3 Reasons Why Physical Books Just Won’t Die


A slice of my SciFi bookshelf.

Hugh Howey posted an intriguing exploration of a possible – perhaps even likely – near-future in which our very concept of e-readers and e-reading has shifted. We’ll own physical book-like objects that are technically blank but will fill with words via native or bionic technology. This way we get the traditional feel of a book if we want that, but maintain the swap-out, thousands-in-your-pocket convenience we’ve come to know through current e-readers and e-reader apps. Or we can let all the physicality go entirely and allow our GoogleGlass accessories or GoogleLens contacts to let us read on walls and ceilings or whatever else might be in sight. We’ll even get to do all of this while we ride from place to place in our self-driving cars, which means even more time for reading. Yay!

I could see any or all of that happening. Even things we haven’t yet imagined. And I’m excited about it! But I don’t think physical books will stop being relevant to readers or end up wholly phased out of the market. Not because of heft/feel/smell/etc. alone, as some folks might suggest, but for three other reasons. 

1) They won’t disappear yet because there’s still a frankly nonexistent (or at least profoundly constrained) model of interpersonal loans for ebooks. So while physical book purchases may eventually decrease significantly, without a more ebook-owner-friendly method of legal sharing, folks who love handing a friend a book when they visit or giving away a book one has already read and don’t need anymore will still want physical books. It’s still one of my biggest frustrations, honestly, because “you can read it when I’m done” is currently impossible unless I let someone else use my e-reader or share an e-reader account with them, which I’m not going to do. Someone on the supplier side could fix this problem if they wanted to, but I’m pretty sure they don’t.

I’m not in any way resistant to new technology. I love new tech and would love to see – and probably use – the faux-book multi-faceted e-reader Howey talks about or glasses that let me read on the ceiling in bed (*please soon*). Currently, I primarily use audio books and pick up ebooks sometimes if there’s no audio option, but if I really enjoy something or find it useful, I get a hardcopy to have around for rereading, sharing, and gifting. See what I did there, though? I bought both! We can’t think of these markets as simply cannibalistic, ebooks eating the physical book market for lunch. They can serve unique as well as overlapping functions.

2) Physical books will also matter for collectors (which I think most of the “but I like the smell” type folks probably are). Collectors aren’t typically about pure utility so much as aesthetics and a certain experience of use and ownership. For some sorts of readers, the faux-book e-reader may be just enough like an old-fashioned book to satisfy them, but to many collectors? Even if it’s an excellent facsimile and/or very handy, they’re still going to want to handle their battered copy of Little House on the Prairie, sigh happily at the line of coordinated color on their shelf that corresponds with their favorite scifi series, and stack intriguing mini-collections on and around coffee tables as a gesture of intellectual openness toward visitors. For these folks, a faux-book that’s both static and dynamic in the way Howey describes would be like a meal at a major chain restaurant would be for most foodies – adequate, maybe even good, but never offering the unique experience they appreciate from gourmet supper clubs, high-end food artists, exotic foreign street vendors, and kitschy Mom & Pop hole-in-the-walls with a specialty to die for.

I could foresee a trend toward personal collections of what one might consider heirloom books, for example, books bought or otherwise gathered with the intention of passing them down. I love that I have my brother’s copy of Ender’s Game, my mother’s copy of The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, and a friend’s once personal copy of her best-selling book. I don’t want just any copy of those books. I want the copies with histories that matter to me. There’s still a visceral difference for me between the content itself, even its base packaging (look/feel/smell), and the unique ineffable quality a book takes on when I read it with my neice and then say she can take it home with her. It’s not just a story or even just a book then. It’s a treasure.

3) Considering the take-backsies problem some e-reader users have experienced, especially if some legal dispute occurs or even just as standard practice for dealing with electronic versions of certain periodicals, it’s not hard to feel like “ownership” in a wholly electronic environment is far more tenuous than in the physical world. Yes, my physical books can be stolen or waterlogged by flood or set on fire, but barring extreme circumstances or my active desire to part with them, I’m sure they’ll be accessible to anyone in my home or office thirty years from now. I’m not sure my e-copy of Analog scifi magazine will still be accessible even 30 days from now.

There’s a certain sense of permanence and domain that comes with physical books that ebooks – by their nature and amplified by the policies surrounding them – just don’t have. Perhaps that sense is an illusion or irrelevant to some readers (or with regard to some books), but I think it’s not something we can wholly discount.

So, while it may become a semi-niche market, like scrapbooking or art collecting, I strongly suspect that distinct physical books will likely stick around a good long while.



First Lines, Establishing Trust, & the Authorial Blue Box (#MondayBlogs)

It’s almost become cliche, the way writing advice books talk about first lines as if they are a fetish item for readers.  Personally, I don’t necessarily remember “first lines” as a reader. Not in the “everything before the first period” sense.  But you do have a very short time to convince me that I will enjoy this journey you’ve mapped out for me.

If I’ve opened the book, I’m already at least vaguely interested. But as a bit of a bookworm, someone who loves a good story and beautiful wordsmithing, I’m even more than interested.  I am primed and ready to WANT to enjoy the book.

Whether in the first sentence or the first four, if you don’t take that spark of book love and make fire… I don’t TRUST you.  That’s the best way I can explain it.  Even if I keep reading, it’s with wariness (even predisposed weariness) because I don’t trust that you can keep me engaged, that the story will speak to me deeply and consistently enough for me to lose myself in your world and the lives of your characters.

I honestly can’t say I always have poor reading experiences after poor first impressions. But I can say that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of being thrown into something that makes me literally forget time and space for a while, a poor first impression leaves me primed to locate, even fixate, on every rough patch or error. I often don’t even notice many of these issues if I’m swept up in the story from the start.

It’s like finding a rodent or insect in your house. Aren’t you searching every shadow after that? Inspecting every discoloration? Jumping when anything not attached to you moves?  Don’t do that to readers.  It’s not a fun way to read a book and often these are the books I never finish or only come back to years later.

When I open your book, I’m holding out my hand to you. Meet my hope with something beautiful or fascinating, a puzzle or a glimpse inside something truly unusual.  Make me say “Yes. Yes!  I will travel with you!”  You’re my guide to this world. I have to trust you.

So be my Doctor Who.  Widen my eyes and grab my hand and when you say “run,” I’ll do it with a smile. Even if your blue box is a plain old motorcycle or a dragon or space skis or bare feet on glittering beaches.

I want to go.  I wouldn’t be knocking on the door of your world, opening your book, if I didn’t want to go.  I just need to know that wherever we’re going, I’m in capable hands.

First impressions establish trust.

What do you think?  What do first impressions do for you?

Photo: Hook Hand by Phostezel at SXC.hu.

Mini-Review Roundup: The Personal MBA, Platform, & Indie/Small Press #BookMarketing (#AmReading)


The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business by Josh Kaufman

I’m a fan of the bootstrap approach to education, even as I also appreciate formal credentials and the work that often goes with them, so I was excited to find this book. It is truly encyclopedic without getting bogged down in (or, at least, without under-explaining) business jargon. It does feel a bit like a hodge-podge and like surface comprehensiveness sometimes trumps useful depth, but it’s a nice addition to a home set of business reference books. If you’re looking for accessible depth on key business topics, I’d again refer you to “Understanding Michael Porter” by Joan Magretta, which I mentioned in my post on competition and the business of writing.

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt

I know why this book is lauded. There’s some great content in here. It does, however, read rather like what much of it is – a collection of blog posts. It could have just been called “50 Things You Need to Know About Platforms,” a single blog post that would index the rest by topic. Now, maybe I’ve just been reading too much in this topic and often related startup advice these days, but most of this info is already discussed in so many places – for free. It makes me wonder if Hyatt is somewhat a victim of his own success with these ideas. Maybe he was the chicken who laid the whole platform egg, I can’t tell. At this point, though, I’d say that if you are only going to pick up one book on this topic or if you are unlikely to wander the internet, reading even just a handful of related blogs, then absolutely get this. If you are already hip deep in these issues, you can probably skip it, but, for the completists out there, since it’s kind of a classic in the field now, it’s worth picking up.

Indie & Small Press Book Marketing by William Hertling

This is actually a small but mighty little book that encapsulates both the key strategies and more detailed tactics of successfully marketing a book. True, it sometimes reads like an ebook-first text (complete with a few links that you obviously can’t open in a paperback version and some spots in need of copy editing), but the information that many other books take 20 pages to provide, this book does in 2 or less. I can’t say yet whether it is “The Book to Buy” on this topic, since I still have a whole stack of related books to go through, but I can say that NONE in my stack are this concise (less than 100 pages) while remaining informative. So, if you want a quick, logically structured, super-handy little marketing book, or even just want a great place to start, then this is an excellent book to pick up! I was excited about this book and it didn’t disappoint!

Current Reads: I’ve picked up some classic and fresh new fantasy books, which I’ll discuss in an upcoming post, as well as both Stephen King’s “On Writing” and Sol Stein’s “Stein on Writing.” (Yes, I do tend to read multiple books at once, switching based on my mood.) Everyone keeps recommending the King book, but the Stein one feels more readable and enjoyable for me right now. Am I missing something? Is this about me being more of an editor at heart and/or not actually being much of a Stephen King fan? (This is actually the third time I’ve tried to get into the King book and I still don’t know if I’ll finish it!)


The Business of Writing: On Envy, Competition, and Value

The Business of Writing: On Envy, Competition, and Value

Recommendations in this post:

One of the things I appreciate about this article, “Jealousy Among Writers” by Anne Emerick, is that it is honest without being accusatory and encourages us all to focus on learning, rather than whining, wallowing, or sniping. I’m naturally a very chill person – hence, the handle – but it’s always good to be reminded about the “how” and “why” of channeling problematic emotions into more productive activities. I remember reading somewhere (and I unfortunately don’t recall exactly where) that feelings are not facts, so feeling something doesn’t inherently make it true. When I feel rubbed the wrong way or frustrated, overlooked or just plain covetous, I remind myself that feelings are not facts and whatever’s going on probably has nothing to do with me and will ultimately affect my path very little or not at all.

Writing, as with much of life, isn’t a zero-sum game. Many of us can win, even if we win different things, at different times, or in different ways. I feel like no one will believe me if I say that professional writers (and artists and other striving-to-be-self-employed folks) should pick up Understanding Michael Porter, a business essentials book by Joan Magretta, as well as The Go-Giver, a business-oriented teaching tale by Bob Burg & John David Mann. I will recommend them here anyway, though. The Go-Giver is an easy, quick read, so I will understand if that’s the only one you pick up. If you can concede that writing is a business for you (or you would like it to be), however, then the way Magretta sums up and synthesizes core business concepts in Understanding Michael Porter will be deeply relevant to you too – even if you have to think outside your creative (un)box!

The point of any business is not to “do better than the Other Guy” (whatever that might mean) or to “crush the competition.” The point is to provide value to customers or clients, consistently and at a price that they are able and willing to pay. Regardless of the way you publish or distribute your writing, it has to be something in which readers find value, something that fulfills a need or want and does so well – by their standards, not yours! Whenever possible, you want to make your work the best mix of “unique” and “familiar” that you can manage so that readers want to turn to you again and again to meet that need/want, to be “topped up” with the value you provide. I go to certain writers when I want smirk-worthy wit and wordsmithing, others when I want lush worlds to get lost in for days, and still others when I want to contemplate humanity in its darkest as well as its most beautiful moments. That’s value, for me. No competition necessary.

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Review: The Well-Fed Self-Publisher by P. Bowerman

Review: The Well-Fed Self-Publisher by P. Bowerman

The unfortunate reality with many otherwise great “get yourself published” or “do-it-yourself publishing” books is that they rapidly become outdated if they’re not repeatedly and regularly revised. Talking about e-reader technology as “electronic gizmos” that haven’t really “caught on in a big way” and how to market to now defunct booksellers will do that to you. I state that upfront for folks who might be looking for a book wherein the definition of “self-publisher” is probably going to *mostly* be about ebooks and POD. This is not that book.

What this book DOES offer, however, is a profoundly comprehensive (sometimes maybe a little *too* comprehensive) look at how every step in the self-publishing process – from the idea to write a book in the first place to collecting checks over a lifetime – actually WORKS. Now, I know you’re thinking … “How can it do that if it’s out of date?” To that, I would say, “Think of this book less as a place to find THE singular answers to your questions about publishing and more as a place to find A) the right kinds of questions to ask, because there are far more you need to ask than you probably think, and B) effective ways to think through, research, and strategize toward the answers you need.” The author has opinions, of course, and discusses a variety of his own experiences and those of his clients and friends, but ultimately it is very much a book focused on helping the reader develop a detail-oriented frame of mind when it comes to this process.

My major takeaways from this book:

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Book Review Challenge!

Book Review Challenge!

I’ve recently realized that I hardly ever leave reviews for books. It seems, on the surface, to be a rather thankless and time-consuming enterprise, BUT I also realize that a significant portion of my initial thinking about whether or not to buy/try a book involves the existing reviews of said book. How do I pick books? I look for a topic or genre I’m interested in, sort the list by average rating (number of stars), sift by the apparent relevance of the title, read the blurb to see if it’s interesting, and then check out the actual reviews (more or less in that order). I tend to ignore low-quality reviews easily enough (you know, the comments about shipping speeds, the ones written partly in “txt spk,” and the ones oozing with remarkably disproportionate hate over something irrelevant to the main content of the book), but I do try to read both the high rating reviews and some of the low rating reviews to get a range of perspectives.

Primarily, when I read book reviews I’m looking to see if the book fulfills whatever promise intrigued me from the blurb and whether or not there is a hidden bias or other trend in the book that will be offensive or otherwise distasteful for me. I don’t tend to care who wrote the review (with the exception of obvious author-under-a-pseudonym type situations) and even actively avoid reading many “professional” or “industry” reviews because … well … I always feel like A) I never agree with the so-called professionals, B) the so-called professionals are out of sync with popular culture, and/or C) the quotes of so-called professionals are there to sell me something, not to give me the real scoop. Typically, by the time I’m reading reviews, I’m already leaning heavily toward buying the book, but reviews can help get me excited about reading the book ASAP, let me feel like it’s mediocre enough to just put on my wishlist for an eventual “later” that may never come, or make my face scrunch in disapproval and scrap the whole plan to buy/read the book at all.

So … I’ve decided that since I know personally how beneficial a book review can be for readers and, as someone who writes and has writer friends, I know what a review can *feel* like for writers, I will work to write at least one book review per month this year. I won’t promise to catch up from the months I’ve already missed, but I’m going to try! It’s important to note that one book review a month is actually pretty paltry considering how many books I read in a month, but I have to start somewhere, right? If I promise two a month, I think I’ll just stress myself out. So, I’m promising one a month and if I get into the habit of doing more, then awesome!

Anyone else jumping on the book review bandwagon? If you already write book reviews regularly, what’s your process? Do you start while you’re still reading the book? Do you sit down as soon as you read “The End” or let it simmer for a little while? Does reviewing regularly change how you read or buy books?

I’d love to know!