Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The New Bibliophiles

Many people describe themselves as bibliophiles—book lovers—and I think many of you would count yourselves among them. Why would you be here if you didn't love books? Books: the bomb diggity. I think we all agree.

However! I ask myself (and, by extension, you): will the meaning of the word change over the next couple of years? That is, I wonder whether bibliophiles will become analogous to and as niche as, say, audiophiles.

Everyone listens to music; not everyone is an audiophile. And not everyone who loves music is an audiophile! These are the people who invest a lot in speaker equipment, often prefer analog to digital music, and spend time in small communities of like-minded individuals. They own a lot of stuff on vinyl. They know a lot of jargon that no one outside their subculture understands.

Just as audiophiles comprise their own niche community/market, I wonder whether tomorrow's bibliophiles will read and buy books similarly, what with their "eccentric" attachment to print and the experience of reading a physical book, their willingness to spend a lot of disposable income on rare books, and their predisposition toward (irony of ironies!) spending time on-line talking to people who also prefer to read physical books rather than electronic ones.

Record companies recognize the existence of the audiophile/enthusiast market and continue to release a small number of vinyl albums, regardless of the fact that most people listen to music electronically. Which is exactly the point! Vinyl is not aimed at most people, while electronic music is. I think that over the next couple of years, we'll see the same change in the book market. Most people will read electronically, and bibliophiles will read and supply the niche market for paper books.

This isn't to say that bibliophiles won't read electronically—I expect many will. The distinction I'm trying to get at is that consumers will do what they do best—consume—in the least expensive and least inconvenient way possible, which is to say, electronically. Enthusiasts, aficionados, collectors, connoisseurs—bibliophiles—will buy and read physical books and will maintain physical libraries.

For this reason, mes auteurs, I think there will always be a market for physical books—particularly coffee table books or collector's editions, which don't translate as well to the electronic medium—but that market will surely become much smaller, while the overall market for books will increase. The e-book is the future of publishing; the book buff is the future of the physical book.

What do you think?


  1. That may be true. i think as I've learned more about publishing, and books, I've become more of a bibliophile in the physical book sense, even though my consumption of digital books has also increased

  2. I feel like there have always been bibliophiles in the same way there have been audiophiles, but they're just harder to see. They're the kind of people that go to old book stores, and buy first editions, and collect covers for their extensive collections. Right now they don't have anything to really react against (ie ebooks) so we don't notice them as much, but I'd say they're definitely here.

    I'm excited for that to happen. The bibliophile subculture would be the coolest bunch of people ever!


  3. I'm yet to be convinced that ebooks will take over the bulk of the market, mainly because of the nature of the book.

    With music there has always been a need to have some device on which to play it, whether that is a record player, cassette deck or mp3 player. In addition the format, mp3, is free and you can create your own from your CD collection.

    Books have been stand alone items for centuries in that you have never needed a separate device to read them. In orer ot read an ebook you have to pay for a device, be it a kindle or a sony ereader, and it is difficult (and very time consuming) to put your book collection onto it.

    Ebooks will come to be a large part of the market, but printed books will not die out. Paperbacks did not spell the end for hardbacks and ebooks will not mark the end of print. They will complement each other.

    This could easily change if the price of ereaders fall below that of a hardback and ebooks retail at far less than paperbacks.

  4. Yes! I've been thinking about this quite a bit. My plan is to eventually get a Nook or Kindle or whatever and the books I download that I love - I will buy in hardcover to keep forever.

    Hopefully, this will be an option in the future. I sincerely hope there will be a bibliophile subculture online because I look forward to discussing hardcovers the way some people discuss much-treasured comic books.

  5. I agree with Brit and think there are definitely bibliophiles like that in the world already. I think we'll really just start to notice more as ebooks become a bigger thing. Personally, I'll add being an ereader to my reading habits when I can get an ereader that's easy on the eyes both inside and outside and allows for color covers. So far, most people tell me that hasn't really happened.

    I will never stop being a lover of the physical book. There's something about the feel of pages, the smell of the ink, and the art of the covers that just feels like home.

  6. I have always been a bibliophile, and my Kindle doesn't change that. There are still books I prefer to buy in print, for many of the reasons you mentioned, Eric. Right now, that list also includes things I might like to own digitally, but that have not yet been released to the Kindle store. I expect that category will shrink in the years to come, but those books I want to hang on to for sentimental reasons will remain.

  7. I agree, and I am a bibliophile. I have a Kindle, and it's fun and convenient to read books electronically, but you'll have to pry my printed book collection from my cold, dead hands.

  8. This is what I have to say to that:-)

  9. I'm with Martin on this one. Ebooks just haven't planted as domineering a flag in the past handful of years as recent self-publishing starlets (Amanda Hocking), and publishing houses, seem to be trumpeting. Not that they can't, but I just don't see it yet.

    I don't mean sales-wise, either. Consumers, myself among them, have already proven their voracious appetite for digital readings. Digital anything. After initial set-ups and hardware updates, it's actually pretty rewarding having multiple books up your sleeve at any moment.

    Though I also agree about the cumbersome necessity (at first glance, anyway) of a Kindle or Literati. Books have never needed an intermediary implement to enjoy, a user interface besides your eyes (or fingers). But I can see how the slightly cheaper price and longevity of "book files" curries favor in many a techie's mind.

    Outside of sales and devices, then, I'm talking about the tactile presence of a book. That kind of centuries-old idealization we share of what literature is--dusty, stacked, a bludgeon against supermarket assailants--wouldn't seem to be something that would retreat at the drop of a decade obsessed with instant gratification. That's one thing books have never attempted before—instantaneousness. Still seems up in the air.

    I sure hope the need for the physicality of books won't decrescendo into a radar-ducking self-entitled subculture, though. And right now, I don't believe the history of printed works and their circulation can suddenly be supplanted by the recent flourishes of ebook chatter. Would it be bad if publishing houses all went digital? Just a shift, I'd imagine. And the faithful and curious would acclimate together.

    Wow. I've gone on long enough. Anyway, whatever happens in the near future, I'll embrace it. Keep some books on the shelf and in the hard drive. Stories is stories to me. :)

  10. Eric what would be your best guess as to how far away this future would be? 5 years? 10?

    I'm taken with Martin's point that books are stand-alones and hoping that keeps them in the mass market for some time.

  11. Who says the majority downloads music? Didn't Steve Jobs say, when revealing their new logo for iTunes, that it was in honor of downloading taking up half the market from CDs? Does anyone have any hard sales figures on that?

    I believe the ebook is just another format that will replace print as the favorite book format, but not replace print. I see POD and the collector together keeping print alive, if only where print is the sales size that audio is today.

  12. I know how to solve this problem LOL. I must say that I read more digital than books. Not because its better, but because I don't need a light for an Ipad in the night while I'm in bed. I don't need a big bulky book that adds weight to my bookbag. It has a built in dictionary...all those things are amazing and most importantly convenient. I do admire a book more. I rather sit on my couch and read an actual book instead, but convenience always wins out. When the Nook first came out I asked the woman...why can't I buy the book and you give me a code to read it online. And that is my solution. People who want to stay with digital only will buy the nook version for a lesser price. But people like me, who have to think twice whether or not I want to buy the digital, because I like having a bookcase with my books sitting on it. I like the feeling on a book on my fingers. Its such a weird place to be in!

  13. tiggy, the idea of selling both print and digital together (aka bundling) has been discussed (and maybe even tried). There are a few problems with the idea. Many ebook readers choose the ebook because they no longer have the space for the print. I have replaced some of my print books with ebook copies. There is the problem of price. Do you charge more for two formats or the same as print or ebook alone? Finally, many print readers don't want ebooks and ebook readers don't want print (at least not of the same book).

  14. Martin wrote: "Books have been stand alone items for centuries in that you have never needed a separate device to read them."

    That is a good point, but what if it goes one step further? Music, in its purest form, is what comes out of instruments. It takes an extra (and expensive and time-consuming) step to convert those sound waves into CDs and mp3s.

    But books, in their purest form, are the written word, which at the moment is mostly done electronically. It takes an extra (and expensive and time-consuming) step to convert those bits into paper books.

    Actually, that makes me wonder why authors don't sell their books directly as PDF or Word docs. They'd get 100% royalties (but wouldn't be listed on Amazon of course, which is the answer to my wondering).

  15. And, Eric, by this definition, I'm definitely not a bibliophile. I'm a storyphile (or whatever the proper Latin equivalent would be).

  16. I agree, though coffee table ebooks will someday have their time in the sun. Eventually, we'll all have digital coffee tables.

  17. There is one epublished very successful author whose blog I've been read that published $275 signed hardcovers and was astounded at their popularity. Unfortunately, I can't think of who that is...

  18. Reading on a screen can be very convenient, but the feel of paper just cannot be replaced. *wistful sigh* :)

  19. Adam Heine - they do. plenty of people self-publish, through amazon or lulu or some other service. and lots of small romance publishers are ebook only or ebook first, than print, depending on sales. (ellora's cave, samhain publishing, etc)