Are our bookshelves going the way of the CD case and should we worry?

There has been a lot of buzz lately about eReaders. Amazon is having tremendous success with its Kindle reader and Barnes and Noble introduced it’s “Nook” reader during this past (2009) holiday season. Sony has had a successful eReader for quite some time and virtually every mobile device on the market has some form of PDF or ebook reader on it, including the iPhone which sports a software version of the Kindle reader. The big question on every body’s mind is

Are our bookshelves going the way of the CD case?

Regardless of the answer to that question, that’s still the wrong question to be asking. Lots of people are worried that printed books are going to disappear the way CDs have “disappeared” (I use quotes here because you can still buy CDs in stores, they are just losing popularity). What happens to writers if printed books go away? Are we all just going to go extinct like the dinosaurs? From talking to some people and listening to their fear, one would think that one day all writers on the planet are simply going to sink into a tar pit and disappear, to be replaced by the proverbial “thousand monkeys” sitting in a room typing out Shakespeare (eventually).

We’re not looking at an extinction here. Everything evolves, including the art of storytelling. Writers can either put themselves on or ahead of this evolutionary change or they can be left behind. There will never cease to be a market for storytelling, the only thing that changes is the medium through which the story is told. Primitive cultures that had no written language told stories, including oral histories, to each other. Once people figured out how to paint on cave walls, stories depicting great hunts were painted on those walls. When people figured out how to write on papyrus, great stories were told on papyrus. When man invented the printing press, great stories were told to larger numbers of people. When man invented the eReader, great stories were told to people riding buses, sitting on trains, or wiling away the hours on a beach.

Writers will always write, and people will always crave a great story. The medium through which people crave those stories is going to evolve as technology evolves and people’s lifestyles change. It is my opinion that writers need to embrace these new mediums and be part of the evolution of those mediums, helping bring about fantastic new ways to tell stories. Historically, artists who cling to the “old ways” and refuse to accept new mediums are left behind.

So, in conclusion, I don’t think that our books are all going to disappear. I don’t think that we’re going to lose the pleasure in visiting a library that smells like books or visiting a big book store and spending hours just browsing. We are, however, going to have more options available to us that are tailored to our specific needs and lifestyle and that represents great new opportunities for writers, not a death knell.

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