The Book of the Future: E-books killed the paperback star?

I’ve said in the past that I think the development and broad adoption of e-books is going to be great for bibliophiles; I’m sure many people would disagree with that, but I do have my reasons for saying so.

Now, to be clear, a bibliophile is defined as “a person who collects or has great love of books.” So, we’re not just talking about the stories they contain, but the objects themselves. My dad loves thrillers. He’ll listen to tons of them on audiobook while driving (he drives a lot for work) but he’s not attached to the physical copies themselves. I love books. Having them. Collecting them. Getting rid of them is physically painful for me. (Especially if I end up dropping a box on my foot. Ouch.) I am a bibliophile.

So, why am I so enthusiastic about e-books?

In the face of electronic books dominating the market for genre fiction and, eventually, all forms of fiction, I do predict that the mass market paperback will phase out. Not tomorrow. Not five years from now. But eventually, the reasons for having mass market paperbacks (economy and portability) will be better served by e-readers. For many people, including me, they already do.

But why is it a good time for bibliophiles?

As the mass market paperback is phased out, I think traditional publishers are going to be putting more focus on creating books that offer more than just the stories inside. Paper books will become more creative in their form, offer a more interactive experience, and become something that bibliophiles want to collect, not just tuck into a crowded shelf. I see three types of book that will become more commonplace and more attractive to book lovers in the future.

1. Special Editions. When Cemetery Dance Publications published their 25th anniversary Deluxe Limited Edition of Stephen King’s It, it sold out in less than 30 hours. (I believe the gift edition is still available, though, for you King fans.) It had a hefty price tag. It also had high-quality paper, deluxe bindings and  endpapers, color and black and white artwork and a new afterward by King. Fantastic! Collectible. And for the buyers who nabbed a copy, worth every penny. This is the kind of book that you simply can’t experience (and wouldn’t want to) in electronic format. Look for more publishers to be catering to this market to a greater and lesser degree.

2. Forms that help tell the story. Book reviewer (and fabulous reader) Dot over at La Deetda Reads tipped me off to a charming new book called The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss. Marketed as a “two-sided romance” this accordion-style book can be flipped and read from either side. (Check out Dot’s link for some great photographs.) One tells the story from his point of view, the other from hers. Charming and whimsical (if perhaps awkward to read if some of the reviews on Amazon are true) I like the idea of this book. I like the concept of using the book as a metaphor for the story you’re telling. Look for paper books to become part of the story in more imaginative ways. Will this appeal to everyone? No, of course not. But for a book lover who enjoys form as much as (or more than) function, a book like this is a reason to buy the paper copy and it’s worth a little extra money, too.

3. Scrapbook style books. I’m sure some of you saw “THE COOLEST BOOK IN THE WORLD” when I posted a little video of it last week. Here, look again…

Awesome, right? While The Jedi Path is written as the Jedi training manual (a fun book for any Star Wars fan) this edition is a scrapbook. It’s “signed” by Obi Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker and others, with “notes” in the margins where they’ve added thoughts or comments. There are diagrams of lightsaber designs drawn on dirty napkins and tucked into the pages. Other pages have been ripped out. (No doubt at the command of the Sith.) Tokens and mementos litter this edition that comes in a truly amazing book box. (It even makes a kind of hydraulic release noise when you push the button to open it.) This book isn’t just a book, it’s an event. It draws you into the world of the Jedi and becomes an experience.

That’s why I called it the book of the future last week, and that’s why I see more of these kind of books coming from publishers large and small. With the growth of e-books, we’re going to see a radical change in the method of story delivery, but I don’t think we’re seeing the death of the book. Make no mistake, books will change! But while some may moan the death of the paperback, I think it’s more fun to focus on what this new world is going to add to the library.

Thanks for reading,


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  1. First off, I hope my husband doesn’t ever see this Jedi book, or else I know it will somehow make it on to our crowded shelves.

    This post made me smile. I’m in love with my kindle, but this doesn’t change my love of special printed and bound paper books. There will always be a place for a sentimental, high quality, experience book, whether they are a book of love poems with a personal inscription given as a gift or an pop up book with elaborate folded pages that brings the story off the page.

    I just saw too, that the most expensive book ever is due to be auctioned off this month.

    How much people are willing to pay for a bit of ink and paper is enough to prove that in one form or another, “real” books will always be around. Like you, I’m excited about the possibilities.

  2. The Jedi book is amazing. SmallBoy is having a hard time prying it away from Mom and Dad.

    And that book! Wow, who knew bird lovers had so much extra cash laying around? (I kid.) But you’re right, as long as there are book lovers out there, there will be a place for books. I’m very excited to see the developments!

  3. Interesting…. I agree that :”With the growth of e-books, we’re going to see a radical change in the method of story delivery, but I don’t think we’re seeing the death of the book.”

  4. Great post, Elizabeth.
    I love both the paper and the “e” but I’m totally enthralled by the quirky as was probably evident to you by my review of THE THORN AND THE BLOSSOM. I also collect pop-up books which are works of art. Long live books in all forms!!!

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