The Book Is the Button?

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

How many of you are wearing a button? Raise your hand. Go ahead — do it at your desk or wherever you’re reading this…I’ll wait.

If you were being honest (and adventurous), nearly all of you would have raised your hands. Everyone wears buttons all the time.

Yet, the button is an extremely old technology. The earliest evidence of buttons made by people dates back to nearly 5,000 years ago. And since then, we’ve invented all sorts of things to replace it: zippers, velcro, jumpsuits, magnets, snaps and more. But the button has persisted.

There might be a good analogy here for the print book, according to Nicole Valentine, a freelance technology consultant and former vice president of product and technology at, a book discovery platform.

The button is “a bronze-age technology. We’re not all going to start wearing velcro and seamless clothing,” just because those new technologies exist, she said. “And that’s the book. It’s perfect for what it does and it’s not going anywhere.”

Valentine was speaking at the Publishing Business Conference & Expo in New York on a panel about the future of reading and book publishing.

The latest data on ebook adoption and publisher ebook revenues seem to corroborate this notion. Ebook adoption in the U.S., the world’s most mature ebook market, has slowed.

According to the latest numbers from the Association of American Publishers, ebooks represented about 28% of publisher revenues through the first six months of the year, a number that has hardly budged month-to-month. In 2012, that number was 23%. While a marked increase, it also represents a slowing down of momentum. For instance, in 2008, only 1% of publisher revenues came from ebooks.

So, is the print book as resilient as the button? Or the knife (which we still use despite the existence of the Cuisinart and Slap Chop)? Or the fishing hook (which we still use despite the existence of other, more sophisticated ways of catching fish)?

Or will the print book go the way of the horse and buggy, personal pager and rotary phone?




4 thoughts on “The Book Is the Button?

  1. Pingback: Publishing Opinions | The Book Is the Button?

  2. David Fernau

    Using traditional print publisher figures alone to draw that conclusion seems to leave a lot of e-books out of the mix.

    Looking at Amazon’s top 20 Kindle books, 7 are published by Amazon Digital Services, which is the nameplate they use for self-published Kindle books… and the #2 book on that list is one of them.

    So, by only focusing on traditional publishers, this report appears to miss 1/3 of the current book market. That’s a very big data hole.

  3. Robin

    Ummm, nothing is as good as the button yet for a huge percentage of uses. Zippers are too heavy for dress shirts. Velcro is stiff and noisy (and tacky looking). Zippers replaced buttons on most pants – because here they are superior. Also on many coats, as the weight is a smaller factor relatively speaking. This is a terrible comparison to ebooks and books.

  4. Kate

    I agree. Some technologies replace older ones. Others co-exist. I like not having to boot up my printed book. I like reading in the bath tub without worrying about ruining a device. I like the heft and feel of paper. And many picture books and graphic novels need that format to be fully appreciated.



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