Will printed business books become a thing of the past?
I think we will see the death of the business book in the same time frame as the death of the newspaper. Not this year. Not next year. Maybe not for ten years. But it will happen. The Web is a far more efficient medium for this type of information, and that it will kill off this static, packaged format is only a matter of time. (How many business books have you read that seemed to be exercise in repetition and restatement to achieve the requisite physical thickness?)
I agree that printed business books will gradually decline long term. The past five years already have brought an explosion in electronic forms of content: white papers, e-books, special reports, blogs, podcasts, videos, spreadsheets, databases, feeds and search engines.
However, printed business books will not die completely.
There is something inexplicably enjoyable about physically reading a book. The human eye finds reading a book more comfortable than reading on a computer screen (contrast is better and there is a soothing rhythm to turning pages). The tactile feel of holding a print book in your hands is hard to replace. You can’t lose yourself in a database the same way you can in a print book while curled up in your favorite chair.
On the other hand, electronic forms of business content are superior to print for other reasons:
- Business content with citations to Web pages is more efficient when presented electronically. Then you can click on live links, instead of having to manually type in complicated URLs.
- Any kind of content that requires sorting or searching is better done electronically. Long lists and tables of data, for instance, are more useful when presented as databases or spreadsheets.
- Information that changes frequently is better in electronic form, so that it can be updated. Search engine optimization is an example. That topic evolves so regularly that I just would not trust a printed book to remain accurate for more than a year after it was printed. Maybe it would be accurate, but I’d have the nagging suspicion that something was out of date.
- And, as video and audio usage explode, business information is increasingly conveyed in multiple media. A printed book cannot integrate audio and video, except expensively by including a CD or DVD insert. In electronic documents it is minimal cost to drop in a video clip or a spoken MP3 message.
Despite all these advantages of electronic over print, and the trend toward business content going electronic, some vestiges of the printed business book will hang around. Why? Just because human beings enjoy the physical act of reading a book.