Is the Paperback Really Dying?

Maybe It Isn’t

E-books are taking over and traditional publishing is dying, or so the current narrative goes. E-book sales are going by leaps and bounds – apparently 2011’s sales were double that of 2010’s- and this clearly doesn’t bode well for the sales of cheap paperbacks. Readers might shell out for nice hardcovers if they want a physical copy of a book. But why shell out for a paperback?

Enter the article, “Is the Paperback Dead? Readers Still Love Them, But Publishers Want Them to go Away.” And why do publishers want them to go away? “[B]ecause paperbacks are the most common books to be bought secondhand…  A paperback copy of, say, Eat Pray Love can be sold and resold ad infinitum, thanks to Amazon and your local used book store. But for multiple people to read that same book on a Kindle or Nook, each of them has to buy it for $10.”

So it’s all a conspiracy, then! We’re doomed!

There might be a smidge of truth in this. After all, wasn’t the gaming community up in arms at recently over the way the new X-box restricted the use of used games? And apparently some court ruled MP3s can’t be resold. So – it does make sense for a company to want to reduce the ways other people can make money by re-selling their product.

But people still love paperbacks. Paperbacks are less of a wrench to give away to someone you know will never give them back. Used bookstores are exciting places to find a new read – and are one method of “discoverability” that the internet will have trouble replicating.  And, well, as long as enough people buy them, they probably will still sell them.

Therefore, I wouldn’t bank on the fact e-books will immediately and irreversibly replace the paperback in the near future. After all, the last telegram in the world will be sent in India on July 14. In this age of cellphones and even plain old landlines, some people still rely on the telegram! Technology does not a die a quick death. And I wouldn’t say the paperback’s death is absolutely guaranteed.

So get ye down to the bookstore and check out these old-fashioned things called ‘books’!

Harma-Mae Smit is an author of e-books, but she has a very soft spot in her heart for paperbacks and used bookstores as well.

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