Daniel Lemire's blog

, 11 min read

Paper books are the new vinyl records

11 thoughts on “Paper books are the new vinyl records”

  1. > I will be the first to admit that ebooks are not quite as good as paper books for learning.

    Even though there is such a sentiment, it may be a bit subjective. Some people do like paper books and find them more convenient. Some don’t. In particular, I find very frustrating that it is impossible to context-search a paper book. With electronic articles and books I do it all the time.

    Another thing that is quite easy if you have a PDF: you make notes right in the PDF and upload it online. Then, it is available whenever you go (assuming there’s Internet there). Try this with paper books.

  2. Ben Babcock says:

    I think you’re conflating two separate issues (the decline in bookstores and the decline in libraries). And neither of these point to the decline of the paper book.

    Neither bookstores nor libraries are dying because people are choosing ebooks over paper books. Bookstores are dying because online retailers (*cough* Amazon *cough*) are better at shipping books, ebook or paper. Rather than trying to compete directly, most major chains (like Indigo) are trying to diversify into the niche gift market as a way of propping up their sales.

    Libraries are dying for the same reason they are always dying: certain political elements do not care for the idea of a library, and a non-disjoint set of political elements view libraries as financially irresponsible drains on taxpayers. Libraries are almost always among the first line of public services subject to spending cuts. This has nothing to do with consumer selection of book formats. Moreover, libraries are not really about books. Libraries are community loci of learning. The books just happen to be tools that facilitate this learning. Libraries are doing a far better job than bookstores at diversifying their offerings, because they have more wiggle room: they can offer computer access, digital resources, and the expertise of librarians. Libraries will survive as long as there is a public will for them to be funded, regardless of whether they stock paper or not.

    It’s fun to assert that the rise of ebooks means the death of paper books, just like it’s fun to say that the novel is a dying art form. Saying it does not make it true. I agree that the scenario you lay out is possible, but we disagree on the likelihood. Your comparison of paper books to vinyl records is attractive but not particularly apt. The two forms of media are too dissimilar.

  3. Steven Pigeon says:

    Libraries will not disappear, they will transform. They will still be needed to index and store the digital books, they still will need curators, they still will be needed for archiving.

    That’s something Amazon (or any publisher) can’t and *won’t* do.

    Also on the topic of the medium vs message, I don’t really see how vinyl fit in the comparison (except for hipster/quaint factor). They are a medium inferior to digital audio. They wear out rapidly, they are easy to damage. Digital audio can be replicated and transcoded. Paper books have one thing in which they are still very much superior to digital media books is that they last. Your paper books will be “compatible” in 200 years. What about that epub/pdf/stupid-proprietary-format ebook in ten years? Books can’t be recalled. You can move them from one room to another. You can lend them to friends without having the DMCA suing you. You have control and duration. Ebooks? Unless Creative Commons, not so much.

    The ebooks _may_ come to a point where the media isn’t, as you said, merely HTML, and will offer usability and freedom on par with real books (yes, even if you can ctrl-f something faster on a ebook… sometimes.. they’re rarely better), but they have a long way to go.

    Books aren’t vinyls.

    They’re the CDs.

  4. @Leonid

    What you describe is correct, and I hardly ever use anything but ebooks and PDFs for this reason. But it is harder to annotate ebooks than you make it sound.

  5. @Daniel,
    it is a bit harder and annotation takes longer. However, if you add a note, it will be in print easy-to-read letters. In the case of handwriting, people can have trouble reading their own scribbles later (at least this is an issue for me).

  6. @Ben

    I do not think that what is happening to bookstores is new or caused by Amazon. In Quebec, at least until recently, Amazon had no market penetration at all. Yet our bookstores still fit Stephen Downes’ description. I remember that, 20 years ago, my local bookstores would often be without any scientific book whatsoever, except for survey material. I do not think this has changed because of Amazon.

    I agree that libraries are doing better than bookstores. However, once Amazon offer a comprehensive all-you-read system for $10 a month… the weak political will you describe will be hard to sustain. More to the point, why would anyone care about government libraries at that point? (Libraries in schools and colleges are another matter.)

    Libraries will survive as long as there is a public will for them to be funded, regardless of whether they stock paper or not.

    Something called a library can still exist without paper books. Whether it is recognizable as a library…

  7. @Steven

    Libraries will not disappear, they will transform. They will still be needed to index and store the digital books, they still will need curators, they still will be needed for archiving.

    Sure, but they will not exist as they were. They will be something else which critically does not revolve around paper.

    Books aren’t vinyls. They’re the CDs.

    It has been years since I have been in a store selling CDs. The last CD I bought was probably 10 years ago. I do not even have a CD player, unless you count my PlayStation 3 which could be used for this purpose, I suppose.

  8. Steven Pigeon says:

    Despite everything, the prophesized decline in CD sales did not materialize entirely. People still buy them: they have the highest quality digital audio (not a poorly made 128kbits mp3), they have control over the contents. They can rip them, share them, transcode them, copy them. They pay extra to be able to do whatever they want with it.

    I get FLACs or CDs for this exact reason.

    (See http://musicbusinessresearch.wordpress.com/2014/03/21/the-recorded-music-market-in-the-us-2000-2013/ )

  9. @Steven

    I am sure people still buy CDs and I take your point that books are maybe close to CDs. The same way people will still buy paper books they will keep on buying CDs.

  10. Mike Stiber says:

    While a parody, there are some salient points made by the parody Ikea catalog commercial at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOXQo7nURs0#t=58

  11. Mark S says:

    @Steven Pigeon

    At my local public libraries there are lots of old people who come to the library to read newspapers and lots of students who study using the library’s free internet connection in a quiet environment.