Will apps kill books?

Books are books and books are great.

Let’s not talk about the end of the book.

Let’s look at new media for what they are… new media.

Ever since Socrates worried that the written word would spell the demise of the art of spoken rhetoric, doom-mongers have been foretelling the demise of one medium or another.

Printed books would kill the theatre.

Radio would kill the book and the theatre.

Cinema would kill the book, the theatre, and the radio.

Television would kill the book, the theatre, the radio, and cinema.

Video would kill the cinema and TV and, of course, the radio star.

…and the internet would kill all of them.

Admittedly some art forms, such as music, have taken a hit as the delivery medium from live to vinyl to tape to CD to mp3 has constantly changed. However, in many cases the upstarts have pushed the existing formats to improve. Film companies have promoted 3D cinema so hard because it is a medium best appreciated in a cinema rather than in the comfort on one’s own home as was becoming the case with giant TVs and HD DVD-players. TV companies have improved the quality of their output now that the DVD box-set format allows consumers to view their product outside the TV companies’ environments. I can buy the BBC’s Sherlock via iTunes and view it on my iPad, without approaching the BBC or a TV.

So will apps kill books?

There might come a day when every single written word will appear on some form of screen rather than on printed, tree-based paper, though the chances are that these future screens will have been technologically crafted by our children to mimic the look, feel and experience of “a good old book” for our benefit.

But there will be… there already have been… many intermediary steps between Gutenberg and a world of fully digitized text. A lot of what was once presented in 100% paper-printed form has for a long time existed in multiple formats. The evolution of news from newsprint to radio to TV to online to blog to app is a good example. Newspaper companies might be experiencing difficulties reimagining their business proposition but news itself has never been more popular. It’s just that often it is being created by individuals and being reacted to by other individuals.

This evolution is a process of adding and combining layers of media: print, audio, video, interactivity, social, app to content, often with all of them existing at one time.

So, in my opinion, apps will not kill books, apps will be books and books will be apps and it will be hard to distinguish one from the other.


Luke Baxter

Luke Baxter is the Digital Publisher at Richmond in Oxford. He taught English in Argentina and then Madrid, where he founded a Business English academy. He joined OUP as an Editor before going to Richmond in 2010. Luke has an MA in Latin American Literature from Warwick University.

1 Comment
  • Dennis Warren
    Dennis Warren
    Posted at 14:07h, 30 abril Responder

    Thanks for this.

    While the apps for ELT books continue to be lazily transposed digital copies of the physical books, without exploiting the possibilites of a the new digital age, then apps will definitely not kill books. Once the app supersedes the book in an pedagogically innovative way, then perhaps it would be worthwhile leaving the paper behind.

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