The future of books

In the last few days I’ve had and seen several conversations about the future of printed media now that ebooks and their readers are becoming much more mainstream so I thought I’d summarise where I’m at in printed media’s “physical to virtual adoption curve”.

Do I need books AT ALL?

Before I wonder what format I’ll consume books of the future in I need to consider what types of books I’ll even consider buying in the future.  I currently buy three types of book:

  • SQL Server books to technically educate me further about the product
  • Technology books to broaden my general IT knowledge
  • Business, history, political and reference books

Buying SQL Server books is a tough decision to make these days.  There’s so much information available for free through the blog postings of people so close to the product or Microsoft that most of the information I need I can find through Google.  The only time I’m likely to actually buy a SQL Server book now is if I personally know the authors so I know in advance I’ll enjoy and appreciate their material and if the book’s content will deep dive into a subject area that’ll interest me.  Yesterday, I saw a 500 page Microsoft Press book on SQL Server 2008 T-SQL programming in the sale for just £12 and even with a pages per £ ratio that high I couldn’t justify buying it.  The days of having thick technical reference books are over for me.

The same principles apply in general to broader technical books.  If I want a high level overview on something new to me the chances are Wikipedia will give me that these days.  Unless it was a tiny reference book I’m highly unlikely to buy a book on a technical subject relatively distant from me, the web again is far more suited to my needs.

Books not about technology at all I actually like buying and collecting, especially if they’re about history politics or reference books.  Their contents is probably never going to expire  and will always be useful.  I also like the very English thought of having a bookshelf full of traditional reference books, some of which have been passed to me by family members over the years.  So whether it’s Whos’ Who, a history of the Cold War, or Winnie the Pooh using the web equivalent just wouldn’t feel right for me.

So what format for when I do buy a book?

When I do buy a book it’ll either be one I read from cover to cover or one I dip into a chapter here and there.  For any type of book if I’m likely to read it cover to cover and will want to keep it for years I’ll buy a physical edition, on top of that any non-technical book I buy I’ll probably also always buy in the physical edition.  If only because digital rights management can’t stop me lending a printed book to a friend for a few years and I like collecting books.

If its a technical book where I’ll dip into chapters here and there I’ll buy the ebook version, being able to search the text, have copies of my laptop and iPad and make backups is useful to me.  The other thing I like about ebooks is you can get your hands on the text instantly!  Even Amazon’s prime delivery service can’t beat the speed WhisperSync can send you books to your Amazon Kindle application.

The one exception

iBooks

There’s one exception to all of my “rules” above, Apress’s ebook of the day offer (link).  Everyday Apress offer a specific ebook for just $10, about £7, and they’re not just the bargain bucket books either.  As a result of watching that web page everyday I’ve built up a small electronic reference library of technology books.  For only $10 a book its worth the investment for those moments when you unexpectedly need more information than you can find through Google in a problem situation.

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