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Is Now The Best Time Ever For Books?

You often hear a lot of doom and gloom about books. People don't read books anymore. Independent bookstores are dying. Authors can't make a living. Well, Steven Johnson, whose new book is called Where Good Ideas Come From argues that this is most exciting time for books in hundreds of years.

Books have been locked down—understandably—for centuries by the limitations of a printed book, and they've only now been flung open to yield incredible, open-ended possibilities. It might lead to an overall decline in the profitability of some institutions or bookstores. I don't have an answer to that. What I do know, from the perspective of a reader and as an author, is that there's a tremendous new opportunity to figure out what the book should be in this new kind of world.

What's encouraging is that the early new platforms—Kindle and iPad—are clearly leading to people buying more books. The data is in on that. Books are not going away; in fact, publications seem to be increasing and people are willing to pay money for them. And what we've seen in just the past four or five months has been this incredible arms race between the Kindle app and the iBook app; every month they're like—now we've got a dictionary app, now you can take notes, now you can share your notes. The bells and whistles around the text are constantly getting improved. One of the things that's fascinating about the Gutenberg era is how long it took them to invent the things we now take for granted. Gutenberg comes out with the book, and they figure out how to make an index 60 years later. They had 60 years of "You know, it would be really nice if we could look something up."

We're having comparable breakthroughs every six months now.

E-books on display at a booth of Taiwan's Green Book Inc. PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images/AFP hide caption

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PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images/AFP

Maybe I'm just on an electronic tablet kick today, but I was a fairly early adopter of the Kindle, mainly using it so I didn't have to carry a second suitcase into Iraq full of books. But it has become indispensable, and I certainly buy more books now than I ever have. And I can get just about any book for free from a publisher's PR department, I find the convenience of the Kindle worth paying money for.

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So, a question for you, do you have an eBook reader? Which one and why? And most importantly, how has it changed your experience of and interaction with books?

(hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)