Frank, thanks much for the post -- I appreciate it. But if indeed you are correct, that "books will become chic, like vinyl records," then that would a full-blown cultural disaster, and my bleak predictions will have been fully realized. My old collection of LPs (800 or so) is moldering in the basement, and that's only because, unlike most people, I haven't gotten around to selling them at a garage sale or used record store. I would guesstimate that no more than one out of 50 people still regularly listen to LPs, and the number who avidly seek out and buy new vinyl releases is probably far less than one in a thousand. Sure, LP sales are showing an uptick, but they will never again be an important part of our culture. I think I can understand the source of your antipathy toward newspapers, but is this really what any of us want to see happen to books -- to become an oddball. albeit "chic," interest for a small handful of obsessives?
My analogy has obvious limitations, Michael. I think you are right that only a very small percentage of people are going to stay into vinyl. But I think people are going to want books, which has an aesthetic value in and of themselves that vinyl records do not. I think the art of book-making is going to survive and thrive, because people are going to want to have their favorites in the traditional form and in quality versions. What I'm suggesting is that people are going do as I already do: Diffreentiate between books that are keepers and those that are purely functional. Certain books that I want to read but don't want to pay the full price for and would not want to have clutter up mys shelves I buy for my Kindle. I don't think the huge number of used books are going to incinerated. I can envision a successful used bookstore that gets the bulk of its income from online sales but also has a storefront cafe for those who want to stop in, browse, chat and sip coffee or tea. Fundamentally, though, I agree with you: Our visions of the future, like Star Trek's, tend to be wrong.
I do agree that, ideally, Kindles and other e-readers could and should co-exist with printed books, as I say in my article. And perhaps that's the way things will end up playing out. However, it's unfortunately the case that digital technology, once it gains a foothold, tends to mercilessly drive out the more-physical manifestations of any given medium. (I'm not ascribing any malign intent here; it's just the nature of digitization that it tends to reduce media to their least tangible manifestations.) The process is almost complete with music, and is well underway with videos (DVD sales are tanking.) Fair enough; I guess that's not the end of the world. But the purpose of my article was to ring an alarm bell before the same thing happens to books. People will manage to get along fine without rows of DVDs on their shelves (though that would be something of a loss, especially all those great Criterion collections.) But if we don't manage to get the balance right and learn how to co-exist with e-readers, the loss of the physical book, and the bookshelf, and the bookstore, would be in my opinion a cultural catastrophe.
I would agree, Michael, that the loss of books would be exactly what you say, a catastrophe. But one reason, I don't think it is going to happen derives from an article I wrote maybe 10 years ago about how the internet was revolutionizing the used-books business. Among the ancillary bits of information I came upon while working on the piece was that 99 percent of all the books ever published were out of print. But another was that books used to be better made than they are now. When you toss in that you can buy a used book and find that you have a hand-written letter from the author inside it that no one had noticed (as happened to me with George Barker's Collected Poems) and I think you can be pretty certain that these are not going to go out of existence and are going to need shelves. Also - and here I could be wrong - I think that there are always going to be people who find the particular storage device we call a book too convenient to abandon.
I'm with Frank; though I think they're going to become much more niche objects, I don't think they're going to disappear. There are enough of us bibliomaniacs to keep at least a niche industry going, I'd say, especially with POD technologies advancing as they are.Don't worry about puppy training, though, Frank. Last night, as a matter of fact, I saw a commercial for a synthetic turf mat for just such occasions. Three easy payments of $19.95, available in small and large dog sizes, and, for just a bit more, made with antimicrobial, antiodor materials.
Leave it to you, Frank, to obliterate the last raison d'etre for newspapers.