Tech Tactics - Will E-books Replace Printed Books?

By Reid Goldsborough 

It doesn't look like printed books are going away anytime soon, according to recent findings of a survey by Pew Research Center. Fully 65 percent of those polled who said they read a book during the past year read a printed book, while only 28 percent read an e-book, with younger readers, as expected, more likely to do so. Also interesting is only 73 percent said they had read any kind of book.

Of those reading e-books, more people are using tablet computers and smartphones to rather than a stand-alone e-reader. Over the past five years, the percentage of people reading books on an e-reader rose from only 7 percent to 8 percent, compared to an increase from 4 percent to 15 percent on a tablet, from 5 percent to 13 percent on a smartphone, and from 7 percent to 11 percent on a desktop or laptop PC.

Though the phenomenon of books being on a screen might not have done away with printed hardbound and paperback books, the Internet is causing a significant transformation. In 2012, sales revenue from e-books in the U.S. surpassed hardbound books, according to the Association of American Publishers.

The benefits of e-books are palpable:

  • An e-reader, laptop, or smartphone weighs the same whether it stores one book or a thousand.
  • E-books are searchable, which can be especially beneficial when doing research.
  • You can obtain e-books immediately over the internet, without having to go to library or bookstore.
  • Unlike printed books, e-books don't require trees for paper and petroleum for ink.

However, paradigm shifts never happen without drawbacks, and e-books are no exception. Printed books also have their advantages over e-books, including:

  • Unlike with a digital device, if you drop a book on the sidewalk, you rarely risk ruining it; likewise with keeping it in your car's trunk on a hot summer day.
  • You won't have a problem reading a printed book on an airplane during takeoffs and landings.
  • It's easier to loan a printed book to a friend or sell it in the used book market.

Additionally, some e-books, to the bewilderment of many e-book aficionados, cost more than the hardback version and sometimes even the paperback version, though the cost to produce the e-book version is significantly less. In the future, with healthy competition, the price of e-books should decline and more accurately reflect production costs.

So will printed books eventually disappear? It's likely that they will persist but also likely they will be produced in smaller numbers. And just as radio found a niche after television, printed books likely will find their niche after e-books become ubiquitous.

There's no denying printed books' physical attraction - the way they look, feel, and even smell. But there's also no denying the economics and practicality of e-books.