Do e-Books Have A Future?

David Weinberger kicked off the latest installment in the ongoing debate about the future of electronic books versus paper books in his Will books survive? A scorecard… post.

He’s got some good points, but like many of the smart folks I admire, he approaches this question assuming that books, in any form, are important. Ursula K. Le Guin’s excellent essay on “the alleged decline of reading” is especially informative on this point: books don’t matter to most Americans, and they haven’t for some time.

And among those who do read, the book industry’s bread and butter is in romance novels that appeal “largely older, less affluent female buyer.” The continued commercial viability of country music radio stations while other formats suffer declines blamed on iPods might suggest that those readers are technology averse (yes, I’m assuming country listeners and romance readers are a similar demographic), but just as that audience learned how to use VHS, then DVD, they’ll likely learn to appreciate other book formats as well.

A few of David’s readers have commented that books will likely become the new vinyl. They’re probably right, but that doesn’t mean ebooks will replace them in the mainstream. As noted in my comment, I’m not sure paper-bound books will survive the cultural and economic shifts that face them long enough to be effectively translated into some electronic form.

I sometimes wonder if we’ve already replaced the book and it’s called “blog.”