Do printed books have a future in contemporary cultures? Technological advances in digital content-distribution certainly have reduced the consumption of printed books in the previous two decades or so. However, printed books are (fortunately) not gone. Their sales have started to increase again in the last few years.
The significance of printed books as the go-to packages of knowledge has changed, though. As new generations are born into the digital age, their emotional connection to printed books is likely less intense than that of members of older generations. This is not to say that younger generations don’t care about reading printed books. Only their way of developing reading habits is not necessarily tied to a ritualistic obsession with holding the printed book in their hands. Their objective is to seek and find information quickly, which is a process largely disconnected from the need for qualifying the nature and method of reading medium and experience themselves.
Truth to be told, I love e-books too. There is an undeniable sense of convenience in reading digital books. I remember the days when, as an undergrad, I would go to the library early mornings to ensure I could settle into my usual spot for the day. Eating in the library was not allowed, so I opted not to eat. I did not want to lose my seat by stepping out for a quick lunch. Nor have I thought of eating as something important I needed to do. After all, I had bigger fish to fry. (Pun intended.) I was learning.
By my graduate years in San Diego, digital-format scholarly content was easily accessible Online. It was not unusual that grad students stayed at home a day or two each week to conduct their research, wearing pajamas all day. The use of digital content was beneficial for many in getting through their Master's program. What used to be a godsent perk of learning content delivery back in the day, has grown into an anticipated given.
Digital books became a smart and practical choice over the years. Their use not only makes sense due to the limited living spaces many of us have for accumulating printed books, but the digital versions can also be transported in large quantities. Flying around the world by having all your books at your fingertips on a digital reader at all times is super cool.
However, many of us nurture an emotional, nostalgic relationship with reading and owning printed books. It is a kind of attachment that favors the specific type of physicalness of reading experience that electronic books don't offer.
In the sweeping tides of digital content production and consumption, what is the prospect for still printing books throughout upcoming decades? Does the need for traditional methods of reading have any significance on the marketplace? Admittedly, the U.S. is not a reading culture. Some people don't read books at all. But there is, albeit small demographic that does read and seek out reading experiences that favor printed books. For that reason, I’ll go out on a limb and say that in spite of the proliferation of digital contents, printed books are not the things of the past. The need to see, smell, and touch the pages of a printed book is not an endangered set of sensory experiences. Printed books are still relevant, and they are here to stay.