[Note, before you read this: Far Beyond The Stars is written for digital nomads and vagabonding minimalists (see sidebar), not necessarily academics with huge libraries — though they are welcome to read.
Obviously there are great reasons to have a huge book collection, and books as artifacts and souvenirs will never go away. What I’m offering here is an alternative to the status-quo based on what I perceive the future to be.
That being said, I do still read physical books. I just don’t keep them after I’m done with them. I gift, donate, recycle. If I kept them, I wouldn’t be as free as I am now.]
Seth Godin announced last week that Linchpin was the last book that he’d publish in the traditional form.
In addition, Tim Ferriss published a sizable post about how authors really make money. His answer: not by selling books.
Who knows if Seth is pulling a Brett Favre or actually abandoning the publishing industry, but the point he makes is clear:
Physical books are a thing of the past.
They’re expensive to produce, difficult to distribute, and it’s hard to get one published. More importantly, the publishing industry does not compensate writers nearly enough for their time and impact on the world– for example, Chris Guillebeau is spending more money out of pocket on his book tour than he was paid to publish his upcoming book.
The world is changing.
Ebook sales on Amazon have outpaced the sales of hardback books. It’s no secret why, physical books just aren’t practical anymore.
Yes, books are kind of nice to hold and read, but for a digital vagabond the idea of lugging around a library is terrifying.
This is the age of the digital, it’s only natural that authors will start moving towards complete digital distribution.
I already have started pursuing this digital reality, with my own reading habits and the way that I’ve published my books.
I’ve never been involved in the physical publishing industry, and probably never will be. Though I have been courted by lit agents promising me riches (really?) and fame, in exchange for giving up my profitable business. That’s nonsense.
Would you get on the Titanic if you knew it was going to sink?
There are of course many more reasons to abandon the idea of a physical book, many of which benefit the reader more than the author.
1. Less impact on the environment.
Printed books are produced on paper (which comes from trees) and then shipped all over the country. A large amount of fuel is wasted between the creation of the work and the eventual arrival in your hands.
2. Ultra-mobility sans library.
When I made the decision to begin living a minimalist lifestyle, I abandoned the idea of having a physical library of books. Any physical books that I purchase I eventually gift, recycle, or resell to a used bookstore. Why? Because maintaining a large library and being location independent is a costly endeavor. If I kept all of my books, I never would have this life.
Shipping an entire library every time I picked a new city to live in would be financially irresponsible and would impede my freedom.
3. Less barriers to entry for writers.
Writing a book is easy, getting a publisher to publish your book is about as impossible as winning the lottery. You have to prove that your book will sell ahead of time, and for most people this is a difficult task — sometimes you don’t actually know how well a book will do until you put it out into the world.
If you skip the publisher and go straight to the digital market, you’re skipping the gatekeepers and have an easier chance at success.
4. You actually support the author with your purchase.
When you buy a physical book, the author is lucky if they get 10-15% of the sale price. Where does the rest of your money go? Production costs and fat people sitting behind desks deciding what your read — we like to call these people gatekeepers, and they’re obsolete.
If you buy digital the author can get anywhere from 30% to 100% of your money, depending on the platform. Amazon’s Kindle platform pays anywhere from 30% to now 70%! (If you let them control the price.) My own sales from my Minimalist Business Bookstore achieve 50%-100% of sales, and all of the money that I’m not getting goes to readers who are supporting my work.
That is an amazing change and allows me and a growing number of idea makers to have the ability to actually make a living from our work. Why choose to get your book printed if you can actually make a profitable business around a packaged digital idea?
5. Access to your library anywhere.
Our society is increasingly mobile. Sometimes you’ll want to check a fact in a book, but you’re in Thailand (with Ross Hill, Cody McKibben, and very soon Colin Wright) and your book is sitting in a basement in Idaho. This conundrum is avoided by building a digital library that is accessible from anywhere in the world.
6. Less waiting for books to arrive.
When you buy a physical book, chances are you’ll have to either commute to pick the book up or order it from Amazon. Either way you have to wait for the book to arrive. You can avoid this by declaring independence from the physical and downloading books from the Internet.
With bookstores closing as fast as they are, it’s even harder now to find a bookstore that will stock the book you want to read anyway. Most bookstores only stock bestsellers and new books. If you want a rare but brilliant find, good luck!
7. Knowledge over ownership.
The information in the book is in you after you read it. The information, if valuable, becomes a part of your brain’s knowledge-base.
Why keep a physical reminder of the ideas?
Truth be told most or us will never read a book twice, so why are we keeping books around for our entire lifetimes? To me that’s just silly. Read the book and get rid of it. Alternatively, just buy digital on Kindleor from indie authors and read on a device or computer.
8. You need less fans to support the work.
With traditional book publishing, you need hundreds of thousands of people to make a book a success. This is because of the costs of distribution — most of the money you spend on a book goes towards the printing and shipping of the physical object.
When you go digital you only need Kevin Kelly’s 1000 true fans.
This means a lot more authors have a chance at being successful in a digital world. If I’d gone with traditional publishing, I would have starved long before my message reached the world — but because I embraced the digital world my writing business is insanely profitable. To me that decision is a no-brainer.
9. It’s a simple way to achieve freedom.
All of these reasons lead back to the central theme behind this blog: freedom is our goal. Embracing the digitization of knowledge will lead us father along with that journey.
HOW TO LIBERATE YOUR LIBRARY FROM THE PHYSICAL.
Alright, so by this point I imagine I’ve convinced you that maintaining a physical library is a pointless act routed in the idea of what our lives should look like.
The American dream of everyone having their very own private library is a fallacy and is directly imposing on our quest for freedom.
So how do you make a change?
Liberating your library is incredibly simple:
1. Embrace the idea of information abundance.
You can have most books at your fingers instantly using Amazon’s Kindle distribution system, by searching for information, or purchasing independent digital books like mine and others. This means that you don’t have to maintain a library at all, because the library is a shared resource that we all enjoy at any moment. This is a brilliant moment in the evolution of the human race, we should embrace information abundance and free our minds.
2. Downsize and eventually eliminate your library.
Your physical library is keeping you from being free, so you need to eliminate it. This is no easy process, I know from experience. We tend to become very sentimentally attached to the books we’ve read.
We say ‘what if I want to reread page 324 of Harry Potter 4 someday?’ Well, you can always download that book again! However, chances are you’ll never re-read 99% of the books you’ve already read, so saving them is pointless.
Start by getting rid of every book that you’ve read that you didn’t like or are certain you’ll never read again.
Next eliminate every book you’ve already read.
Then move on to books that you wish you’d read but seriously have never had the time. Really, you’re actually going to read the collected works of William Shakespeare from start to finish? I think not. Even if you do wake up in the middle of the night wishing you could decode Hamlet, you can download it online.
Then read and eliminate systematically every book you still own that you actually want and can read.
Then donate, sell in bulk, or recycle all books.
3. Declare yourself free from the idea of the physical book.
Once you’ve embraced the idea of information abundance, you can basically do anything you want. Travel for five weeks in the Australian outback, hike up to Machu Picchu, or perhaps sit on the beach in Nicaragua for seven weeks. The possibilities are, as always, endless.
When you combine the ideas that I present in The Art of Being Minimalist with your freedom from your books, you can become free and live and work anywhere in the world.
Thank you, as always, for your help spreading the word about this story.
Don’t forget, you can still comment, even though I disabled comments. Write about this on your blog, or get in touch on Twitter.