It's difficult to predict the fate of traditional books in light of e-reader technology, but it might help to look at the music industry as a comparison. Until relatively recently, there was very little variation in the way music was recorded, distributed and enjoyed. Around the start of the new millennium, however, MP3 files, iTunes, YouTube, Pandora and a host of other technologies changed the entire industry. Could a similar tech-friendly trend be happening in the world of books?
Before you conclude that printed books will soon go the way of the eight-track, cassette tape and CD, consider that -- unlike these formats -- many people have an emotional connection to actual books, not just the stories and information they contain. In this way, books are more like LPs. Though impractical, many people still cling to their vinyl collections for the richness of their sound.
"It makes sense for some books to be available digitally, such as textbooks and certain reference material, but traditional books will never go away entirely," says Steve Cymrot, owner of Riverby Books in Washington, D.C. "A 200-year-old hand-bound text printed on rag paper is a thing of beauty, and that will never change."
And interestingly, booming sales of e-readers don't necessarily translate to a decline in sales of traditional books. For example, Amazon.com's January 2011 news about e-books outselling paperbacks came on top of reports of continued growth in paperback sales -- at least for the online retailer. The situation, however, is a bit different for some traditional bookstores. Borders, a national chain of bookstores, declared bankruptcy in February 2011, reporting that it will refocus on e-book and e-reader sales in order to save the company [source: The Wall Street Journal].
More and more Americans appear to be jumping on the e-reader bandwagon, too. An August 2010 poll by Harris Interactive revealed that 8 percent of Americans were using e-readers and about 12 percent planned to do so in the next six months [source: Harris Interactive]. In 2011, sales of e-readers are expected to reach more than 20 million [source: IMS Research]. This is good news for makers of e-readers, which continue to advance the technology by making these devices lighter, faster and smarter.
Considering the growing popularity of e-readers, sales of traditional books may eventually decline. In fact, the entire world of book publishing may be headed for a radical transformation. But fear not, bibliophiles. It's unlikely that traditional books will ever become completely obsolete. They simply need to find a new place alongside their cool new cousin, the e-reader.