Today I’m coming to you as a reader, and less so as a writer. Books are a passion, and more than once I’ve been put in a debate as to which of the three mediums for storytelling is dominating the book scene or which will be dominating in the future. It’s a bit of a hot topic for both readers and writers, since proper marketing strategies will need to capitalize on the best choice to see any success.
There isn’t a winner, except the bibliophile. Neither of the three types of books available is going to dominate the market. Each of the three different mediums have appeals and setbacks, and because of that, I don’t think any one of them will take a monopoly over the other. But, let’s take a closer look:
Electronic books are the newest form of storytelling. E-readers changed the market drastically when they came out, and innovations are still being made. This created an entirely new author. Many who had been unsuccessful in finding a publisher or an agent to get their work off the ground suddenly found an outlet counter-culture to the standard idea of book publication. Sites like Smashwords popped up, giving the opportunity for authors to get their work out and develop a portfolio for future attempts at publication, or to have their work available under their own terms. E-books are the most accessible, since the internet is everywhere, and downloading an e-book is often the easiest route as it doesn’t require people to leave the house. Tablet PC’s and the latest e-readers give their reader base a menu of options that aren’t available to the standard paperback or the audiobook. Many books are out there that aren’t in any other format. The downside is, an e-book is a file, and just like any other file, it can be copied and shared. The other issue is that readers need an electronic device that is capable of reading it, while anyone can pick up a paperback and start enjoying a book. Paperbacks don’t need to charge and don’t need batteries.
Books on CD (or tape if you are that old-school) are the in-between format. Some of my favorite novels have been on audiobooks and offer a presentation that is under-appreciated. The reader hears the voice(s) of people portraying the characters in the story, or assuming a narrator position. This can add a depth to reading that can’t be found on the other two. It also allows the reader to perform other tasks while still enjoying their novels. The biggest advantage to audiobooks is that presentation, however. A good reader can bring a novel to life. Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, read by Charlie McWade, is a great example. Any book read by Neil Gaiman or Tim Curry also provide a wonderful reading experience. The biggest downside to an audiobook is that a great book can be ruined by a bad reader. A picky bibliophile can find great books, but stopping by the library and just picking up an audiobook is a gamble. Also, like E-books, audiobooks can be copied and stolen with ease.
It’s the oldest format for storytelling, second only to oral tradition. Good old fashioned books. There’s a sense of invitation to picking up a well-loved novel. Dog-earred pages, the smell of an old book, cool bookmarks; there’s really no denying that physical books have held the market for the longest time. They are harder to steal than a digital file, allow for easy note-taking and highlighting, and are relatively affordable. There’s something to be said for a bookcase full of books. Of the three, paperback novels are the largest of the format. There’s no way to take an existing hard copy of a book and shrink it without making it an e-book or an audiobook. The only drawback, and it really isn’t a drawback, mind you, is that reading a paperback occupies you. Unlike an audiobook, reading is the hobby, and doesn’t allow for other tasks to be done at the same time.
The three different forms of a book have found their niches. One won’t win out over the other, but allow everyone to find and read what they love. I think the true bibliophiles will have all three in their libraries, and be able to recommend the right format for the right book to the right person. What matters most is that the reader of any book comes away better. Whether it’s Jesse Eisenburg reading to a microphone or Honor Recanteur finishing her e-series or Suzanne Collins autographing a copy of the Hunger Games for me (I wish), the different formats aren’t in a perpetual rock-paper-scissors contest, but raising their rings in the air and commanding “Our powers combine, we promote… LITERACY!”