This prescient question comes courtesy of a Chicago Tribune piece, The future of books resides in their past:
What is amazing and inspiring about books is just that: their very physicality, the sheer thinginess of them, the fact that you can hold a book in your hands, thump a couple of knuckles on the cover, riffle the pages. You can use books as doorstops or paperweights or place mats. […] Yet in an age in which computers are as common as cockroaches, in which the Internet is king, in which seemingly every crumb of information is being sucked up and digitized in a busy blur, does the book — the tangible kind, not the virtual version — have a future?
Sadly, the article doesn’t do a very good job of answering this question. But in his recent post In Defense of Amazon: Their New POD Strategy as Opportunity, Michael @ Book Patrol explains how the book can continue to be vital in a digital age. Here, he’s addressing the challenges posed to booksellers and publishers by Amazon’s print-on-demand technologies, but the logic applies equally to the entire bookselling landscape (e-books, Google Books, etc.):
Publishers and authors can still produce books that will differ from the Amazon edition and be desired in the marketplace. The Amazon POD editions will be the mass market paperbacks of the new publishing era. There will remain a healthy market for other editions. The publishers can capitalize on this by offering their own editions that might include extra material much like the movie studios do with their DVD releases. An extra short story, an extra poem, interviews with the author, signed copies, manuscript pages etc.; the possibilities are endless. Not everyone wants their book the next day nor do they want a cheaply produced version. Quality still counts and many will still pay for it.
This is not a wake up call as some of said this is more of a last call. The rules of bookselling and publishing have changed drastically and the publishers that can respond in new innovative ways will be the ones that prosper.