The Extinction of Books: Fact or Fiction?

Books on Fire

Image from: Books on Fire / Shutterstock

At night, if you listen closely, you can hear the defeated sighs of librarians everywhere across America. Or maybe I’m exaggerating? I probably am.  I’ve been reading so much fiction lately on my Kindle that my thoughts are becoming almost aggressively poetic. And guess what? I’m not alone in my voracious intake of virtual literature. Recently Tech Crunch reported that ebook sales have doubled in 2011 to easily surpassed hardcover fiction revenue for the first time ever. Repercussions of this shift are vast; IKEA is even reducing its shelving sizes to reflect consumers edging away from printed literature.

Right now some of the more popular e-reading devices include the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Apple’s iPad. The trend’s advantage is its simplicity; look around on any subway or bus and you’ll no longer find people lugging cumbersome hardcover books to and fro. Instead, you’ll see people cradling their e-readers. As someone who is enamored with their own e-reader (a Kindle Touch with a classic plum cover, light included), I was interested to see how this market upheaval was reflected in Compete PRO’s data.

Daily Keyword Destinations for eBooks

I wanted to see where people were going online to find eBooks so the first thing I did was perform a broad match search using Compete PRO. From the results it’s clear that the first destination for most is Amazon.com, with 8.75% of the keyword ‘ebooks’ traffic heading to the mass merchant site. Taking a look at Amazon’s subdomains, I found what I was looking for: the subdomain for Kindle has grown almost by 50% in Unique Visitors since this time last year.

Unique Visitors to Kindle.amazon.com

Another eBook related subdomain of Amazon’s that’s getting a lot of attention is their Kindle Cloud Reader page, in which account holders can log-in and read their purchased eBooks without having to use their e-reader device. I was curious to see if people were actually spending time reading off their monitors. Sure enough, while the Unique Visitors has been on the decline, the average stay on Kindle Cloud Reader has been steadily climbing since its April 2011 launch.

UVs vs. Average Stay to at Read.amazon.comBut with the digitalization of a product means the production and exchange of books (which are laborious, weighty things to those raised in this digital era)  is no longer inhibited by a printing press. Looking back at the top sites referred to by the keyword ‘eBooks’ we can see that free-ebooks.net makes an appearance at number two while similar third party sites pepper the rest of the top ten ranking and beyond, including Gutenberg.org (not shown), the self-proclaimed first producer of free eBooks. It’s obvious that the eBook market is thriving, but I’m left wondering how long it can keep up this ascension while free download services continue to undercut revenue.

Looking around the web, the rising trend of eBooks seems inevitable; people are convinced that the digitized libraries are going to replace the musty, material ones, and that volumes upon volumes of pages will soon be superseded by the simplified, luminous glow of the eReader’s singular face. And you know what? I agree. However, what people aren’t considering is that perhaps the book’s advantage, and its chance for survival, are inherent in our qualms with it: its weight, its bulky shape, its ability to age. Together these give the material book a novelty that may insulate it in the coming ignition of eBook commerce. It leaves us readers wondering if the obfuscation of print on paper is as certain as it seems or if, in fact, the prophesied demise of the material book is simply fictitious. What do you think?

About Ryan LaSala:
Ryan La Sala joins Compete as the Digital Marketing Co-op for Compete.com, sovereign of all things social media. Ryan is a current attendant of Northeastern University, dual-majoring in Cultural Anthropology and International Affairs (with minors in Biology and Psychology), with career interests in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and Consumer Anthropology. Aside from acquiring aspirations with big words, Ryan’s other interests include reading cheesy fiction, writing in any capacity, singing and cooking. Find Ryan on twitter @Ryality or connect with him on LinkedIn.