The Move from Physical to Digital: Why Do We Need Books? CD’s? Newspapers?

There was a great article by Jeff Bullas about eBook sales going through the roof:

The American Publishers have just  announced that compared to the previous February, sales of eBooks have more than tripled with more eBooks selling in February than the whole first quarter of last year, added to this is the iPad App for the Kindle, making it easy to read an eBook even on Apple's iPad.

Newspapers are being replaced by smart phones and hard cover books are being supplanted by digital hardware that enables reading in a digital medium that challenges long held traditions and book publishing models.

This reminded me of the decisions I made when I moved to San Francisco about a year and a half ago. I tend to move around a lot (one of the “benefits” of being in technology). Each move, I figure out what I don’t need.

During my last move, all the CDs went. I gave them away because they weren’t worth selling.

They looked cool, but did I really need them?

With my next move, most of my books will go.

I was recently in a Barnes and Noble and thought, “In ten years, this store isn’t going to be here.” It’s happening to Borders and many other booksellers now. It already happened to Tower Records.

The future of book publishing is dramatically changing. That industry is going through a period of creative destruction like the music industry did, and it’s a good thing.  It’s doing so at a rate that’s probably making Gutenberg spinning in his grave. It took 570 years to perfect the printing press, and now digital booksellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble are actively trying to kill it. These companies know if it’s not them, it’s going to be someone else.

Alex Williams said, “Never underestimate the aesthetic of books in a house. Picture frames can be replaced by digital, books can’t.” I absolutely agree. There’s a place for books and art. You will never be able to replace having a few good books in the bookshelf and an amazing Picasso drawing.

Books like “iPhone Development for Dummies” shouldn’t be in anything other than digital form. It’s not art. It’s commerce and should be delivered in a way that impacts the environment at the least.

Americans as a culture want a big house full of things. Things require  manufacturing, natural resources and shipping.  Companies like Walmart have spent billions to perfect distribution. They have 147 distribution centers in the United States. Millions of jobs to move around boxes.

What if you were to take everything that should be digital out of the equation? How many billions do you save? Do they really need stores as big? Do we really need big homes? I live in an 800 square foot apartment (with less things), do I need all this space?

This flies in the face of improving the environment and living less complex lives.  We have to gear our economy so we aren’t creating jobs that involve moving physical boxes from Bentonville to Chicago.

When you think about what it takes to produce a book and ship it, there’s a tremendous amount of waste. The same goes for newspapers, magazines and a lot of things that could be of a digital nature. Storing it once in digital form on a server is much cheaper and better for the environment.

The same goes for the cloud. As technology improves, there’s no reason to have the same file on six different computers or for having hard drives that could hold millions of books. Humanity going through profound changes, as it culturally and technologically progress.

Digitally, I have more reach with my small blog and Twitter feed than the original copies of the Gutenberg Bible. More content is being created in less space. More opportunities are being created to go directly to the reader than ever before. It’s a profound shift that most writers are missing, but those that understand it are making millions.

These are amazing times, enjoy them while you can.

What are the physical  possessions you could do without? What could be digital?