From Print to Mustaches via Pretoria


Literary Agent Steve Laube talks about the hyped-up notion that “print is dead.” In movies, agents end up behind enemy lines spying, wisecracking, and listening for details of what is happening. And getting wounded. So, we should definitely trust them.

agentLaube argues that, while things are definitely changing, the notion that print books are over with is silly. He employs all caps, which I assume he doesn’t like to see in proposals. (MY BOOK IZ GONG TO SALE LIKE HARRY POTTER!!!!!) Here’s part of what he has to say. I call it a “quote.”

“I see the royalty statements. I know exactly how many digital versions of my client’s books are being sold. And while there are a lot more sold than there were two years ago (of course there would be) the volume is still less than 1% of the print version sold. LESS THAN ONE PERCENT.”

He even notes that CD sales are still strong, even though digital music is (obviously) popular and growing more so. I know we’re all trying to figure out what kind of relationship there is between what has happened/is happening to the music business and book publishing. His article is informative on that front. Read it here.

Bottom line: printed books are alive and well, and will be for at least a while. To that I say, “Yay,” and “Pip, pip!” And, lastly, “Tally ho.”Printing Press

OK, may have overdone that.

Here’s a picture of a Kindle being made. Oddly enough, they are manufactured using very old printing presses. That is also, in fact, where they get their name: Kindle. The fellow what operates the press is named “Kindle B. Rhinelander.” He has, it might surprise you to learn, a mustache.

Do you think printed books are on the way out? If so, do you care one way or the other?Can you name the book reference in the post’s title? The only clue I have to offer you is blood, sweat, and tears. And mustaches.

Do you like money? Do you have a mustache?


  1. Jeff Miller

    The digitization of all content is inevitable. And when I mean all content, I mean ALL content – music, books, newspapers, medical records, business data, everything. If it is “content”, it will be digitized. The industries, companies, artists that can embrace this coming change (in some cases, i.e. music, it’s already here) will be in a much better position than the ones that don’t. Don’t get me wrong – I miss going to the local Sound Warehouse (remember those stores!) to pick up the new Peter Gabriel record the day it came out (which I guess I still could do – it’s just easier to get it on iTunes!), but – it is what it is. Traditional media may never “die”, but it’s importance is most certainly dwindling! My 2 cents…

  2. Peter B

    Yes to money, no to mustache (unless you count the several days’ growth I sport when on an Adventure Princess weekend campout).

    Is this where I say something about Ladysmith Black Mambazo to keep the Wheel of Fortune-style “before and after” joke going?

  3. Aaron Roughton

    If Laube really wanted to make a good point he should have printed out his article and made it into a pamphlet. A PAMPHLET. That’s exactly what I do at the end of each day with the entire Rabbit Room. I then write any responses or comments that I have by hand. BY HAND. I don’t have a mustache, and I like money. I LIKE MONEY.

  4. Scott

    In reverse order:
    No, though I have seriously entertained the idea.
    Not particularly, though I wouldn’t want to do without it.
    I can, thanks to some google magic.
    Yes, because I’m sentimental.
    Yes, but all the old-timers (my future self) will hang on for sentiment.

    Books just feel good. I hope they don’t go away, but there’s a lot going for the alternatives.

  5. Eric Peters

    Your title is stolen from the movie, “Wall-E”. Now, hand over the money.

    I currently wear a beard. My moustache/mustache is named “Magnum”, as in Magnum, P.I.

  6. Eric Peters

    P.S. Digital books don’t smell, and that is a bad thing. Every now and then I like to crack open my 1950 first edition of F. Buechner’s “Long Day’s Dying” just for the aroma. No Kindle can provide that level of satisfaction.

  7. Robert Treskillard


    Sadly … I think printed books will be dead quicker than CDs, at least on a relative scale from whence their individual digital revolutions began.

    My reason is this … if I buy a CD, I do so to have a physical back-up of the MP3 I’m going to create of the album. I will almost never listen to the CD itself after that first rip as I’m almost 100% digital in my listening.

    But books … can I convert any physical book I buy into a digital edition in less than 5 minutes? I don’t think so. Digital books will kill off physical books quickly simply because the physical can’t be converted to a digital.

    Now … if publishers offer the digital free with the physical, then it just might make it … but somehow I can’t see that costing the same as digital only, which means the economics are against physical books as well.

    Again … this is a sad conclusion. Our grand-kids may look at our bookshelves and wonder what those funny antiques are doing taking up so much space.


  8. Pete Peterson


    I don’t see printed books going away in our lifetime any more than television, video tapes, or DVDs did away with movies (as people feared). If anything, the digital revolution will make print books more precious, better designed, and all around more appealing for me to own.

    New Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer book that must be eye-rolled at? Digital please.

    New Wendell Berry book? Beautiful hardbound edition or bust.

  9. Robert Treskillard

    Pete … I do agree that not all printed books will disappear, and I hope you’re right in your vision. I’m just worried that the economics will make them scarce faster than we expect.

  10. Marit

    Churchill, of course!

    Technologies changes but mediums does not. (I’m not sure that is the right terminology, bear with me).

    A phone is still a phone, even if the technology has changed, from ladies making the connections at a local telephone central, to automatic switching of the connections, to a cell phone with opportunities to text, phone and more.

    New media usually have not displaced old media: we still told stories, after it was possible to write them down, we read newspapers even after the radio appeared. We still listened to the radio after the TV came, and we watch TV even when we have internet access.

    Then, is the printed book a medium or a technology? If it is a medium, people find value in the printed book separate from the value of a digital book and the printed book will survive. If it is only a technology, then the better technology will survive, and museums and support groups will come up for the other technology.

    And it will always be nice to have something to dig out when the electricity dissapear: candle lights, board games and printed books.

  11. Marit

    [Snobby comment about Europeans versus Amercians here]

    I know it was the prime minister of Great Britain during WW2, but I actually needed to look it up on the internet to remember his name… Google is definitively changing what my brain wants to and needs to remember.

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