Books are moving out of physical format, and books are getting shorter. Few now would write anything like Proust’s million plus word magnum opus. I once had a 200,000+ word professional book published. I would struggle to get that published now, where 50-60,000 words is the norm, and eBooks may be as short as 10,000.
There is still some way to go with eBooks. Diagrams and complex tables can be difficult, and if you must constantly flick back and forth between different sections of a book – for example when you are doing research or studying, the physical format can still be better. But, whilst I see a continued place for some types of physical books, the general trend is pretty obvious.
This trend is especially obvious if you are an author like me – writing relatively niche books for a specific target market. Don’t get me wrong, some of my books have done very well and have been translated many times, but they are unlikely to appear in the top 10 bestseller list. Go into a bookshop now, and it seems evident that in many the range of books has diminished significantly. I suspect this trend will continue. Where once I might have seen several of my titles in a bookshop, now it is usually 1 or 2 at best. For the rest, I pretty much rely on Amazon for sales.
I can’t deny I feel a little nostalgic. I suppose this is just because something familiar is disappearing and we are moving into less well understood territory. As someone whose profession is to help people, teams and organizations through change I should be well placed to understand these feelings. Those who try and resist this process are almost certainly in denial and fighting a losing battle.
There are of course many advantages of eBooks – the rapid and easy dissemination of information, the ability to carry a library of books around in a small device to name a couple. But I cannot deny that I will miss physical books.
What is it I will miss? It’s a simple thing. When I write a book one of the pleasures is to receive the first physical copy of the book. And this pleasure is repeated every time the book is translated and your words appear in some unfamiliar script. It’s probably pure vanity, but the fact that I have literally dozens and dozens of my books in different languages and versions does not diminish this pleasure. Somehow, being sent an electronic file will never have quite the same impact.