E-book sales may be growing, but ink-on-paper reading has a healthy future
Last week I promised to post my thoughts on the reasons Christian books will remain relevant for the long haul.
First, Printed Books Are Here to Stay
People wonder if the book business is in trouble, fearing technology will undermine reading and/or replace physical books. Let’s think about that: When parchment scrolls gave way to Guttenberg’s bound books in the 1450s there was a relative boom in reading. When higher-speed printing presses made books affordable for more than just the privileged few, there was an even greater explosion of reading with common men. Now with the digital age upon us, I’m convinced reading and books will proliferate more dramatically than ever. Change isn’t always a bad thing.
I don’t believe eBooks will replace physical books, certainly in the short term, and quite possibly not in the long run. There is emerging evidence that the exponential growth of eBooks has slowed. The quick adopters are on board and the growth of eBooks has slowed. In fact, downloads actually declined briefly last fall. My sense is that some who converted to eDevices have already modulated use and reverted to reading some conventional books, particularly in non-fiction. Certainly there will be a major role for eBooks, but there will continue to be a need for print and ink.
It occurred to me recently, as I reflected on the future of physical books, if someone hands you a music CD, what do you do with it? You must have a player of some kind, maybe in your car, to experience the music, so why not download an MP3 file to your phone or IPod? But if you are given a book, you can directly experience that book with no need for any aiding device, except maybe your reading glasses. Books are amazing inventions in themselves.
So, the core issue we are facing in my view is not the death of physical books or reading, but answering the challenge to harness this publishing revolution. It will be tough for retailers and publishers alike. Along with so many ways to access book content, paired with the consumer’s need for instant gratification, a reading boom is on. I don’t remember a day when there has been more casual conversation among friends, family and workmates about what everyone is reading.
Secondly, Books Are A Symbol of Achievement
More than once I’ve heard people say something like, “Show me a person’s library and I’ll know his head and heart.” Recently I read Eric Metaxas’s remarkable bestseller, Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson). That book is on the shelf in my office and when I happen to see it, I smile. Several guests have eagerly asked about it when they notice it sitting there. Physical books are monuments to intellectual and spiritual growth, not to mention achievement. It’s just not the same to shelve a file on a digital reading device. People decorate their homes with books they’ve read; cities and universities continue to build libraries for the enrichment they bring to communities. Books are a unique phenomenon.
Third, People Are Hungry for Books
A growing world population needs our message more than ever before. Books, Bibles, and other materials are life-giving for cultures that are sliding towards greater secular relativism. We don’t need to be sociologists to see that people turn to the Bible in adversity and uncertainty. The current economic crises and geopolitical issues suggest to me that, if we provide the right content, consumers will reach out for Christian books, not unlike what we experienced in the wake of 9/11.
The most compelling reason why I believe books are with us for the long-term lies in the very nature of our faith. Truth is eternal. I ran across some words by Billy Graham, reminding me that Christian books aren’t about an industry, but about man’s hunger for God:
“If you read the Bible (or any other literature from the ancient world), you’ll realize that the people who lived then had the same fears and hopes and shortcomings we have today — because human nature hasn’t changed. But neither has God changed. He is the same today as he was thousands of years ago — and thousands of years from now he’ll still be the same. But something else hasn’t changed — and that is our need of God. We need his forgiveness, and we need his strength to live the way we should.” **
We have been called to a great work – publishing and distributing great Christian books. Never have publishers had greater need for retail partners as we do today!
**© 2011 Tribune Media Services 9/26