Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Paper or Plastic?

Enjoy the blog except for the whole me-dispensing-advice thing? Wish I'd can it so you could talk freely to your fellow writers in the comment section? Well, you're in luck. Every Wednesday (weather permitting), I'm going to have a feature called You Tell Me, where, after I get verklempt, I'll introduce a topic for you to discuss amongst yourselves.

Today's topic: Random House is neither random nor a house. Discuss. (just kidding)

Actually, today's topic involves technology.

For many years now the publishing industry has been waiting for the e-book format to take off, believing that technological innovations in other entertainment venues would make that whole paper thing obsolete. So far it hasn't -- e-books still represent a tiny fraction of overall book sales, and the vast majority of book sales are still of the ink and paper variety.

But things are changing. Slowly. The audiobook market, for instance, has seen significant growth in downloadable audio. And this past fall Sony rolled out its Sony Reader, a digital book thingamajig that is readable from all angles, even in the sun, and can hold like a gajillion books. E-books haven't taken off, but as the technology improves, will we prize convenience over tradition?

So...... IN THIS CORNER, weighing in at nine ounces is Plastic, the "Digital Demon." The thingamajig contains every book that you've ever wanted to read in your entire life. The screen is as readable as paper, displaying crisp graphics that are readable in any light (including darkness). No more lugging around books. No more booklights. No more hurting your shoulder carrying textbooks. It's light, it's portable, it's convenient. It's like the iPod, only with books. Is it the future?

And IN THIS CORNER, weighing in at, uh, lots of pounds, is Paper, aka "Papryus From King Cyrus." It makes you feel like you've accomplished something when you've turned the pages. You can fill up a bookshelf, use it as a paperweight, cut out the pages to hide a small pickaxe so you can crawl through a river of shit and come out clean on the other side. Is old new again?

Who. Will. Win.

Discuss amongst yourselves.


Conduit said...

I'm as techie as they come, I love all things computery and gadgety, but I still prefer to read the old-fashioned way, particularly if it's of any length. I do think things will change, but the technology isn't there yet.

When I post short stories on my blog (go on, click my name and read one - you know you want to!) I make them as easy to read as possible (dark text against a light background but not harsh black on white, properly indented paragraphs, a readable font) but I know I'd still rather see them on paper.

It's not just the words being on paper that makes the difference, mind you. Reading a book is a tactile experience, as well as a visual and cerebral one. Remember, most ordinary readers think of 'books' not 'novels' - it's the physical thing in their hands they describe, not the content of it. Maybe that will change as younger people take up reading in other formats - they won't miss the cosy feel of warm paper and card n their hands.

When technology catches up, which I'm sure it will, and finds a way to replace the tactile aspect lost to electronic media, then I think we'll see a change.

PS - Notice how I didn't mention the whole aspect of reading on the throne. I'm much too refined to bring that up.

Anonymous said...

Paper will never die.

Sure, we'll see technologies like the thingermaggiger come and go, but books have sentimental value. They're here to stay.

Gerri said...

Gimme a book every time. I do enough reading on gadgets. I need down time on my eyes, and paper provides that.

Plus, I don't know what I'd do with the space if I didn't have books to fill it up.

Gem said...

Given a choice, I prefer books. There's something very pleasing about them lined up on the bookshelf. But then, if I were going on holiday or travelling around a lot, I wouldn't take a lot of persuading to take an electronic thingamajig with me. I read fast and being able to carry more than 3 or 4 books with me would be fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Tick-tock, tick-tock. Paper will become as obsolete as typewriters--it's only a matter of time.

Paper is too expensive, too bulky, too slow to transfer and process. And these issues will affect our writing--it already has.

Start with the action, pepper in the backstory, etc., etc. We're writing for immediate attention, which coincides with the attention span of the electronic age.

Writers may prefer paper, however, readers aren't liking it as much as they used to. We'd better learn to take advantage of a paperless environment or we'll become obsolete little buggars.

Bernita said...

There's just one problem with the whole electronic future.
You are lost without power and/or batteries.
You can both read and write by candlelight.

Scott said...

Ah, a subject close to my heart. Here's the thing: by day, I'm a mild-mannered technical writer. More than ten years ago, the company I work for, despite the screams from customers, switched from delivering paper manuals to delivering our manuals--still in a book paradigm--on the Web.

And it worked, after the initial shock wore off. It worked so well, in fact, that a few years ago when we listened to the few customers who still complained and made our manuals available through a POD publisher, so few people bought the that we stopped offering them. The Web is seen as faster, easier to keep up to date, and whatever else people like about it.

But should regular books go the same way? No. I love reading on my laptop, in short doses. Small chunks of info work great electronically, whether it's a small chunk of a manual, a (really) short story, a poem, a blog entry, a newspaper article, and so on.

I can't stand trying to read an e-book, or anything longer than,say, ten pages or so. My brain engages differently looking at a screen than it does looking at a page. Even though an e-book or other electronic document makes it easy to keep notes, mark text, find text, and all those kinds of thins, it's just plain hard to read for any length of time.

Maybe someday they'll develop an e-book reader that isn't backlit and doesn't cause eye strain (and maybe they already have), but I think it will take much longer for the human brain to process words on a screen the same way as on paper. It's just not cozy.

Audiobooks are a whole 'nuther story. They're a great innovation. They don't try to replace books. They just try to make books accessible in new ways. It's hard to read a book while jogging or driving (though that guy I see on the road occasionally hasn't figured that out yet). It's not much easier to read a book in the bad lighting of a plane or train.

I haven't jumped on the Audiobook bandwagon in anything like a big way, but if I were going to take a long drive alone, I'd get a couple from the library. But even then, I'd have to find something "light" or familiar. I can't pay attention to a book the same way if listening as I do when reading.

On the other hand, we're conditioned to listening to others read to us from an early age, so it can be entertaining and even comforting, and as writers we can listen to the sounds of the words and get something we don't pick up as well off a page.

To rank the three media, paper's number one. Audio is a distant second, and electronic is two states behind me. (And I live in the west, where states are big.) Electronic makes a comeback moves up to second for very short works, news (I get most of my news online now rather than from newspapers, depite being a newspaper guy for a while) or reference material presented in small chunks.

And that was long. Sorry.

Scott said...

Oh, one more thing books have going for them, at least for serious readers, writers, and the like: We love displaying our books. We can't walk into a room in somebody else's house without examining the bookshelves. Our bookshelves are an accurate reflection of our Selves, and we judge other people pretty accurately by what we see on *their* shelves.

And it's not just the titles and types of books. Are the shelves dusty? Dust isn't a bad thing for a reader, but dusty in what way? Does it look like the books have been untouched for years, or does the dust show clearly that books are frequently pulled off the shelves and looked at?

If I walk into somebody's house in the (probably not-so-distant) future, am I going to have find some sneaky way to get a peak on what they have on their e-reader to figure out what kind of a person they are?

whoisbenji said...

Technology sux.
Paper owns.

Anonymous said...

Like butter

Anonymous said...

While I am all in favor of battery operated devices in the bedroom, ebooks are NOT in my night table drawer, nor will they be. Paper please.

Christopher M. Park said...

I think that the publishers will do whatever is cheapest that they can get away with. Not to be down on the publishers, that's just good business sense. Right now, making e-books is not a primary way to make money--but if a lot of people start valuing that convenience, we'll see more and more ebooks. Perhaps less and less bookstores.

I don't look forward to this. I think that ebooks could be wonderfully convenient for travel... but on the other hand, when I travel I don't tend to read more than a book or two. I mean, if I was going to read the entire time I'm on a trip, I might as well have just stayed home.

Plus, both my wife and I like to collect books. We have three full bookcases double-stacked with books, more books in the closet of our guest bedroom, and more books on some smaller bookcases in various rooms. We really need to get another large bookcase sometime this year. There's just something about having a "library" of books... it's an indefinable good quality of the paper variety.

I'm a programmer by day, and a lot of my job centers around helping companies go paperless. So you'd think I'd be one of the first to want to do the same with fiction. Not so. Communication by paper is definitely antiquated and wasteful, in my opinion--and that's largely because it is fleeting. This is a perfect opportunity for recycling if I've ever seen one--not to mention that it's then much easier and cheaper to manage those "living documents" that are getting Fedexed all over the country.

But that's the impermanent stuff. Books are supposed to be a little more permanent than that, and I think a lot of people treasure those indefinable aspects of having a physical book in their hands.

But if the majority isn't with me, and e-books become a standard just-as-good alternative... I guess I'll be one of those mail-ordering books from the publisher. Or buying my own little POD machine, or something (to be invented later). I guess I could really see this whole thing going either way in the long term, but I certainly hope that paper hangs around.


My blog on writing

Nathan Bransford said...

Wow -- really really great responses everyone.

I asked this question over in the myspace comment section (one of these days the Myspace comment section and Blogger comment section will have to play Red Rover or something):

Do you think people are more attached to books (the physical objects) than they are to their record collections? Because I never would have thought that I would have given up displaying my CDs, but now I have an iPod.


Though I aspire to be a published novelist, I have for decades supported myself as a banker. Talk of a "checkless society" started in the late Seventies. When it didn't come after a number of years, the term was softened to "less-check society." Just in the last few years, banking has finally experienced a reduction of substance. What substance? Why, paper dust, of course.

I suspect that we will ultimately see a significant shift toward reading through new technologies. It will happen faster the reduction of check volumes. The same wave of technology enables both, and the number of adapters in the population continues to grow.

Even so, nicely bound volumes will continue to say something about the owner of the shelf. Besides, I'd prefer that our literature, serious and recreational, be maintained in forms not susceptible to the effects of sunspots and other phenomena, natural and created.

Christopher M. Park said...

I definitely think people are more attached to books than their CDs. I don't have an ipod, but the first thing I do with all my CDs is rip them to disk on my computer. It's just so much more convenient of a way to listen to the music, and I'm at my computer most of the day, so that works out. I still have all my CDs, of course, but they're in a big box in the closet.

Maybe part of the difference is that you spend a lot of time handling the book, and looking right at it (you know... reading), whereas the same is not true with a CD. You put it in a player of some variety, and then you don't even look at the player while the music is playing. The net result is truly the same, and there's not much tactile difference between an ipod and an older CD player.

Plus, we listen to music repetitively, and it only lasts about an hour at best per CD. So you need to be able to have a hojillion CDs on hand just to have some variety, whereas it takes even speed-reading agents like Nathan so much longer than that to read a full book. We don't particularly need much variety, unless we're planning to get shipwrecked on an island for a few years (with batteries).

I can certainly see the points of comparison, but I really think these are two different animals.


My blog on writing

Nathan Bransford said...


That's an interesting point about the repetive listening thing. What's funny is that most people seem more attached to their books than their CDs, and yet we only read most books once!


How many of your CDs, Nathan, were bound in leather with goldleaf lettering? Oh, and when can we expect your picture on this blog to change from a pose in front of an impressive collection of books to a pose in front of an iPod or a Sony Reader? I'll bet the rest of the kids in the Peanut Gallery will agree that you should remain posed with the books.

This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave said...

I am planning to transfer over 300 music CD's to an IPOD this summer.
And I will buy the special turntable to transfer the rare Vinyl recordings I own after that.

If E-Books can be marketed for writing the way IPOD is marketed for music, then E-Books will be a success. Not until.

Conduit said...

Nathan - I don't think the iPod analogy really applies. The experience of listening to music is very different from that of reading a book. Most of us are used to doing other things while listening to music, and we're used to our focus moving back and forth between the song and the other activity. We can work, drive, jog, do the dishes or any of number of things while listening to music and, through radio, we're used to getting it in small doses that we can drift in and out of.

The Walkman was the successful ancestor of the iPod - but does anyone remember the Watchman? Apart from Rain Man, of course. It didn't succeed where the Walkman did simply because we don't experience TV the same way. Likewise, we don't experience the written word the same way.

Having said that, I do believe we'll see a change - when technology catches up.

Shannon said...

Okay, I'm coming in late here but I just have to comment. "No more lugging around books"????? That will be a sad day. Books become more than the words, paper and glue they're made of. And besides, we think it's hard to make a living as a writer now. What happens when someone can buy an e-book for five bucks and email it to a hundred people with the click of a mouse. You can only share a real book with one person at a time.

dan said...

Books have some inherent advantages. * You can open two or four or ten books before you and cross-reference, easily, just glancing your eye around. Can't do that with ten books on one e-reader.
* you can thumb through a book very quickly--if you're looking for something on page 25 and want to compare it to something on page 150, you can stick your fingers in between the pages, go back and forth, back and forth.

These points apply more to non-fiction, technical stuff than to novels, I guess. And that's (ironically?) where I'd guess e-books have the most utility, because if you're a student, lugging around one e-book is easier than 10 textbooks. So who knows.

As for novels, or any books read for entertainment, I think regular books will stick around for a long, long time. The best e-book in the world will probably not be as easy on the eyes as paper and ink. Also, there is something, I think, to the flipping of pages, to the looking ahead to see if you're one page or ten pages away from a section or chapter break, to the actual *feel* of getting nearer and nearer the end of the book. I don't think this has to do with a person's age (I'm not that old, 27) or how techie they are or not (I have an electrical engineering degree--I am not a luddite). Eventually e-books will maybe become dominant, but I think it's going to be a long time and frankly they'll only take over when most people most of the time simply enjoy using them more than they enjoy using books. And if that actually happens, then goodbye to books--don't hold on to the past for its own sake. :)

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem, in theory, with e-books, especially if they could be downloaded to a handheld device that could be taken wherever I like to read, but I have a major problem staring at a computer screen for as long as it takes to read a novel. I'm only nineteen, so it's not an age thing, but it gives me a serious headache to gaze at a computer screen for that long, with that much concentration.

Personally, I do prefer physical books for the tactile pleasure; there is something delicious about the smell of an old, well-cared-for book. Plus the possessive pleasure of looking over a bookshelf with all the books I love (and not just novels---I prize my 1987 Roget's thesaurus).

kd said...

I could never give up books. I like the way they look, the way they feel, and the way they smell. I just can't get that from a screen.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I've said it before here I think, that I prefer my short stories online and my books on paper. You'll never hear me badmouth either one, since I'm an editor at an ezine and the proud "caretaker" of thousands of books. (Here in Boulder, we are "guardians" of our dogs, not "owners" and since I figure most of my books will outlast me...)

Music. Hmm. I have about half my music on my Ipod, and I use the thing all the time, but my CDs live happily side by side with my books, and I use them all the time too. My stereos at home and in the car so far outweighs the sound on my ipod, there's no contest. And yeah, I play both media on my stereos, and yeah, I can tell the difference between a CD and Ipod.

I do think the e-pub market will take off in the following years, and I think it's only a good thing. There's been an explosion of good online magazines to send work to, and when the market opens up for novels it could be a great thing. There's nothing sadder to me than an unpublished, good writer. Unfortunately, the print guys just can't take everyone on. Population grows, technology improves, opportunity abounds. It's all good.

But, as long as there's libraries, I'll still read novels on paper.

sex scenes at starbucks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Brooks said...

I love books--I love reading big heavy books, I love displaying my books, whether it's a good copy or a beat up copy I found at the Goodwill. If it's a book I like, I want people to see it and know I have it.

I also have a large CD and vinyl collection, and I still display those, even though I have put them all onto my computer and/or Ipod. If I buy a song from Itunes, I'll still buy the album if I like all of it, because I like to ahve the hard copy.

However, I think I could really get into e-books as well, if I had a digital reader thing. The technology ahs a ways to go yet--maybe someday they'll make a digital reader/Ipod combo so I can listen to digital music while reading a digital book.

Maya Reynolds said...

Two comments from my blog in recent months:

The AAP (Assoc. of American Publishers) recently reported on net book sales for 2006.

E-books were up 24.1% while audiobooks were down 11.7%.

Keep in mind that the relative numbers are not equal. The reason e-books are posting such dramatic gains is that their overall numbers are still small. Even so, the double digit growth has been going on for a decade.

However, there is another trend worth noting. School districts are beginning to look at replacing traditional textbooks with e-books.
It's not a big movement; so far it's only a few school districts, but these are the reasons cited:

1) E-books are easier to update
2) Rapid district growth. Ordering texts can take months. An e-book can be loaded in hours.
3) Cost: It's about 50% the cost of buying a book in hardback, which allows districts to buy the laptops students need.

Kids today are quite comfortable doing everything on a small screen. Many don't have the loyalty to books expressed on this comment trail.

What will make the e-book market explode is a viable reading device. I don't think the Sony Reader is there yet. It was too expensive for one thing ($350), it does not read all formats and, at least when it was released, you had to go to Sony's CONNECT site to buy books for it.

I'm waiting to see what happens when Amazon releases its Kindle. Rumor has it that it will be truly affordable (under $100).

Anonymous said...

As a YA librarian in a small town, thought I'd share that our budgets will begin to include monies for downloadable books. All 28 library computers are ready for them and patrons are already asking about this sort of technology.

In addition, books on CD are circulating very well in both fiction and nonfiction.We encumber more money every year for recorded books.

While libraries will always have books, they are embracing new ways of transmitting information. Our library subscribes to over 47 databases. Not having to find the funds or space for hundreds of magazines/newspapers is wonderful.

Nathan Bransford said...

Maya and Anon--

Thanks so much for that info! Very very interesting.

Simon Haynes said...

Paper books have a history and permanence you'll never get from ebooks.

I picked up a 1970s paperback the other day which was dedicated to the memory of the author's daughter, who was kidnapped 'years earlier' and hadn't been seen since.

When I checked Google I found a press clipping from the 90's reporting that the author had been reunited with his long-lost daughter.

What kind of ebook gives you real life stories like that? What 2007 ebook is going to be pulled from a dusty shelf in 2037 for a quick read?

Even looking at the price on the back of a 30-year-old book gives me a smile. 50c new? Or even prices in Deutschmarks and Pesetas - both of them now consumed by the Euro.

Books aren't just about the story - they're also time capsules. Humanity doesn't want to lose its history thanks to a random hard disk crash or some DRM mixup.

Anonymous said...

I, too, am a gadget freak of the highest order, but have yet to see any device that's confortably readable under all, or nearly all, conditions. I still like paper and ink, but have grown to really enjoy audiobooks - especially when read by the author.

Also, I re-read favorite books and always pick up something I've missed previously.

Good topic, Nathan.

Michelle Zink said...

Great blog, great topic!

For me it's really simple;

Sure there's fast food out there.

Even fast, healthy food.

Fast, healthy food that looks nice and comes packed in uber-streamlined, food-packaging-as-art boxes and bags.

Fast food with a portion of the profit donated to a worthwhile charity.

Save-the-pandas fast food.

But it's still not the same as cooking a real meal from scratch in your own kitchen and then sitting down with a good bottle of red, you know?

There might be times when it's convenient to order out, but in the end, I think people will always come back to the comforts of home.

whitemouse said...

I noticed a weird thing back in grad school. I could get most scientific papers online, but if they had real substance to them, I had to print them out to read them. I could not comprehend the words as easily if I was reading them off a screen.

The hypothetical plastic do-hickey sounds wonderful, but it would really have to be as good as paper before I'd spend (undoubtedly a lot of) money on it.

And even then, books I really liked, I'd want a bound copy of. I feel nervous having all my photos in digital form, and I'd feel nervous having books I cherished in digital form. Data is delicate and can be lost in a heartbeat. A book is much harder to destroy.

However, I can see myself taking a chance on more new authors, if I had the do-hickey. There's just something about a virtual book that seems more disposable; I'd feel less ripped off if I didn't enjoy it, 'cause it's only electrons and thus easily deleted.

Kim Stagliano said...

I have a children's story book from 1932 on my bookshelf. In it is a beautiful bookplate from the Concord Public Library in Mass. And dozens of stamps from when the book was borrowed from the 1930's -1960's. I bought the book at a store in Florida as a kid in the 70's. Even then I LOVED knowing that kids forty years earlier had read that book. Books have histories, they travel, they have the DNA of their readers on every page (that could be an "eew" moment though) and I wouldn't trade them for electronic, cold, gadgets. I pick up my own childhood favorites and remember my small hands turning the pages, reading all safe and snug in my bed. Books are so much more than just words!

Gerri said...

What's funny is that most people seem more attached to their books than their CDs, and yet we only read most books once!

See, soooo different story here. If I don't read the book more than once, it sucked. Almost all of my books have been read and reread until the spines show all the wear. I can't pick up an electronic book and open it to a random page and start reading again.

Are they more addicted to books than CD's? Yes. Think of it this way: hours of entertainment. CD's only hold a short amount, relatively, like an hour or so per CD. Books, depending on the person, can hold hours to days to months per book.

Portability: IPods allow for large amounts of entertainment, but they're expensive, and it takes time to download music and such. Books? Cheap and portable. Electronic readers? Portable, yes. Cheap? No.

Plus, there's the snob factor. Books are visibly books. Electronic readers look too much like PDAs or something, and who want to look like that on the bus or plane? It's a book, darn it. It screams "Look at me! I actually READ for entertainment!" *grin*

Simon Haynes said...

Kim - same here. I bought a first edition 1950s SF novel from a book dealer in the UK and when it arrived I found a 1950s bill for motorcycle repairs & parts tucked inside the back cover. Pounds, shillings and pence no less.

I could so easily picture the motorbike-loving youth sitting down to read this same book 50 years earlier.

Electronic data has no past and no nostalgia. Until Nathan's blog post I hadn't realised just how much I appreciate real live books.

Alex Fayle said...

Until an eBook can be safely read in the bath, I'll stick with paper thanks.

Alex Fayle said...

I'll weigh in on the hoarding books thing - as a professional organizer, many of my clients has a book addiction. I used to have one!

The thing about books and anything printed is that the process of printing adds inherent value to something for some people - even sales flyers.

But books add an extra value to the person - if you walk into a home and see lots of books, you're going to think the person is smart. And despite 18 years of Bart Simpson, people like to be thought of as smart.

CDs have no cachet like that. So sure, go ahead and transfer your music to your MP3 player, but I doubt most people will ever give up their smartness by getting rid of their books.

December Quinn said...

I'd like to be able to do both. My bookshelves are overflowing. I'd love to be able to get rid of some of them--the falling-apart paperbacks, the books I don't read as often--and store them in an e-reader. It would be great to have three bookcases instead of five (with books stacked all over the house, too), and to have the books on them be books I really love. I'd love to be able to take a trip and bring 150 books with me instead of just four or five.

But I never want to give up my paper books completely, for all the reasons mentioned here.

I write ebooks so I have to say I like them, and honestly I do. I just wish someone would invent a really good ereader, paperback size, with all the features I want.

December Quinn said...

BTW, Nathan, I don't agree at all that people only read books once. I can only think of a couple of my books that I read only once.

Anne-Marie said...

I think it's harder on the eyes for me to read electronically, and since one of my favourite haunts for leisurely reading is the bath, it has to be paper. I wonder if the public library has realised that I am the crumpled pages culprit.

CD to iPod wasn't a big leap for me, but I do miss the beautiful big layout of old LP covers. I still have mine.

Great topic, Nathan!

Demon Hunter said...

I prefer paper; technology is evil. Just read Stephen King's, Cell.

Paper is easier on the eyes. I do not want to read an entire novel on my computer or some other gadget. I agree with Bernita, we can read and write by candlelight, or in the daylight even. People freak out when their power is out.

ERozanski said...

Another aspect to consider regarding ebooks and libraries....YA librarian again...

Libraries have only so much shelf space. We weed our collections on a regular basis and books are discarded due to poor circulation as well as condition. Older titles have to be purged to make room for the new titles.

Books that are plain worn out need to be pitched. Patrons don't want to see someone else's coffee stains(or worse) on a book they are borrowing. This often means that backlist books are absent from the collection. For example, our libray doesn't have every book Stephen King has written.

Being able to have "Christine" in ebook format would be a nice compromise.

A major obstacle to adding ebooks is going to be availability. As it is now, our jobber, Baker and Taylor, doesn't have everything I'd like to order. Neither does Recorded Books. This often means we have gaps in series and very frustrated readers.

Happy Days said...

Good topic, Nathan.

My name is Jan. I am a readaholic.

A book a day type readaholic. Withdrawal symptoms set in if I don't have an unread book somewhere in the house, waiting its turn to carry me away.

But I am not a keeper of books. Once I read them, I set them free for someone else to enjoy. Otherwise, I would be buried by my accumulated books.

I would be happy to have a well-stocked book reader, and comfortable using it. But still, I hope I never see the day that e-books become the only medium publishers use.

Why? Because I can barely support my habit now, haunting library sales, and thrift shops for cast-off gems. Somehow, I can't envision finding e-books the same way.

The day publishers go paperless is the day I check into rehab.

Heatheness said...

I predict it'll be a hundred years before e-books and e-readers outnumber paper, and another hundred before they overwhelmingly dominate. The growth of e-reading reflects the growing number of tech-savvy, Millennial generation readers. But they're a small generation, and so that growth will eventually slow and plateau, while audio and large-print will continue along *its* growth trajectory beside all the trends enjoyed by the demographically giant Boomer and X generations. These older generations of readers still buying paper books will maintain buying power until, frankly, they're gone, and their book-appreciating (if not book-loving) children and grandchildren are gone, too.

Meanwhile, where the Millennials can influence publishing with their preferences and parity, they will. First it'll be (and already is) their journalism media, their textbooks, ever-increasing amounts of non-fiction and the literature that is not in novel form (short stories, poetry, novellas), and then, finally, novels.

The Boomers and the Generation X, though, still have some influential contributions in store for publishing's bottom line. They may finally crack the code on how to make wood/paper recycling highly profitable and thus provide publishers with long-term competitive paper vendors; or maybe they'll farm massive fast-growth forests, dedicated to publishing fulfillment. Authors and publishers may even agree to let book design go the way of the French, with their plain paper covers that depict no artwork and just the facts (title author and publisher), in order to offset losses in marketshare/profits related to the presence of e-books.

I think these sorts of actions would significantly slow the slide of paper into obsolesence. But when e-readers can satisfy nearly all the readers, that'll be it for paper. After all, just because we still CAN chisel letters into clay tablets doesn't mean we do.

brian_ohio said...

I believe our Blog host has a thing for Linda Richmond. Hmmmm.

Nathan... found this in my local paper yesterday. I think it fits the discussion quite well. Course... I have been wrong once before.

"Library visitors make record numbers"

For all those gloomers and doomers who said the Internet would make a library obsolete, the Akron-Summit County Library has news for you. Over 5.3 million items were borrowed from the library in 2006, an 8 percent increase from 2005 and a record breaking year. An unprecedented 3 million people visited 18 library locations, with 1 million visiting the Main Branch.

A record 130,517 young people attended programs at the library, an increase of 57 percent from before the library's building program began. The number of items borrowed has increased 43 percent and building vistiors are up 64 percent since that date

-story ends there-

I, for one, go to the library more often than I ever have in the past.

adrienne said...

Books are pretty. And the only reason I bought all 13 of the Lemony Snickett books was because of how they looked (otherwise I could have just as easily taken them out of the library).

I really think that writers and readers alike are quite romantic. People always say these days that not as many people read anymore, whatever. The people who do read like the tradition of it. THe coziness of it. I think e-books may bring more readers into the fold, but books will never go away. They may die down for a while as new technology excites the masses. But they will always come back.

I visited the National Library in New York last week. So beautiful. So romantic. No, books aren't going anywhere.

Robin L. said...

Books will win this war. I'm a techie, early adopter person and I've gladly traded in my cd's for my iPod. But, there's a huge difference between reading on the screen and reading on the page.

I love my computer, love my screen, but I wouldn't read a book there ever. It's so much easier on the eyes to read on a page, plus, it feels like recreation, not work.

Lisa said...

One thing that's only been alluded to so far is the preservation of our culture with respect to the speed at which technology changes.

If someone presents me a book from 1600, I know what it is, what to do with it, and with a bit of linguistic help, I can extract the information that the book holds. The basic technology hasn't changed.

Hand a 5 1/4" floppy disk to an eleven-year old, and he'll look at you like you're an idiot. Chances are, he's never seen one, and I bet neither of you has the means to extract its information. And that's just one generation removed.

Anyone still have a Betamax machine? What if certain movies were ONLY released in that format? See where I'm going here?

Four hundred years from now, the function of a book will be more transparent than that of a little plastic box, even if they hold the exact same information.

And in the short term, yeah, I agree with all the other arguments of the pro-book camp.

Indie Young said...

mbMs. Calendar: Honestly, what is it about them that bothers you so much?

Giles: The smell.

Ms. Calendar: Computer's don't smell, Rupert.

Giles: I know! Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there
is. A certain flower or a, a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences...
long forgotten. Books smell. Musty and, and, and, and rich. The
knowledge gained from a computer, is, uh, it... it has no, no texture,
no, no context. It's, it's there and then it's gone. If it's to last,
then, then the getting of knowledge should be, uh, tangible, it should
be, um... smelly.

Yes I am a nerd for quoteing Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a debate, but honestly it's true. Reading from a screen and reading from a page are two entirely different things. I think the two worlds are going to continue to exsist together, with printed media always being the favored.

Anonymous said...

Once OLED screens are common I think it is feasible that ebooks will replace paper books. It will take a while though.

That said, I personally prefer paper books (from now on simply books). As long as I am around I do not expect the book market to change too drastically. (And I am only eighteen by the way.)

The other day I picked up the Arabian Nights in German from a garage sale, just because it looked cool: both the outside cover and the inside type. That is special. Just because of such experiences I would like to say that books would never become obsolete. However, since there are numerous things in history that have become obsolete through someone or another's crazy ideas, I would not bet on that.

Maybe they will end up like Tall Ships, treasured as a memory of the past. Forgotten though? I think not. Not for a long while anyway.

Anonymous said...

Let me advance a few brief hypotheses.

One: An innovation will "catch on" when it constitutes an
overwhelming advance whose utility is instantly recognized
and adopted. Perhaps tubeless tyres fall into this category.
So far, plastic (electronic) books have not.

Two: The innovation immediately ascends to the level of status
symbol, so that to be "in" you gotta have one. In a world
where the latest technojunk is as ubiquitous (and discardable)
as cigarette butts, there seems little chance of plastic books
becoming the norm any time soon.

Third: The generation divide seems to be a catalyst. Remember the
footage of China in the 1970s? The streets were full of old and
middle-aged people on bicycles. Check today's footage. The bikes
are nearly gone and the streets are clogged with cars. The advance
of the youth, inoculated with the machine, may be what changes the
preference for paper to plastic.

I hope not. I like books. I don't have to plug them in anywhere;
they never "crash" on me, and I can paste notes into the flyleaf.

Carl Hoffmeyer

writtenwyrdd said...

I have tried ebooks while travelling. My PDA ran out of juice and I was stuck halfway through the book. Annoying. Paper is bulky but it isn't going to become unusable when your plane is stuck on a runway for 3 hours or when you want to go camping.

Besides, except for my 17" screen, reading electronically drives me crazy because I can't see both pages. Call it a psychological impediment, but it's mine and I like books best and always will.

Related Posts with Thumbnails