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More on the death of physical books

Posted By Russ Roberts On November 10, 2010 @ 12:53 pm In Books,Technology | Comments Disabled

A number of people objected to this post [1] arguing that books have many advantages over reading the same material on the Kindle or the iPad. They’re right. Yes, the iPad and kindle are more fragile than a physical book. You can’t just throw them in the trunk of your car or read them carelessly at the beach. Yes, you can run out of batteries. And there is some eyestrain with the iPad. BUT.

You can take 50 books in your luggage for your vacation.

You can read easily with one hand

You can’t read carelessly at the beach. But you can read carefully. And when you discover that you really liked the author of the book you just finished, you can order another book by the same author and have it in 30 seconds when there might not even be a bookstore nearby as an alternative.

You can touch a word and the meaning shows up at the bottom of the screen instantly.

You can annotate just like pen and paper.

You can highlight without ever running out of ink.

You can read sample chapters for free at your leisure without having to linger at the bookstore.

You can search effortlessly for passages you want to re-read. The biggest advantage is yet to come. The integration of text with photos, videos, audio and other resources to enhance the reading experience. Yes, I know, for some us that won’t enhance our reading experience, it will just distract us. But the market will sort this out.

So while there are some advantages to physical books, I’m predicting that the advantages of digital books will crush them. And it won’t take long. Kindle books are already out-selling [2] hardcovers at Amazon. And it’s not close.

And of course as many readers pointed out, books aren’t going to disappear. I meant new books will disappear. There will be a thriving used market and maybe even the occasional new book the way that you can still buy LP records for your turntable. But I don’t think new ideas are going to come out between covers in the future.

There will be one exception. The Jews. We will still publish prayer books and Bibles and Talmuds for use on the Sabbath when the iPad and the Kindle take a rest. But for the most part, I think that’s going to be it.

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[2] already out-selling: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/20/technology/20kindle.html

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