What Is the Future of Printed Books in the Digital Age?

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For centuries, the written word has been a transmitter of information from one generation to the next – capturing the thoughts, images and narratives of writers, to be pursued at will by curious individuals. From stories, to facts, to valuable research, the roles of the medium is irrefutable, as is its position in society – they are tools of transformation and enlightenment; preserving knowledge for all to peruse.

For centuries we have seen this knowledge manifest in the form of physical hardbound books. From the writings of Lau Tzu to religious text, man’s discovery of paper and ink has lead to the springing up of countless libraries. Books have been the primary means of codifying a breadth of ideas since time immemorial – a status hitherto unchanged, but for the advent of technology in the twenty first century. With computers, tablets and mobile phones improving in capability, we now have a wholly new platform for books to be hosted upon.

Electronic Books, or E-books, allow for hosting of entire libraries on something as simple as a handheld smart phone. They are inherently more portable, faster to access, easier to store, and with particular research oriented books, it allows for the incorporation of hyperlinks which are an efficient way to learn more; easily replicated, without any need for printing cost or any chances of damage, deterioration or loss. In fact, E Books have found their own home in libraries, and are on the rise as far as borrowing is concerned – almost matching that of physical copies, as librarians continues to expand their collections of E-books1.

It’s easy to see how the society of the future may simple have thousands of pages worth of information accessible at the swipe of a finger – efficient, streamlined and consistently more versatile.

So in the face of such improvements and features, what is the future of books in the world? Perhaps surprisingly better than one might expect it to be.

The future of books goes hand in hand with the disadvantages of the e-book medium, as well as a little extra2. The electronic medium is, for all its advantages, very easily corrupted and destroyed. The wrong combination of buttons can easily delete whole libraries worth of literature. And should the device itself become corrupted in any way? It might restrict access to all books, perhaps irrevocably. This damage might be offset by the fact that it is easy to make copies of E Books, but even then, it’s a far cry from the sturdy durability of physical copies which are harder to destroy. Some people find E Books harder to adjust to and read from, in comparison to regular books, although that too may be offset by continuous reading and simply getting used to the new format. Books are not bound by battery life, and can, with care, be re-read almost infinitely. But perhaps the biggest factor in favor of books’ survivability is simple human sentimentality.

Oft times we, as a culture, form certain associations with objects that give them added value or meaning than they otherwise would have. We glorify them, adding connotations to their status and turning them into important symbols. Books, for millennia, have been associated with knowledge and high intelligence. We have mental images in our heads of our grandfathers poring over thick leather-bound tomes in search of lost knowledge, and that mental image has evolved, gaining more significance as time passes. Even know, with eBooks on the rise, book readership has not fallen, nor have its rates declined, it forever remains the monopolizing medium for the transference of the written word.

Perhaps someday in the future, maybe when technology has become much more deeply ingrained into our society, we can expect physical books to decrease in popularity, and perhaps fall into relative disuse. Even so, with the endless romanticism, the reliability, and the sheer attachment we have towards books – such a scenario is a long, long time off.


1. Justin Littman and Connaway Lynn Silipigni, ‘A Circulation Analysis Of Print Books And E-Books In An Academic Research Library’, Library Resources & Technical Services 48, iss 4 (2004): 256-262.

2. William H Walters, ‘E-Books In Academic Libraries: Challenges For Acquisition And Collection Management’, Portal: Libraries And The Academy 13, iss 2 (2013): 187–211.


Littman, Justin, and Connaway Lynn Silipigni. ‘A Circulation Analysis Of Print Books And E-Books In An Academic Research Library’. Library Resources & Technical Services 48, iss 4 (2004): 256-262.

Walters, William H. ‘E-Books In Academic Libraries: Challenges For Acquisition And Collection Management’. Portal: Libraries And The Academy 13, iss 2 (2013): 187–211.

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