Does Book Mean Paper Anymore?


There comes a point with all new technologies where the terminology shifts. The new technology becomes the norm and the old tech gets a label to identify it. Take guitars, for example. What used to be guitar and electric guitar is now acoustic guitar and guitar. The new tech is now assumed to be the norm.

Earlier this week Mike Cane noticed that someone had filed  trademark for “books on paper”. I think that is a sign that we might have hit a similar point with books.

The trademark was filed by Half Price Books, and that detail is itself worthy of a grin. This is a discount bookstore chain here in the US with around 70 stores, and they don’t even sell ebooks. (I wonder what they know that we don’t?) Kidding aside,  HPB has held this trademark since October, and it doesn’t quite cover paper books; it covers bookstore services.

Once I started looking into this I realized that HPB wasn’t the first to use this term. A simple Google search revealed that this term is actually being used to talk about the print edition of books. The Urban Dictionary has a particularly interesting usage (that’s not definitive, I know). Even The Guardian has used this term, and you know that they wouldn’t dream of corrupting the English language by coining a term.

TBHm I started writing this post with a slight giggle. I didn’t take the idea seriously, but as I got deeper and deeper into the story I realized that it’s not a joke. The trademark above is about to become the norm (if it’s not already). You cannot assume that when someone says  book that they mean paper – not anymore.

Now, I have always used the phrase paper book, but I am also a pedant who likes to use redundant words in order to more correctly convey my point. But it looks to me that soon everyone will join me in using the word paper to refer to the print edition of a book. It will no longer be assumed. I might be  few months ahead of the curve on this, but I do believe it will happen.

What do you think?

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Mike Cane17 February, 2012

    “Did you see the news?”
    “No, show me.”
    – hands over newspaper –
    “OMG, who reads print? How can you find anything in that?”

    I started months ago saying “Kindle books” and not “Kindle eBooks.” At some point whenever I mention “books” it will mean electronic ones. I will likely go for “book on paper” or “print book.” I’ve already been using “print book” anyway.

  2. AdamB17 February, 2012

    Yes and no. It will happen when ebooks are more common than print books. For some readers, that’s now; for society as a whole, the norm won’t shift in just a few months.

    I work in Customer Service for a “digital library” software company. Our users typically have hundreds or thousands of books in our proprietary format, and for them, simply calling them ‘books’ is normal and natural.

    On the other hand, almost every day I talk with someone who thought they were ordering a book on paper, and calls to because they “haven’t recieved it yet.”

  3. TheGuitarist23 February, 2012

    “Take guitars, for example. What used to be guitar and electric guitar is now acoustic guitar and guitar. The new tech is now assumed to be the norm.”

    Sorry, but that’s just wrong. There’s neither a technology nor a terminology shift that makes the generic term “guitar” default to “electric guitar”. Well, perhaps a metalhead might think that way, but I doubt it’s true for the average Joe.

    Some people say that books on paper will never be completely replaced by e-books. That notion is even more applicable to guitars, as acoustic and electric guitars are so different, they might as well be considered two separate instruments. Sure, on the surface they share similarities, but the technique used to play them and the sound you get from them are not completely interchangeable. If you can play one of them well, it doesn’t make you automatically good on the other…

  4. […] companies try to own the word “book” online? […]


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