They won’t. I understand that a lot of people (especially authors and writers) are freaking out because, since the rise of technology has been swift and steady – and is predicted to continue rising, at an ever faster rate – print books, like so many print magazines and newspapers nowadays, will eventually die out. I do understand that fear: I felt it too, for a while. But then I realized that, as long as there are people like me who love books – the real, printed things with musty pages and rich-smelling ink – the book industry will never die out.
Of course, it’s unrealistic and impractical to pretend and claim that things won’t change. I fully expect the publishing industry to evolve and adapt to the changes that are happening as of now, but that’s natural and normal. Of course things must change as time goes on. On the other hand, I think that some of the changes will mean that the number of people and books being read online, or on other things than printed pages, will increase, and that change, in term, will cause some major changes in the writing and publishing industries.
There’s actually a debate going on right now (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/checking-it-out/checking-it-out-part-i-reading.html) about whether reading from a page or a screen is “better,” but conclusions about the matter are mixed and… well… inconclusive. Personally, I hold to the belief that people (including myself) read things slower and with better content retention when we read it from a printed page, as opposed to a document or page on a screen. We’ve “conditioned” ourselves that way, to use a psychology term: that is, we’ve trained ourselves to read faster, skimming more, with more impatience and emphasis on speed while reading from a screen, while we’ve learned and trained ourselves to believe that sitting down with a book or looking over a page in hand is more intimate and meant to be slower, with better retention and attention.
Anyway, to sum up my argument, I think that the industry will change, yes, but I don’t think it’ll change so drastically that printed books will cease to exist. I far, far prefer to read off a page than from a screen, and, as a writer who hopes to become published someday, I think that my role as a writer might also change somewhat. It’s becoming more and more popular to self-publish now, and though I don’t think I’ll be doing that for myself, I am definitely involved with numerous online sites where I can post my work for publicity and critique/feedback. So while I like some of the perks that Internet networking can provide, I don’t think it will replace printed books.