The death of print is not inevitable

An edited version of a response to another Sisters in Crime discussion list conversation.  This is a little redundant -- you've heard me say much of this before -- but it's not like others aren't also saying the same things too, about the inevitable death of the print book and how young people are all about ebooks.  So this is just today's contribution to to the continuing conversation.  (At least I hope it's a conversation!)

Print will survive.  Obviously, it won't be the same, but I have no doubt that committed and creative readers, publishers and booksellers will find ways to sustain a market for books.  The mass market may move away from paper -- that's what the Bookscan figures are hinting and what folks at Apple said to the SinC summit team during our visit with them two years ago (members only at  But that's not the same thing as saying that print is dead.

At my day job, I work among the young folks who've been mentioned here in various messages and who are always citied in a discussion like this.  You can argue that the kids who find their way to Kenyon aren't typical.  As a group, they are more devoted to words than most.  But if you have any doubt about their devotion to books on paper, you need only observe how they browse the shelves of the Kenyon College Bookstore, dip into and out of books that catch their eye, and then take books to the register and spend their money on their new treasures.  It's not just our regular college students, it's also the high school kids who are on campus for summer programs.  You'd be impressed with what they're reading, too.  We sell a lot of Penguin Classics and Dover Thrift Editions, for example.  We also sell Jennifer Weiner and that new Doctor Who book you're seeing everywhere.

That's not to say there aren't challenges.  We can say that there will be a sustainable market for print books, but somebody has to actually do all that sustaining.  Of course it's not just a singular "somebody," it's all of us who care for books -- readers, authors, publishers and booksellers.  Publishers have to be smarter and more equitable.  Booksellers have to work harder.  Authors have to inspire us.

And readers?  Readers have to decide what they want the marketplace to look like.  At the end of the day, this business is driven by your dollars.  Whether we're talking about the dollars you spend on books or tax dollars that go to your local library, you have all the power there is to support the market for books.

Books are not so big an industry that a change in the behavior of a relatively small number of customers will go unnoticed.  I guarantee you that for most community booksellers, the decision of even just two or three individuals to buy their books elsewhere (be it the grocery store or online, or as e-books from a site not allied with a local store -- whatever) on any given day makes a difference.

This isn't about electronic books versus print books.  This isn't about being a luddite versus embracing technology.  I'm not talking here about the merits of one thing over another thing.  What I'm getting at is the fatalism.  The discussion here (and elsewhere) is largely framed as one inevitability.  The reality is likely to be more complicated and more interesting, with print and electronic text continuing to exist side by side.  So it's really the nature of that co-existence that's at issue, something that I believe is entirely within the power of readers to shape in the context of their communities.