for nearly everyone. And pretty soon, e-readers and tablets and such are going to decrease in price so much that e-books are the cheaper option that physical books. This is one reason (along with portability, convenience, etc.) why e-books will override physical books. Not in a hundred years, but like…next week.
But physical books are here to stay, even if in a slightly different way. Right now physical books are cheap. They’re for everyone—indeed, we publish mass market for a reason! In a few (not nearly 100) years, physical books won’t be special enough or unique enough to compete against the digital world.
That’s when we’re going to have to publish ‘different’ physical books. Books will need to feel special and they’ll need to have a reason for people to want to put them on their shelves. Just like during the Renaissance when books were rare, special, and beautifully illuminated, books of the future will need something to encourage consumers to want the physical version rather than the (most likely) cheaper and more easily portable digital version. This can be solved by publishing books that are unique. Books that deserve to be displayed and ‘awwww-ed’ over. These stunning hand-sewn covers that are part of the Penguin Threads Deluxe Classics and the beautiful leather-bound editions that HarperCollins sells at Barnes and Noble are early examples of publishers looking for ways to make books feel special and collectable. I even discovered while reading Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom (about Harper’s legendary children’s book editor and director) that they wanted to publish the sequel to Little Fur Family with a real rabbit’s fur cover in the 1950s!
While I’m not suggesting that we publish books with fur coats, physical books are going to have to change somehow to compete in the marketplace as digital becomes more attractive and competitive. There are going to be lots of changes in publishing in the next one, five, fifty or one hundred years. Changes that we cannot predict, but I know two things for certain: one, no matter how much time goes by, books are here to stay. And two, I can’t wait to see what happens.


  1. I had a similar thought about physical books--they'll probably end up being a luxury, something people treasure and hold on to forever. Great post!

  2. I think you're right. There will always be people who want to hold onto a physical book and those who have the money to do it. I'm sure the number of people will get smaller as the years go on, and the price of books will get higher, but I can't imagine a time when not a single person owns a book.

  3. "[Harper] wanted to publish the sequel to Little Fur Family with a real rabbit’s fur cover in the 1950s!"

    Really!? How bizarre...and ahead of their time! You raise a great question. I wonder how books will physically change to adapt to the marketplace. Size? Cover images? Glitter?

  4. @Katy and @Tracey: Books will definitely become a luxury (that's the perfect word to describe what I was trying to say). I just hope I'm always able to afford books...I don't know what I do without them!

    @Lara: I know, crazy, right? A lot of books are published with 'specs' (holographic foil, embossing, glitter) that we never would have seen even ten years ago. Other books are already published in unique formats, especially for "Special Markets" like Anthropolgie, Urban Outfitters, etc. I definitely think we'll see a lot more of that! And it definitely could get...interesting!

  5. Ahh, lovely imagery here-- I do hope that printed books become not so rare that they are out of reach for people, but that they become something special, unique, well-planned, and beautiful. Like a work of art.

  6. I'm really glad there's still hope for physical books in the distant future. I do love the look of the Penguin Classics but I've never yet done anything other than gaze at them longingly in bookstores. :)

  7. As long as there are book lovers out there, there will always be hope for every form. :-)