Book culture is rooted in the physicality of the book as an object. In contrast, music culture is rooted more in the experience of music and the connection to the artist. This has not always been the case in music culture because historically music could not be mass produced and was limited to folk or high culture. Music's folk roots are one reason it will survive the commodifying effects of digitization, as it was always rooted in a communal experience. It was something to be seen, heard, and experienced. Music also engages human beings more deeply and totally than books or stories, which have always had a primarily cognitive avenue into our minds and hearts. We can't help this because human communication is far more than words. It is a well known cliche that words represent less than 10% of actual communication. Rather most communication occurs on a deeper, physical level. Gestures, facial expressions, intonation, etc. This is why music culture has survived digitization. The industry has been decimated, but music as a culture will always persist, because it is primarily a noncognitive, non-word based experience. This is what I meant when I said that it engages us more "deeply"- biologically and neurologically it hits more of our triggers. I was not making an artistic or subjective claim about it, but simply noting the science behind it.
In contrast, books which have similar folk roots to music require the physicality of the paper format to create the culture we know. This should be obvious even without ebooks, as we have far weaker emotional ties to paperbacks. It is the permanence and transmittable human connection of- and to- a physical hardback book that resulted in book culture. Without that strong and enduring physicality we revert back to a primitive story culture, but not book culture. If I haven't convinced you yet simply think about the absurdity of trying to leave your ebook files to your grandchildren. The idea really stirs up some deep feelings, doesn't it? Are you getting misty eyed and sentimental as you picture them getting excited and looking through the files to read your margin notes, see the coffee stain, touch the same dog eared page where that beautifully crafted insight first captured your imagination?
Not gonna happen. For the reasons I mention above book culture as we have known it these past few hundred years was dependent on the physicality of hardback books. Paperback books began the commodification process years ago, and ebooks are the evolutionary heirs of that process. Fiction will still create a sense of community and "culture", and we will still have book signings. In fact, we need to find ways to make connections between authors and readers stronger now, but we will regress to a story based culture. In all reality, it may not be that different from book culture except that the book itself will not occupy the same prominent position it once did, which is why all those beautiful used book stores are disappearing. Because they were the heart of book culture, but the book is becoming a commodity and losing its place in our hearts and minds. Instead, they are becoming data. Disposable commodities just like the walkman, mp3 player, ipod, pager, and all other tech we use and throw away in a year when it gets replaced by the latest and greatest update. As we lose the physical book, we are also losing those physical places where book culture thrived. I think libraries have been tacitly admitting this with all the innovations and new directions our services have taken.
Those of us who love physical books will be like those who love horses. A small deeply connected community that loves this particular moment in the history of transportation and food production, but relatively unimportant in the overall scheme of transportation. A niche culture for people with money and time. Libraries cannot survive serving a niche culture.
Libraries don't have to follow the fate of used book stores, because we are not simply about books, but in order to survive we need to think consciously about our relationship to books and how we will move forward in a world where books are disposable commodities, and the culture surrounding them has evolved.
Update: Great video that applies.