My sister loves to collect books. She aspires dedicating a significant portion of her room to create her personal library, where she would put her books, old and new, and create an environment of wisdom and peace. It is, then, no wonder she gets upset when I remind her that books are a dying media. Actually, books are far from dying, but, rather, books in its physical form is dying.
Books as physical entities are what we have been using for the past thousands of years. It still shocks me that such a old and established form of media suddenly stands in the face of death. But what’s more surprising is that how astonishing digital media and the internet is; so astonishing that it is able to kill the physical form of books that has been the dominating form from the very beginning. WIthin the last ten years, an incredible amount of physical texts have been converted to digital form. Furthermore, old texts that are in the public domain is being digitized by Google anti-bot system called reCAPTCHA. reCAPTCHA disfigured words that we need to type when, say, creating an account. One of the two words we type is a word from an old book while the other is a word that the computer randomly asks us to type. When we type these words correctly, we not only verify ourselves as humans but also help digitize old books!
Now the question is, just because books exists in digital form, why would they threaten the physical form? The answer to this is that their mere existence in the digital form isn’t what is causing the physical material to die. Rather, the cause lies in the benefits and the convenience of the digital form of books. Texts in digital form can be used to do things perceived as magical only a few decades ago! In its most simple form, digital texts are flexible and portable. I can take virtually unlimited number of books with me in small location. Devices like the Kindle Fire lets anyone carry all the books they need in their pocket! When digital, people can tap a word, topic, image, etc and get definitions, encyclopedia articles, maps, videos, and a lot more instantly!
But the part that really amazes me is that digital books and the internet redefines how we perceive a book. Now, books can no longer be texts, diagrams, and images. They can be much more than that! Back in 2001, when I watched the first Harry Potter movie, I was amazed to see moving pictures in the wizarding world news papers! It was so magical! But now, online newspapers have videos embedded in them, and it is nothing out of the ordinary to see someone reading a newspaper article with a video playing on it in their smart phone! Yet, it has only been 10 years! Now, videos are simple to be included in books. How about a chemistry textbook that allows the reader to manipulate the molecules or rotate 3D diagrams for a better understanding? Why can we not have audio clips and interviews in a biography! All this is possible with digital books and the power of the internet.
Apple recently released the iBooks 2, which now includes textbooks that are interactive. This is a huge example of where education is headed as well as textbooks themselves. Houghton Mifflin, McGraw Hill, and Pearson have all joined apple to sell digital, interactive textbooks in the iTunes store! To compliment the iBooks 2, Apple also released the Authoring tool, a free app for the Mac, that lets anyone create textbooks (interactive or static) and distribute (free or paid) the in the iTunes Store. More companies are bound to follow, and soon enough, digital books will become the norm and a necessity!
Are books dying, no, but their physical form doesn’t have much of a future. Perhaps the physical form will remain for those enthusiast collectors and be more expensive as demand drops. This would be analogous today to record players. My sister loves the smell of old books (I do too), and they will always have a place in the future. But as far as mainstream is concerned, we are going digital!