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Ikea is changing its long-lived Billy bookshelf. Is print dead?

September 12, 2011 |  7:39 am

Ikea's Billy bookshelves Ikea will make changes to its low-cost, high-volume Billy bookshelf this fall. And to some, that means books are dying.

In other news, Ikea may introduce a newly shaped bath mat, proving that baths will never be same ... or not.

Ikea's Billy bookshelf, which can already be adorned with glass doors, will be deeper beginning in October. And the Economist says that's because nobody has books anymore.

The firm reckons customers will increasingly use them for ornaments, tchotchkes and the odd coffee-table tome—anything, that is, except books that are actually read.

When the article appeared late Friday, people were excited to jump on the bandwagon. Time magazine wrote:

It's clear the book world is well into its digital transition. While IKEA won't face financial trouble simply because people aren't buying bookshelves to store books, they're more than wise to keep up with buyers' trends. They've realized we don't need fixed shelves 12 inches high and 9 inches deep.

That might be true, but it doesn't describe the Billy bookshelves, which have adjustable shelves, not fixed, and are about 10.5 inches deep, after the shelves are assembled.

I admit, they could be deeper. Some books, like my 2002 Snickersee Press edition of Ben Hech's "Art & Architecture on 1001 Afternoons in Chicago" sticks out past the edge of the shelf. I've sometimes arranged the books so it doesn't wind up at a smack-guests-in-the-face level. Even so, I don't plan on replacing it with an electronic version anytime soon.

The advent of electronic books does not have to mean the end of printed books. When the death of print comes, it will be heralded not by more accommodating bookshelves, but by Ikea ditching its Billy entirely for a wildly-efficient, hard-to-assemble, wall-mounted Kindle holder.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Ikea Billy bookshelves in action. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg

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