Why Business Books Will Decline But Not Die Completely

books.jpgWill printed business books become a thing of the past?

Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 seems to think so:

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 Maybe it would be accurate, but I’d have the nagging suspicion that something was out of date.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.


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

12 Reactions
  1. David B. Bohl at SlowDownFAST.com


    I read all of the things you mentioned – books, eBooks, white papers, special reports, and blogs, but I also listen to audio books and podcasts.

    Whatever form a publication takes, I think the key, especially in this information-overload world – is that people will continue to be more likely to read from sources and PEOPLE they trust. There is an explosion of information going on, and new technologies are constantly creating opportunities to engage with things, rather than people. Virtual interactions are prevailing over human contact and interpersonal relationships.

    What we’re getting away from, as a result, is fulfillment of our basic human need to have others engage with us, pay attention to us, and take us seriously. Those mediums that are able to make things personal to each of us will be the ones that stick around, whether they’re printed books or virtual information.

  2. I don’t necessarily agree with the premise that physical information forms will be replaced by electronic forms. I personally hate to read on a monitor, if it is more than one screens worth I will print it.

    Like you mention Anita I like to touch, smell and wander through printed material, sometimes it is just eye candy and brain relaxation. I also like having a backlog of books to read, it gives me comfort for some reason to know there is content waiting to be consumed by me. Kind of like my own grown up pacifier I guess.

  3. I hate to say this as I have so many associates and acquaintances who write or publish business books, but I rarely find anything useful in a “business book.” I love books — the physical kind that have filled a library in my home. But one those shelves, you’ll find lots of biographies, history and fiction. I drink from a firehose of business information, theory and news all day, every day, but I often find I have more thought-provoking ideas about business from reading novels than I do from that firehose.

  4. A good old fashioned book, printed and bound, will never go out of style 🙂

  5. Hi Rex,

    It actually doesn’t surprise me that you would not get much out of business books. As a business publisher, you’re dealing with that kind of information all the time. The volume of business content you deal with on a daily basis must be huge — far outstripping what the typical entrepreneur deals with.

    Not everyone is coming at it with the same background and experience, and for them business books still have excellent value.

    But I think it speaks more to the advanced level of your knowledge because of what you do for a living, and not necessarily to the norm. 🙂


  6. I do like the convenience of electronic content. As for anything extensive & detailed, I prefer printed content.

  7. Anita et al,
    I, too, like the look, feel, and even the smell of real books. In this electro-wacky society of ours, the problem is lack of time to read real books. Here I am..11:14PM EDT, writing a comment on a wonderful blog. In the last half hour, I have answered 7 e-mails, written comments on 2 other blogs, and checked on our dog, Winston, to see if he was snoring, or just having a cool doggie dream. My point is, it takes a lot of focus and energy to just slow down, and turn off the electronics! It IS nice to spend 2 hours reading a book. Really nice.
    Joel Libava

  8. For a while, as I grew a backlog of unread RSS feeds, I’d print them out and sit and read them in the same manner many would read a book (in bed, at the beach, etc.). Perhaps the physical book is not going to die, bit the delivery of the content will change (RSS).

  9. David B. Bohl at SlowDownFAST.com


    As I read about Amazon’s new Kindle eBook reader, I thought of your post and went back and searched for it. Your prognostications were ahead of their time.

    “Any kind of content that requires sorting or searching is better done electronically” is one of the reasons for the excitement surrounding the product.


  10. I love my Kindle 2!! Easy to use, easy to read! I was a little nervous after reading reviews from Kindle 1 owners. They all seem disappointed in the Kindle 2. Maybe I just don’t know what I am missing because I never owned the first one, but the Kindle 2 is definitly not a disapointment to me! I have yet to find a flaw. I took it to the beach without incident. Battery life is amazing! I do recommend buying a skin of some sort and a case. I have the Belkin neoprene case and a silicone skin and I love both. Yes the neoprene smell is strong at first, but tough it out…it goes away. Mine smells like leather now because I keep it in my purse a lot. Buy the Kindle 2!! It’s amazing!!!