Printed Books? Humbug!

Confessions of a Paperback Misanthrope

Twenty years ago, I told my sister that  “In 20 years printed books will be novelties.” It seemed, at the time, that audio and e-books were the only way forward. We would stop killing trees and polluting waterways and burning fuel to print and deliver books. Instead, we would create and distribute books electronically. Only electrons would die, but it’s been proven that (like some primitive creatures) they do not feel pain. At least not like we do.

Boy, was I wrong! (Not about the electrons.) Amazon sells more millions of printed books than ever. Audio and e-books surged for a while, but then fell back. People, it seems, want to hold a real wood cellulose, ink, and glue book in their hands.

Pre-Covid-19 I attended a local Book Fair. Eighty-some authors sat at tables selling and signing copies (paper) of their books. Business was brisk. Most of the sellers and buyers were “mature”—it was in a 55+ sunshine community—but even our Millennial youngest daughter prefers actual books.

I was an early adopter of killing more electrons. My Audible membership goes back so far that I still sign in using a “member name.” On warm evenings I often sit on the dark lanai reading an e-book on my phone. I look up and there’s Wendy, sitting in the living room with her book under a reading lamp. When we moved to the sunshine Wendy lamented leaving her shelves of novels and cookbooks behind. At 50 cents a pound, it was cheaper to replace them when we got here.

Wendy asks me, “How can you read on an iPhone? It’s so small.”

Really, I don’t find it that small. Besides I can carry around an entire library. If I don’t like this book I can read (or listen) to another. Try carrying around Anna Karenina or War and Peace or a bunch of other heavy, revolutionary Russian tomes around in your pocket. With an audio book I can drive, garden, walk, or almost any other activity while enjoying a good book. Try walking down a busy street reading Shakespeare and count how many people you bump into.

And I know a person who will read only new, wrapped books. The used, unwrapped ones might carry germs.

However, I seem to be outnumbered. Amazon is selling more paper books that ever. Americans bought 689.45 million printed books in 2019 and 52 percent of them were sold by Amazon. E-book and audiobook sales appear to be declining.

In a moment of full disclosure, I, too, have a paperback printed book on Amazon. There, I’ve admitted it. I feel so much better.

Well, maybe that’s good. Part of my business is helping people self-publish their books. Everyone wants a paper version (usually on Amazon) that they can hold, pass out to family and friends, and keep on their coffee table (to smile at in private). The e-book is an afterthought. Audible; not much interest. Yet.

At the Book Fair all of the vendors were selling print books. Not an ebook or an audio book in sight. But, maybe there is hope for my prediction now that millennials fighting climate change, capitalism and the status quo are taking over the world from the comfort of their parents’ basements.

So, here’s my prediction: (Ahem!) In 20 years books printed on paper will be novelties.

Check back with me in early in 2040. I kind of hope that I’m wrong again.

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