Ten Reasons a Pessimist Can be Optimistic About the Future of the Book

There seem to be fewer articles about the death of the printed book, bookshop, bookseller, book lover, book collector, etc. and more about their resurrection lately. If not truly a pessimist, I consider myself dreadfully realistic. But a few weeks ago, I gave a talk at Drew University Library that turned into a discussion about why I'm optimistic about the future of the physical book. Here are some of the things I came up with:


10. The Nook is dead. To paraphrase Twain, the "the reports of [its] death are greatly exaggerated." Still, in late February, Barnes & Noble reported a big loss in its e-reader division. B&N claims it will not discontinue the Nook, but I see it as a chink in the e-book armor.


9. Because indies aren't dead. A report from the Christian Science Monitor this week says the "buy local" movement has caused sales at independent bookstores to rise about 8 percent in the past year.


8. Young booksellers are also alive and well. We started a series on our website profiling what we call "Bright Young Things"--i.e., booksellers under 40 who are making a living in the rare book trade. We've done about 35 of these profiles over the past year, and we're still going strong.


7. Craftsmanship has made a comeback. Whether learning (Center for Book Arts, American Academy of Bookbinding, North Bennet St. School) or buying (Etsy, Artfire, Renegade Craft Fairs), people have become more interested in handmade wares over the past few years.


6. College kids prefer print. You read that right! And not only do they prefer reading printed books for class, some of them are competition-level book collectors.


5. Vinyl returns. Some dislike the comparison, but vinyl--seen by many as an outmoded medium for the past twenty-five years--is hip again. Vinyl sales rose 36% last year. The lesson: a great product is impossible to beat.


4. Rare Book School flourishes. Last fall, the Rare Book School at The University of Virginia received a Mellon Grant of nearly $1 million to "reinvigorate bibliographical studies within the humanities."


3. Books are worth millions. Not the majority, of course, but institutions and collectors invest in book culture and want to pass the torch, to the tune of $11.5 million, if necessary.


2. The Codex Book Fair succeeds. This year the Codex Book Fair in California had 175 exhibitors for its book fair and a sold-out symposium on book arts and papermaking. The New York Art Book Fair and the new LA Art Book Fair also rocked.


1. The Monkey's Paw survives, thrives, and gets profiled in the New York Times. The Toronto antiquarian bookstore that received so much attention a couple of weeks ago is known for its quirky curation and its old-book vending machine. It is the bookshop of the future--a future full of super cool readers.

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