Will Paper Books Disappear?

Dr. Md. Enamul Hoque

10 June, 2021 12:00 AM printer

Digital technology has undoubtedly had a profound effect on the traditional books publishing and retailing sectors. The perpetual question all book lovers ask is whether the book industry is dying gradually. Book lovers believe that extinction of printed books is impossible. However, many will state that printed books will disappear soon, as today electronic devices can easily replace them. "A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero says.

Long before Gutenberg invented the printing press, access to written sources like scrolls, historical recordings, or books was thought a luxury.  Before inventing printing press books were copied by hand in a painstaking process before most were lost to wars, or natural disasters. However, the invention of the printing press in the 15th century revolutionized the way books are reproduced and, along with it, people's reading habits changed.

In the super digital era, e-books and other digital contents are gaining high popularity. Though some people predict that with the evolution of e-books, traditional paper books have lost their importance. While there are strong opinions that digital books cannot replace printed books. At the same time, some oppose that e-books do not deliver the same physicality and tangibility as the printed books can do. Furthermore, the feeling of owning a book is quite different from visiting the online library. The concentration level of the reader and better understanding of the characters is a big part of reading a printed book.

At present, in the 21st century, technological blessings like- the internet, smart boards, tablets, and e-readers are once more redesigning our reading and learning habits entirely, and, readers can have access to a vast variety of books in an online library in a click. Digital facilities are directing the ways we read and purchase books.

So, there is question, are paper books really disappearing soon? An answer to this question does not come easily. That e-books have rushed in popularity in recent years is not news, but where they are headed to- and what effects this will ultimately have on the printed word – is quite unknown. Over time, reading has taken up various forms and formats. Book shops have seen a fall in sales because of the invention of e-books online. People also prefer to get news updates through various news applications on their smart phones or laptops. The importance of reading, however, is higher now than ever.

In the last 10 years or so, the world has transformed into something which could never have been imagined by any one of us. The advancement in computers and communication technology has made this change happened.  According to the New York Times reports, from 2008 to 2010 e-book sales skyrocketed, jumping up to 1,260%.  No doubt, we are in a transitional period. The screen readings continuously improve and expand, offering people a reason to switch to screens. The readers of printed books absorb and remember more of the plots than readers of e-books do. In an earlier study found that print readers scored higher in understanding of the narrative.

Electronic books can cause screen fatigue leading to blurred vision, redness, dryness, and irritation. Study after study has shown that students who have books at home are more likely to score higher on tests. One recent study of college students in the U.S., Slovakia, Japan, and Germany showed that 92 percent of participants preferred paper books that they can hold and touch and leaf through whenever they want.

Though people seem to giving up buying books in huge number, the paper books must not be disappeared. Paper books are remarkably long lasting. Well-made books will last hundreds of years, and even cheaply made books are still readable for decades. No electronic device is so durable. They do not require power or internet. For many parts of the world, paper books are far more useful, accessible, and more collectible even in cheap versions. They are still easier to scribble notes in, underline, make little drawings in the margins, etc.

Books can be far more diverse in physical format and layout. We can have large, sumptuous art books, tiny poetry chapbooks, fat tomes with thin crisp paper or thin books with creamy thick paper with deckle edges, etc. They can have second, third, fourth, fifth, edition, and it continues to hold value. On the contrary, an e-book, once read, is illiquid, so they are essentially less valuable.

Printed books will never die; though they may face challenges to exist in the current digital era. E-books can have vivid, colorful digital covers, but nothing can replace the impact of a physical books. For art connoisseurs, true readers, and true bookworms, print is the only medium that may only satisfy them. Paper books have a unique smell, feel, and weight, allowing the reader to have an experience that involves all of the senses. Printed books are physical objects that can recall memories of the past events and historical incidents. Each copy is unique and individual to the readers. A hardcover version on one’s shelf is similar to an original painting on our walls. Printed books are immediately more precious and appreciated for its higher quality.

Printed books should remain in our hand for the cause our intellectual existence. In this context, writers, publishers, and readers have roles to play.  Therefore, we should buy books for our own sake and for our children. The kids learn from their parents and build habits from their parents. If we read books regularly, our kids will start reading and will develop reading habit.

Every year, book fairs are arranged in different places around the world to give people motivation to read by offering them a wide selection of books to choose they can look at before they decide to buy ones. The fair gives readers, parents, and kids an opportunity to pick out and read books together. This increases the likelihood that they will want to continue reading books of different nature.

Printed books are not dying a death; they are here to stay till the human exist in this universe. There are millions of paper books available in the market; and some of the ancient manuscripts which cannot be converted into digital forms. Though e-books are glowing and colorful, they cannot provide the same influence as physical books impact the bookworms. However, different audiences have different preferences, giving each medium its own importance. It is strongly believed that both traditional paper books and digital books have their own readers. Reading on paper books can enrich the whole experience, but it’s not the only feat that paper can pull off. Since the present generation is more technology savvy, they tend to use digital books. Even though e-books have a prosperous future, paper books will never disappear.


The writer is educational researcher and teacher educator.