Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Efficiency Wins in the End

I'm completely obsessed with efficiency. I try to be as ruthlessly efficient as I possibly can, simply because I want to get as much done as possible. If there's a new system that saves me time, whether it's accepting e-queries, embracing Google docs so I can work anywhere, getting an e-reader so I can read anywhere, you name it, I'll do it.

But I'm also obsessed with efficiency in a broader sense as well, because I think it is something critically important to society and history and technology. We humans, whether we're conscious of it or not, are all obsessed with efficiency.

Nearly every single thing that has ever been invented and achieved mass adoption has one thing in common: it's an improvement in efficiency.

Whether it's speech, writing, the postal service, telephone, or e-mails, we have been moving closer and closer to efficient, instantaneous communication across vast distances.

Whether it's domesticated animals, chariots, railroads, cars, planes, we have been moving closer and closer to efficient travel across vast distances.

Whether it's fire, windmills, steam engines, or the internal combustion engine, we have been moving closer and closer to the most efficient energy production possible.

And as we decide whether to adopt or dismiss a new inventions, nearly every consideration other than efficiency (usually) dwindles in importance.

Cars aren't as safe as railroad travel or walking (or at least walking where there are no cars), but we're willing to make that sacrifice because cars are efficient. Every energy technology seems to pollute more than the last, but we make the tradeoff because the other technologies are less efficient. Nothing can compare to the experience of listening to live music or, barring that, vinyl records, but we'd much rather listen to music on mp3 players because we can listen to music whenever we want.

Human beings are always scurrying around trying to find more efficient ways of doing things and freeing up time for the things we'd rather be doing. Efficiency allows us to be more productive and relax more and spend time creating still more efficiency.

And this is why I believe e-books are going to win in the end, and probably sooner than we think. It's simply vastly more efficient to download any book you could possibly want instantaneously and read a book on a screen (even better if it's a screen you already have, hello smartphone) than to cut down a tree, make paper, print ink on it, bind it, ship it across the country in a plane or a truck or both, and make someone walk or drive to a physical store (who may or may not have the book they want) every time they want to read a book.

I think we'll look back on the print era and marvel about all those people who were responsible for delivering all these individual printed objects, kind of like how there used to be a fleet of milk men in every city rather than one guy driving a truck to a couple of supermarkets.

To be sure, no technology disappears completely - people still ride horses, go to plays, type on typewriters, listen to record players, and send handwritten letters. And printed books aren't going to disappear either. All of these technologies have advantages and an associated nostalgia that people will always want to preserve and experience. There will still be printed books and physical bookstores, even if there are far fewer of them.

But things tend to move in one direction: toward greater efficiency and productivity. There's always a delay as people adapt to the new technology, but prices come down, the technology gets better, and the efficiency spreads.

Printed books have their advantages, but they don't win where it counts. Nature may abhor a vacuum, but human nature abhors a bottleneck.


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Scott said...

True enough, Nathan. Although I believe the future of e-reading will be more in the form of gadgets like the iPhone rather than dedicated devices.

reader said...

Tell us how you really feel. :)

I'm sure you are correct, but until the price of these things comes way down there's no way I can afford one.

I also cringe at the notion that a child living in poverty will someday have to own such a costly device in order to read a damn book. Which is exactly where we are headed. That's shameful.

Voidwalker said...

I heard a comprehensive interview about e-readers and e-books and the dynamic that it is going to introduce into our culture, affecting things like bookstores, libraries and schools. The gentleman they intervied (I cannot recall his name sadly) put it very simply "Books are an outdated technology." It went from carving on stone or leather, to scrolls, to books and now to e-readers. I really think that's the perspective we will have on this, years from now.

Nathan Bransford said...


But the devices will become much more ubiquitous. Kind of like refrigerators or cell phones. At first only rich people have them, but eventually everyone has them.

Matthew R. Loney said...

It's also interesting to note how our drive towards efficiency can leave us with a void, rather than more accomplishments.

The move in my life now is towards more awareness of what I'm doing - whether cooking or writing or walking - in order to actually pay attention to what I'm doing, rather than stuff my day full of things I'm only half-conscious of.

Nathan Bransford said...

Or at least almost everyone.

Mira said...

Great post, Nathan. I really liked your line about how being more efficient creates more time to create more efficiency.

Shoot. I don't have anything to argue with here, or even to add. Darn. Even my posts are becoming more efficient.

reader said...

Not so, Nathan. I'm reminded of this everytime I go to the public library and see EVERY single computer station filled, literally day and night -- with people that cannot afford their own computer or internet service.

This, in this day and age where, "What's your email address?" gets asked on job applications, in doctor's offices and in business.

Poor people are often left out of the loop when it comes to technology. Be it an iphone, i-pod, or kindle/nook/sony reader.

Christine H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathan Bransford said...


I realize that, but just look at this chart on technology adoption, which isn't even up to date. Poor people are obviously the last to acquire a technology or possibly miss out on one, and I think we should be cognizant of that.

But things we take for granted like TVs used to be luxury items. Now nearly everyone has one.

KatieGrrr said...

Will there soon be online lending libraries I wonder. Like how I have heard some e-readers have a "lend" option. Isn't that so? I don't have one yet, so I don't know the details. But I wonder if that feature could evolve into free online lending libraries. That could hurt. I mean, if it was just as easy to borrow a book online for a couple weeks as it was to buy it, why buy it. But then maybe that is no different from a traditional library.

Anonymous said...

One thing, the experience of reading on paper in the form of a novel or a digest is the most personal, individual, intimate, experience going. Accomplishing that with digital machine technology efficiently hasn't yet emerged.

Nor will a direct cortical feed accomplish reader immersion as efficiently either. Too deep an immersion is a recurring motif in fantastical fiction. Bertol Brecht introduced the alienation effect to theater. The digital machine in its current state of the art is too alienating for the most meaningful reading experience. Currently, paper publication is just the right balance between Harold Pinter's immersion effect and Bertol Brecht's alienation effect.

Nor is there any present guarantee that digital storage will be a solid enough state for long-standing access like paper currently enjoys.

Confirmation bias derives from technology postpurchase bias.

When or if digital publication accommodates to an equal or greater (not deeper, more meaningful) reading experience with paper, the end of paper will be on the event horizon.

LynnRush said...

Nicely written. Yep, it's coming. Only thing constant is change, right?

Nathan Bransford said...


That actually already exists, although it's usually restricted to a particular library's patrons.

JenniferWalkup said...

Does fun need to be efficient?

I’m not sure efficiency applies to something done for enjoyment. Cars, energy production, communication – these are all necessary parts of everyday life. But reading is for fun, enjoyment, relaxation, a hobby - why does it need to be rushed or more efficient? It’s not something we have to do, so will people really try and do it faster, quicker, better? I’m not sure. Me, not so much. Give me a book with real pages and a cover any day. I get enough technology in my real life, I'll take my enjoyment just how I take it now.

Nathan Bransford said...


The meaningful experience of a book is reading the words. You may not prefer e-book and everyone has their preferences, but I'm not getting any less of an experience reading an e-book than you get from reading a paper book.

Angela K. Nickerson said...

I actually agree with you, Nathan. In fact, I have 2 books out right now with the same publisher. The one that is only available as an ebook (we were testing the market) has sold 5xs as many copies as the one available in print.

Guess what? My book coming out in March will only be available as an ebook.

I still think the print book is prettier. It has more photos and maps. And I don't even have an ebook reader (yet). But clearly there's something about an ebook...

Nathan Bransford said...


I think efficiency applies to fun too. Just look at Netflix - it's more efficient to get whatever movie you could possibly want sent to you in the mail than to go to a video store that may or may not have what you want to see.

Kristi said...

Nathan, I so rarely disagree with you and I do love the efficiency of things like Google but...sitting down to linger over a five-course meal and bottle of wine with friends may not be nearly as efficient as a drive-through burger and fries, but I believe there will always be those who don't buy into the efficiency at all costs theory.

Also, I agree with Matthew that while efficiency may result in people being able to cram more things into their day, they don't necessarily get more pleasure out of doing so. In fact, I often see the opposite.

However, your point that printed books will continue their decline is valid so maybe it's not that I disagree with you - it's just that I think it's sad that you're right.

JenniferWalkup said...

Agreed about Netflix, but in that, the efficiency is in the delivery, not the product itself. i.e. a book delivery service would be comparable to Netflix.

Def an intersting discussion today.

Nathan Bransford said...


That's why things like illustrated books and others that depend heavily on the actual physical book will last a lot longer in print form because e-books can't (yet) really replace that.

But again, for a novel that's just text - what you read it on really doesn't matter. Anything else is nostalgia.

Nathan Bransford said...


But... spools of film to VHS to DVDs....

Lily Cate said...

I'm so torn on this one.
I love, love the e readers. An iPod for books? And I can take my whole library anywhere I want? More books cheaper? What is not to love?

Except I also really love the bookstore and the library. Sitting in front of a screen selecting files to download just isn't going to replace the fun of just browsing through the endless shelves.

And I can't forget the picture books. This could help encourage publishers to put out more of them, but you'd really need another device dedicated just to handling the size and color quality. Of course, I don't want some "interactive" video game thing- just something that could store a lot of material, but not take the fun out of reading stories to my son.

Anonymous said...

I read both ways, digital and paper. The digital experience just isn't the same. I'm aware of the device; it makes me aware of it. I feel like I'm looking into a picture frame that's not quite expansive enough to vanish the way a book does. Reading an engaging story on paper, I'm not aware of the book. Digest short stories are a little too short for that level of engagement.

Travener said...

I'm a big believer in flipping back and forth through books; doubt one can do that so well with an e-reader. But I'm sure they will be handy for some folks.

Tina Lynn said...

As much as I want to argue, I have to say, I love being able to open up the laptop and download a song I just heard. It will be awhile before I can afford an e-reader, but I'm sure once I have one, I'll prefer it. Blech!

Amalia T. said...

I think that when things move to e-book totally, there will still be a special order POD option. It costs virtually nothing to offer it and could make them a lot of money off the people who need or want to have a hard copy for whatever reason.

That's just my relatively uninformed two-cents. But I do notice that other digital formats--like webcomics, all are kind of getting in line to offer a POD option on individual strips. So that if there's something you really like, you can have a hard copy to display or whatever. It makes them a little bit of money, and doesn't cost hardly anything to maintain for the consumer. There are definitely going to be people who want to display their books too, from authors to book snobs, across the board.

Marsha Sigman said...

You are probably right...but I don't want you to be!

I am so for technology in every other arena but this is too close to the heart.

Ink said...

I'm hemming and hawing on this one. I think it's possible, and maybe eventual... and I agree with Scott that iPhone (multipurpose) devices are more of a risk than e-readers.

But... I think the thing that really holds me back is the cost. Yes, it will come down... but, even so, high end technology is not affordable to huge numbers of people, even here in the rich and techonologically evolved West. And, even more importantly, I think a lot of us here overestimate the average reader. We're writers and agents and editors here, and consequently the elite predators in regards to book consumption. We're the top of the food chain, the sort of book addicts who have big libraries, more than we can likely ever read (whether digital or paper). But that's a far cry from the average reader.

The average reader picks up a couple books a year. They read a bit before going to bed. And going out to buy an expensive piece of technology to read a book simply isn't that efficient. It's not effective for the general reader. One or two books... that's like listening to twenty songs a year. How many people who listen to only twenty songs or less would spend big money on iPods and expensive sound systems?

I have trouble seeing it. If it happens, it will happen because of a multi-purpose device that people already have for other reasons. If the average reader already has such a device they might convert their reading platform and simply download to that device. But we're a long way from that point, I think, with the cost and still relatively low-spread of such devices. Until then I think it's more efficient for most readers to simply snag a book off a bookstore shelf. And there's still the problem of device cost, and whether a small reading screen would really be embraced by the vast majority.

And then there's always the possibility of a third, as of yet undiscovered, possibility. Brain streaming! A nice shot of Cormac McCarthy straight to the synapses.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Right now, books are cheaper for most people than e-readers. That gulf will have to shrink before the technology can become pervasive. Especially for people who only read 1-3 books a year, spending $12 a piece is more cost effective than buying $250 e-read and then shelling out more money for the books and batteries and cables.

They're also going to have to make the readers a bit sturdier. Books can take spills and get banged around without serious impact on the content - e-readers can't.

"Everyone" doesn't have any technology. Not everyone can afford a monthly charge for cellphones or for things like Ipods. Books have always been an entertainment source for those without the funds to go anywhere but the library. Taking that away is going to make the "have / have not" divide wider and more detrimental.

Even if a low income family can afford an e-reader, it's still not like a book where you can hand your copy off to someone when you're done and read something else - only one person can use it at a time, and if big sister lets little sister read a book when she's done, big sister can't read anything else until little sister's finished. Assuming little sister doesn't gum it up with grape jelly at the bottom of her backpack.

Marilynn Byerly said...

As Nathan said, ebooks in libraries already exist. Most libraries have them through NetBooks and other providers, but most libraries tend not to publicize the fact. They also belong to audiobook download sites.

Almost ten years ago, I gave a seminar on ebooks in libraries to head librarians and felt like they wanted to lynch me as the enemy, but now librarians realize ebooks' value as an addition to the paper books and have moved briskly into this media.

Ebooks will not become so all pervasive until the means to read them becomes more affordable so the poor will not be left out of that loop. Libraries have also been buying ebook readers for years to loan out to patrons so that will help fill that gap.

I disagree with Nathan that bookstores will remain after ebooks take over the market. I did a search for dedicated music/record stores within thirty miles of where I live, and I live in a large metropolitan area of NC, and I couldn't find a one.

The big box stores will be the source for paper books in the same way as they are for CDs.

Kim Rossi Stagliano said...

Not to be crass, but look what the digital world did for porn. It's the biggest online business of all, isn't it? Privacy. Convenience. Immediate gratification. The Kindle now costs under $300. I spend at least $10 less per book than if I bought a hardcover. That pays for the Kindle in just 30 books. Perhaps Kindles and E-Readers will adapt like cell phones - some people own an iPhone and have a $150 monthly bill. Others have disposable phones with minutes preloaded. You used to have to go to BlockBuster to rent a cassette. Then a DVD. Now you can buy disposable movie DVD's at the grocery store and never set foot into a video store - a dying industry. I agree with Nathan (no, I'm not querying him!) that the e-Reader will change books. Soon? Not so soon? Probably sooner than the later adopters would prefer.

Nathan Bransford said...


I think there are a couple of separate issues. I agree that the casual reader is not going to buy a dedicated e-reader. At the same time, I think casual readers are far less attached to books as objects than "book" people and are much more cost conscious. E-books are inevitably going to be cheaper, and I don't think people will buy books (or at least new books) just for books' sake.

Costs will come down, smartphones will be more ubiquitous, and when that happens I think you'll see way more people reading on phones/PDAs/devices of the future.

I also don't see you going out of business, even if your business inevitably changes. After all, there are still antique stores.

Nathan Bransford said...

(and I didn't mean that derogatorily)

D. G. Hudson said...

I like efficiency in my day to day activities, and get annoyed at gadgets or technology that only does one thing. But I like to collect antique objects from a slower, more creative time when things were made to last, not self destruct within a limited time frame.

How we read or acquire books may change but as long as humans have curiosity, there will be a market for the novel, the non-fiction book, and other reading material.

I'm not concerned, I can adapt. One down side to efficiency that isn't mentioned in your post is that it usually does away with many jobs including those in publishing, and not always to the benefit of society.

Rick Daley said...

You hit the nail on the head. The MP3 revolution is fascinating because efficiency overruled quality. YouTube has a similar reign over Blue-Ray...Sure the latter kicks butt, but look at the number of people who have adopted that technology compared to the infinite masses who watch grainy videos on YouTube.

Like electricity, humans follow the path of least resistance.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion for sure. My long-winded comment:

There are different types of efficiency - efficiency of cost, and efficiency of ease, and efficiency re: convenience. Driving cars is extremely inefficient in terms of resource consumption and cost, but very efficient re: convenience. In things that are a hassle or that we don't want to have to do in the first place (commute, get products from point a to b, wait for a letter to arrive) we'll sacrifice cost in order to gain convenience (otherwise we'd all be getting our books exclusively from the library).

If it is true that the only difference between an e-book and a regular book is the method of delivery, then I think you are right simply because the act of creating a book involves a whole slew of things that we don't want to do in the first place, and that we want to eliminate (cut down trees, transport them, drive across town to the book store). Sure, not everyone will have an e-reader, just like not everyone has a car - but cars are still pretty ubiquitous here in the US.

But the act of reading is something that we very much do want to do, and want to spend time doing (unless we're reading non-fiction for pure reference purposes). So if an e-reader feels at all clunky, or if readers really do love the feel of paper in their hands, then e-readers will not come to dominate the reading (for pleasure) market - because people will still pay (in time and inconvenience) to get the books - just like they pay for leather seats. In this, books differ from movies and music - when netflix sends me a movie it's the exact same experience as if I had driven across town to get a DVD. In e-books, even with the advent of digital ink, the experience does differ significantly from having a real book in my hands.

Mark Terry said...

But I'm not sure we've become efficient just for efficiency's sake. I think the push has been efficiency for economic sake--ie., if we can do this more efficiently we can save money. If we can get there quicker, we make more money becuz we can make more deliveries; if our message gets there faster/easier, we get decisions made faster/easier, and we make more money.

Also, many efficiencies are driven by business.

Granted, I think this is going to affect publishing whether readers like it or not. I know publishers are whining that they have overhead costs that prevent e-books from properly selling at $10 (my feeling is they're lying; they're saving a ton of costs in terms of layout, paper, ink, manufacturing and warehousing), but the reality would seem to be that e-publishing has the ability, once the market pains go away, to make publishers more profitable.

DG said...

Nathan, I'm sure right that the e-book will eventually take over. There's really no way it can't even if it happens because of what's happened to its sister media. Music and movies lend themselves well to the digital format. There's no added value to owning a movie on DVD. The efficiency of video on demand is staggering when you consider the multitude of steps necessary to move a DVD from production to consumer. Regardless of the model--DVD purchase, rental or Netflix--nothing beats the efficiency and ease of VOD. It will win eventually.

I love technology in all forms. But until you can make your e-book reader smell like a new hardcover book, or have the feel of deckled edges...

Tina Lynn said...

There will still be children's book stores, even YA book stores. I will not buy my children an expensive device to toss around in their backpacks. I predict they would be broken in 24 minutes or less. Even my fourteen-year-old would find a way to break hers.

L. T. Host said...

Nathan, I don't necessarily disagree with you. But that's why I'm posting. I can see that you're likely right (and I only add the likely because who can guarantee anything?) but I feel like physical books will stick around, at least for a while, because there are some people (myself included) who just don't want to let go of physical books. Who like having them taking up space in our house; going to the store to get them; smelling the fresh paper and glue when we crack the binding.

With any new technology usually comes a fear of it-- fear of change. Because as much as humans are creatures of efficiency, we are also creatures of comfort, and change is uncomfortable. So I think the transition will be slower than you think (maybe not by much, but it will be there), but only because physical books matter, a lot, to a large part of the population. Nostalgia on its own can't be discounted as a reason for holding back the technology.

It's like if you look at the transition between horses and cars: people were terrified of cars, why would they ever drive something mechanical when they had this perfectly safe horse to ride? Eventually it caught on, yes, but there are still, as you say, people who ride horses, myself also included.

Perhaps I'm just old fashioned. :)

Nathan Bransford said...


You watch DVDs even though nothing can replace actually going to the movies, right?

SZ said...

Nathan please ! You are scaring the children !

Well, me anyway. It is sad but true what you say. Vinyl can actually be expensive now. I still have mine.

I can not afford the e readers yet, and do think I will like them, just still know I will go to the library.

I fear too much efficiency will leave a world full of people who hardly leave the house.

Ink said...


I am going out of business! Yes, I'm bowing to the E-book Overlords. Okay, I'm really bowing to the economic recession and the death of the American auto industry which has turned Windsor into something vaguely resembling a Demilitarized Zone. But the Overlords thing sounded better.

Plus I'm gonna have a really kick-ass home library. Soon to be worth a fortune on the antique market! Or at least for my grandchildren or something. I shall have great treasure piles of musty books and crouch upon them all Smaug-like. No fire-breathing, though. That would be unfortunate.

Thermocline said...

It will be interesting to see the effect that market segmentation has on the advance of ebooks. Sure, they work great for the text adults read, but these gadgets will need to evolve more in order to handle the colors and pictures in kids' books.

I hear what you're saying about people holding on to their feelings of nostalgia, Nathan, but I just can't see an e-reader offering an equivalent experience to snuggling up with your child and those big pages of Where the Wild Things Are.

Nathan Bransford said...


Really? Ugh, sorry about that.

Josin L. McQuein said...


There's no real comparison between watching a DVD as opposed to a movie in theater and using an e-reader vs. a book.

5 people can watch 1 DVD for the cost of a Netflix rental and a bag of popcorn / 6-pack of soda. Big savings for the group.

5 people cannot read a book simultaneously on an e-reader, nor would the community read come at a savings to the group.

Susan Quinn said...

Right you are, Nathan, and I think it's coming faster and more thoroughly than is being predicted (sometimes with horror).

I recently blogged about e-books for kids, and one of my readers said the next day her 10 year old came home asking for a nook!

I think the casual reader will eventually download to their portable screen, whatever device that may be, and paper books will be restricted to those glossy picture books.

However, I am concerned (a bit) about libraries tending toward e-book lending. Since they serve a public good (literacy), supported by public dollars (taxes), they should continue to make sure that books are available for ALL their patrons. And paper books are still the only universally accessible platform (except for the blind, who have audiobooks).

Ink said...

Hey, maybe I should start up an e-publisher...


Anonymous said...

There is some doubt as to whether the production of ebooks is more efficient than printed ones.

They may be more efficient for the user, but as far as their impact on the planet and the process of making them, it's doubtful that ebooks are more efficient than paper books.

T. Anne said...

The thing I love best about my e-reader is I'm no longer limited to what I can pick up at the bookstore or the library. Any book of my choosing can be downloaded virtually where ever I am. (except perhaps Europe or Canada ;)

Nathan Bransford said...


True enough and I don't see picture books being replaced in the near future.

At the same time, I can also completely envision taking my Apple tablet into my (future) kid's room and watching the Red Balloon before bedtime. Or read a picture book too. Heck, I will be able to let them choose and download it instantly.

Clarity said...

I wonder what will happen to the independent book sellers, with Borders, etc, they get it from all sides.

I must admit to being of the bunch that have avoided the e-reader, so far. As convenient as it is for those who travel, books are still special in my eyes. The container still appeals and doesn't take up too much space in my handbag.

I think the drive to digitise everything is not the be all and end all.

Arabella said...

what happens if you drop your e-reader in the bathtub, I'd like to know? Reading in the bath is one of life's greatest joys. With paper books, you drop it in and can replace it cheaply, but an e-reader . . .?

Anonymous said...

The problem with ebooks now is that they are even more environmentally destructive than paper/glue books. This may, however, change with time.

Jamie said...

I can't disagree with the points you have made. I think you are right. This makes me sad. I'm sorry there is something magical about a book printed on pages, about a book store, about a library... I for one will not be reading e-books not unless it comes down to that and not reading at all..... I know, I know I am old fashion, but it just isn't the same......

Nathan Bransford said...


5 people can't read one printed book simultaneously either, or at least, not easily. That comes out in a wash.

And actually, you can share e-books at a net savings to the group. Amazon allows you to share with up to 6 people.

My point with that comparison though is just that there are things that people enjoy about printed books that are experiential/tangential to the actual content. But people still watch DVDs because it's convenient.

Nathan Bransford said...


Plastic bags.

Anonymous said...

I've never had an ebook. Tell me: When you buy a kindle book for example, is their an online account that stores the books you have bought? Cuz what happens if your kindle stops working, or gets lost or stolen, or dropped in the hot tub?

or do they connect to an external storage device to back uyp your book files? Cuz for me, if you can't back up the book files, that's a deal breaker. They only way to lose your physical book colelciton is basically from a house fire. But an e-device, as I said, can be lost, stolen, break down. It's only a matter of time before that happens.

Nathan Bransford said...


Yes, they store what you bought in perpetuity. You can always download a Kindle book you bought onto a new device, even if you lose your Kindle.

J. F. Constantine said...

I don't disagree that e-books will become big, or that they may even become the "main" way to read for most; however, there is a lot of time waste in booting up an electronic device and that time waste bugs me when I just want to check one quick thing. Obviously, if I'm going to sit down for a while, it's no thing to boot up.

And in case you're wondering, I love technology and am a complete junkie with it - 3 computers, a Blackberry, a Kindle - you get the picture.

Technology becomes dated quickly and unfortunately one "format" for a book may not be able to be read 5 years later on newer devices. For this reason alone, I would *never* commit the bulk of my library to digital. I want to be able to pick this stuff up and re-read it 40 years from now. I am guaranteed I can do that with my printed books.

I can also light a candle and read in a thunderstorm when all the power is out and the battery is dead on my Kindle.

I have a Kindle and I love it, and I use it; however, the bulk of my reading material is, and will continue to be printed and immediate in its nature, requiring me only to pick it up and look at it to enjoy it, without more.

Josin L. McQuein said...

One thing I can see working with e-books is for universities. They can sell an approved e-reader to the students, like they would curriculum books, then make sure that the only format the reader will accept is books from their own store.

It would certainly be lighter and there's no danger of those stupid highlighters bleeding through or smudging the ink when you take notes in the margins.

If e-readers become integrated with other devices, you could download Hamlet and watch the movie as you read the play. (or have the auto-reader read it to you while you sleep because it's a universally accepted fact of college life that information is absorbed by osmosis directly into the brain :-P )

Annalee said...

I think you're probably right, and that depresses me.

I don't have it in for e-readers at all--I read on my netbook all the time and love it--but it bothers the hell out of me how willing people are to give away their property rights. I can buy a paperback for $8.99, and it's mine to keep, lend, give away, or sell. I can buy a new bookcase and put my book anywhere I want on it, even if it isn't the same brand as my old bookcase.

Or I can rent an ebook for $10 (but only ten of them, then the price goes up), and have everyone act like I've just purchased something when the seller gets to decide where I keep it, what I read it on, how many times I move it, who I share it with, and--oops! that they didn't mean to rent it to me at all and are going to take it back without asking.

If Amazon wants to start running a for-profit library, they can go right ahead. But my library has better selection than they do, doesn't treat me like a thief, and doesn't charge me. I don't think I'll be switching.

Anonymous said...


I see, that's good. "In perpetutiy" as long as the company you bought around still offers that service, anyway.

Can they also connect to external storage?

DG said...


You got me on the movie theater vs. DVD experience. However, not all movies need to be seen at the theater (my opinion of course). Some types of movies, action movies in particular and sweeping epics, lend themselves to the big screen (and the guy next to you who eats popcorn by the handful and can't manage to chew with his mouth closed!). Other types like romantic comedies (my favorite type of movie) don't seem to lose much at home on a HD flat screen.

Anonymous said...

"Technology becomes dated quickly and unfortunately one "format" for a book may not be able to be read 5 years later on newer devices. For this reason alone, I would *never* commit the bulk of my library to digital."

Another serious concern. Although there will probably always be conversion utilities, but you never know. And it's a pain.

jayinhouston said...

There's one fundamental differnece between the evolution of books and the evolution of other technologies that nobody has yet touched on.

Ebooks tinker with the fundamental aspect reading, which requires you to hold a traditional book in your hands and take in all its glory by turning the pages. Ebooks alter the act of reading a book. It's not a book anymore, it's words on a screen. There's basically no difference between reading an ebook and reading something on the internet. It might as well be the same thing.

I'm of the opinion that books and the internet are two completely different realms that just don't mix well. People read books to get away from the internet and other technology that has a grasp on every single day-to-day activity.

If you compare this to movies or other forms of entertainment, the act of watching a movie has never changed. The act of watching a movie has required you to sit there and watch it regardless of the format (DVD, VHS, etc.). The new formats improved the quality of the viewing experience. That's why they've evolved.

There are digital screens and then there are books. They're not meant to cross over.

I don't see how ebooks improve the quality of your reading experience. If anything, they deter from it. At least in the current state of development.

Ebooks are the new BetaMax.

Nathan Bransford said...


Just as with books it will be difficult to replace illustrated books and picture books, but for that potboiler you don't plan to read again an e-book does just fine.

Nathan Bransford said...


Again, the act of watching a movie has changed. You used to only see it in the theater. Movie attendance peaked in the 1940s. Then you could also watch some on TV. Then on VHS. Then on DVD. Watching movies has constantly changed. Heck, old movies weren't even in widescreen - that didn't exist until the 1950s.

What hasn't changed is the actual films themselves. Casablanca is still Casablanca, whether you watch it in the theater or at home or on your computer. Nor do the words of books change when you read them on a screen vs. paper.

Anonymous said...

Efficiency for efficiency's sake is one of the core attributes of a progress trap.

The petroleum economy is the best example of a progress trap gone horribly wrong. But we're stuck with it until a more environmentally friendly and real world cost economy comes along.

E-readers strike me as a progress trap. Their manufacture causes more environmental damage than what they replace. And they're not biodegradable.

Most paper today is made from trees grown on tree farms. Monoculture to some extent, yet tree farms sequester carbon and somewhat provide replacement habitat for what came before. Many tree farms, in fact, are on sites of primordial, climax Long Leaf or loblolly pine forests, just as their land is today.

Oh, and I've planted three times my personal lifetime tree consumption.

Anonymous said...

I'll tell you what else bugs me: everyone going gaga over so-called "cloud computing" which just means that all your files and apps are on the Internet instead on your PC's hard drive. Efficient? Perhaps in the short term, it seems lie it is, because you can access your stuff from "anywhere" ("anywhere" meaning anywhere with an I-net conneciton), and it can be shared for collaboration.

But I don't like the idea of giving up control of my stuff to someone else. I don't want Google or anyone else snooping my docs. And what if they go out of business one day--I probably won't get my stuff back. I know so many people these days who never back up their own data anymore because "it's online." What?! That means youre trusting someone else to safeguard your stuff in perpetuity. That's crazy. All these people uploading their stuff to social networks and Blogs, etc. don't seem to understand that they don't own their stuff in that situaiton--Google does or facebook does. It's not "yours" it belongs to the company whose servers you put it on. They are granting you permission to access your own stuff!

Shortsighted, IMO.

Karen said...

When the vacuum cleaner was created, it was touted as the invention that would free up hours for housewives everywhere, a revolution in efficiency.

Nope. Standards of cleanliness just went up proportionately. Women...and later, men :)...spent the same amount of time cleaning.

I'm not arguing with your premise that the change is coming. But I quibble over whether it will improve the lives of readers. There's something about curling up with a book that can't be replicated on a Kindle or iPhone.

Nathan Bransford said...

Re: environmental impacts. It depends on whether you're looking at landfill or carbon. While of course e-readers are not biodegradable, studies have shown that e-books have a much smaller carbon footprint than print books.

And when you consider reading an e-book on a device people would have bought anyway (such as a phone), e-books are vastly better for the environment than paper books.

Anonymous said...

For me, the anti-greenness of e-books is a deal breaker. It's not "progress" if it's not environmentall sustainable.

Marilyn Peake said...

I agree with you. Society does tend to move toward that which is more efficient as well as more expedient. I’m amazed at how China is so quickly moving toward becoming a superpower now that it holds so much of the United States debt and makes so many of our products. Efficiency and expediency are hurtling us in a direction from which the world may not be able to return. Interesting article in The New York Times: An Unsure China Steps Onto the Global Stage.

There’s something quite the opposite to efficiency that I really, truly love about being a writer, something I learned while working long hours at writing ... As opposed to viewing art (books and eBooks in the case of writing), the nature of art allows the artist to be inefficient and inexpedient while actually creating art. It’s important to step back, dither, daydream, be less efficient than normal. Lately, I’ve been including ideas about how the future may look, extrapolating from what is happening right now, in the science fiction I write. My latest novel includes linguistic and cultural remnants remaining within the year 2501 AD from China’s supposedly earlier influence upon the world. The FIREFLY TV show did this as well. I love how they include cursing in Chinese on the show, and it’s completely evident that the character’s swearing, even though it’s in a language I don't understand. All of this comes from daydreaming, imagining, letting go of the demand to use time efficiently.

Anonymous said...

"studies have shown that e-books have a much smaller carbon footprint than print books."

this is false. The produciton alone of the device uses far more energy than the mostly recycled paper used to create books these days. Then the constant battery charging which uses more oil from the grid.

E-books are enviro-slayers!

Now, if they made a solar-powered ebook, it's be an improvement.

Anonymous said...

I bought a Kindle for my girlfriend for her birthday, but after having the Kindle for all most a year now, she is running into some problems. She keeps finding books she wants to read on her Kindle that are just not available.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, your post was published at 11:11.

word verification: onsonsta

Balinares said...

Nathan -

On the other hand, I read when I want to take a break from being efficient.

Maybe that's why we're only now beginning to discuss the possibility of electronic books, even though text data files have been available much, much longer than MP3s. Different media with a different mode of consumption.

This being said, I'm convinced that ebooks won't really take off until they're lock-free and all compatible, since anything else would be, shall I say, inefficient. :) But we've had that discussion on Eric's blog already.

Aaron Pogue said...

I've never commented before, but that was a fantastic blog post. I'm glad you took the time to put those thoughts in words, and glad I got to read them.

Thanks for your blog, Mr. Bransford.

Anonymous said...

On "greenness" of e-book vs. traditional book,

it depends on exactly how the traditional book was made. IF it was made with recycled paaper and/or farmed trees, it is almost certainly more environmentally friendly than an e-book with it's mercury batteries and plastic/electro-parts to sit in the landfills forever, and it's oil-dependent production process and charging life-cycle.

Anonymous said...

When the price falls down on the e-book reader to 79.00,or better yet, 59.00 everyone will switch over. Even libraries. Books will become the new stacks.

I resisted. I still can't afford an e-reader.But I am feeling the pull, nay even the attraction, the seduction of the argument. I am moving albeit slowly towards the dark side.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I respectfully disagree. I like books, I like paper, and though it may take awhile, I don't believe those will be extinct anytime soon.

I appreciate what you're saying about efficiency however, I see two elements absent from the text-to-device scenario. One is credibility (nothing equals holding a book in my hands) and the other is the social experience.

Tuesday evening, at the last minute, I took a friend to a reading @ a local book shop. There was a writer, someone I'd spoken w/on the phone (ten years ago?), reading from ... a book. Efficiency played no part in this reading - in fact, it was completely a impractical experience but satisfying in so many ways a device will never approximate. I would be far less likely to see an author read if she was holding up, um, a Kindle.

While we waited for the reading to begin, my friend looked through an enormous art / magazine book (Vogue throughout the eons) and I chatted with the clerk about the new Edmund White book, Bolano, and who we were/were not dating.

My questions for you are 1) why is this necessarily an either/or scenario? and, 2) how much of your position (and others who work in publishing) reflects the insane (see yesterday's post: SIXTEEN THOUSAND EMAILS??? yikes) demands of publishing? Maybe some people will read text on a device but that text will also be available in classic book form? Maybe?

Nathan Bransford said...


Cleantech disagrees with you:

The report asserts that printed books have the highest per-unit carbon footprint — which includes its raw materials, paper production, printing, shipping, and disposal — in the publishing sector. “In the case of a book bought at a bookstore,” Ms. Ritch said, Cleantech’s measurement “takes into account the fossil fuels necessary to deliver to the bookstore and the fact that 25-36 percent of those books are then returned to the publisher, burning more fossil fuels.”

Anonymous said...

the e-books have to be shipped too. And when the books are returned for destruction, they can be receycled. So it depends exactlywhat the process on both sides is.

Anonymous said...

@ Anony 11:32 ... what is, "Confirmation bias derives from technology postpurchase bias" ?

your notion of the immersive / alienative is intriguing, as is your reference to platforms.

but I don't know what ^^^ means.

Stacy said...

That makes me so sad. My husband is totally on board and has been trying to talk me into self-publishing and putting it on iTunes for download. I refuse. Maybe technology and efficiency will win out in the end, but there's nothing like the sound a new book makes when you open it for the first time, or the smell of the paper. To me, these add to the experience of reading a good book.
I just can't imagine my self curling up on the couch with some electronic devise, or stretching out on my blanket on the beach and opening my lap-top.
Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I revel in placing the book I've just finished on my shelf. I fully intend on building my own library. One that my children and someday grandchildren can look at and borrow from. I remember when I used to visit my grandparents library. I was always so excited to pick a book and sit on their old fold out couch and read.
Long live the printed book!

Sissy said...

Can you imagine how valuable first edition printed books will become if there really is an e-book boom?

Nathan Bransford said...


E-books are shipped via electrons, not trucks.

Anonymous said...

But the device itself is shipped.

Nathan Bransford said...


I think my position mainly stems from the fact that I'm not very sentimental about old technology and the past. e-books are going to be pretty disruptive on the publishing industry, at the same time I don't believe clinging to the past out of nostalgia.

The only way the publishing industry is going to survive is by embracing change, not resisting it. If you try and resist change you get run over. Just look at the music industry.

Anonymous said...

Other implications
But [the Cleantech] study failed to explore a few of the issues. One is what difference is made to the carbon footprint of print books if publishers exclusively use Forest Stewardship Council or recycled paper. Another area it skims over is the long-term landfill implications of devices that are certainly not biodegradable and may contain toxic materials. And that leaves aside the social and environmental implications of "resource extraction", or the obtaining of raw materials—which more often than not come from developing countries. There is also the implication that the user will continue to use his or her Kindle for years. Given the increasing pace of technological improvements, in a year’s time the Kindle being sold now may look as ancient and as quaint as those briefcase-sized mobile phones from the 1980s. Will the people who buy them now, the bulk of whom are gadget obsessed early adopters, continue to plod along with their old devices when newer, sexier versions come on the market?

Lastly, it should be emphasised that e-book devices, hooked up either wirelessly or through a PC to the internet, do use a not inconsiderable amount of energy. The Cleantech report does acknowledge this—and certainly a number of studies have shown that the dedicated e-reader is greener than reading books directly online from a compter—but it does not make any assumptions, good or otherwise, about where the electricity comes from.

This can be crucial, according to a study done earlier this year

jayinhouston said...

Yes, but the act of watching the movie has never changed. Just the format in which it's viewed.

Your point is that the format of books is changing just like the format of movies is changing.

This isn't entirely true. A movie is still a movie whether you watch it in a theatre, on DVD, on VHS or on Blue Ray.

If you're reading a book on a screen, is that still a book?

No. It's something entirely different. It's words on a screen. It's the same thing as reading the internet or you blog.

I read a book when I don't want to read something on the internet. And I think most people are like me in this regard.

Same thing with music. A song is a song regardless of the format.

If you read the lyrics to a song without the music on the internet, is that still a song? Because that's like reading a book on a device without the pages.

Just my take on it.


Nathan Bransford said...


Shipped once, as opposed to books, every single one of which is shipped individually even when they're not purchased, sometimes several times over.

Anonymous said...

I also believe that e-books will be good for writers. New writers. With a lower overhead and on-demand electronic books,more experimental and creative books will probably be sought by the publishing houses.It won't matter as much if the following is small.
I think it would be kind of exciting to just read all the vampire books in the whole world.(The new genre is vampire books.)
But I would still want(need) them edited and neat little line art at the top of a chapter or in between scenes and beautiful layouts and fonts.
BTW, do e-books have color or art yet?

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan said:
"But things we take for granted like TVs used to be luxury items. Now nearly everyone has one."

When I visited Mexico years ago, we took a tour bus out to Chichen Itza to see and climb the pyramids. As we drove past wooden huts with thatched roofs and dirt floors and chickens running in the front door and out the back, we saw television lights flickering within a number of the huts. I got some great photos of this. It left a deep impression on me, and I wrote fiction afterward that included this type of setting. The people living in those huts wouldn’t allow us to take photographs of them because they believed a photograph snatched souls away from the people portrayed, but they watched TV within their huts. It was truly amazing.

Kelley said...

J.F. Constantine-I'm confused why you don't consider your Kindle immediate? Mine flicks on in seconds. Downloads also only take seconds, as well as scrolling or searching. In actuality, it's much quicker for me than searching through a stack of physical books for the one I want or searching for what page I was on. It's mighty immediate for me?

Just as an aside, but since I've owned my Kindle, I've bought more books than I did before. And I bet I'm not alone. It's so easy (yes, so damn efficient) and cheaper than than the bookstore-that I get impatient and just buy it already. I'm also totally addicted to the sample feature, and I've bought more authors and books that I never would have because of getting hooked on this feature...

Oh, and Netflix--we don't even go through the mail anymore. We plug in and watch instantly.

SZ said...

On carbon footprints.

How many "broken" books are we tossing to a landfill compared to electronics ? If a book store or library had to rid itself of books, wouldn't they get recycled and become a bag or another book ?

Balinares said...

An additional thought: I'm not entirely certain that the solution which requires a separate device is more efficient than the solution where you just open a book and read. But time will tell.

Anonymous said...

I have 4 desktops in my basement, all of them with great programs I can't use any more without hooking the computer back up.I have 100 or more VHS tapes I can't use anymore without digging up a VCR. So what did I do? Went out and rebought the same movies I loved in a span of 5 years or less. I have a few 8 tracks, tons of cassettes, tons of CDs that range a span of twenty years, more for the 8 tracks. I have books that date over 100 years, guess what? I can still read them. Isn't it funny? We are just now getting ready to screw that up. All of those movies, programs, and music paid for how many times, but my books paid for just once.

Mark Terry said...

Of course, one issue I hadn't really thought that much about, is that it's not one e-reader I'd need in my house. There's 4 of us. And I'm not going to say, Oh, Ian's reading now, I think I'll go practice guitar. So we're going to need 4 of the damned things at $250 each, so really, how much money do I have to save on the books to make this worth my while?

I think there are definite economic factors that might cause a problem. And although I've got an iPhone and the Kindle app for the iPhone, I can't stand reading a book on it. Too small a screen.

But I'm thinking of the folks I know who read a couple books a year. I'm having a real hard time seeing them shelling out anything for an e-reader when they already bitch about how overpriced books are.

I expect most everybody to be reading books on some sort of e-reader in 5-10 years, but I wonder if they'll just kill off the casual readers who might otherwise pick up a book to take on vacation or on a plane trip. I don't see this as a linear transition.

Hunter said...

I predict that the sales of pop-up books are going to be abysmal on e-readers. Beyond that, I agree completely.

Anonymous said...

anon @ 1:02

Confirmation bias is a form of cognitive bias based on confirming a position or argument by overlooking or marginalizing contradictory evidence. Postpurchase confirmation bias is a material consumer version.

I bought it. I'm a savvy consumer. It must be good. Although the driver's door doesn't quite close, the engine burns oil, the radiator leaks coolant, the darned thing doesn't start on cold, wet mornings, but it gets me to work on time, mostly. Therefore, it's a great car and was a good purchase.

In the alternative;

It's the latest, greatest invention since sliced bread. I bought it hook line and sinker. I'm a savvy consumer; therefore, it must be an intelligent purchase. 8-track players, LaserDisc players, etc.

I bake my own bread because of dietary needs and financial issues. What's sliced bread?

Terry said...

All this talk about efficiency. I'm going to spend the weekend on the beach with a trashy novel, lurid cover and all, just to help me forget this tsunami of technology that won't give us a breather.

Ink - Say it isn't so!:(

Anonymous said...

Yup. My verdict: e-books: not so efficient in the overall scheme of things.

Malia Sutton said...

"Yes, they store what you bought in perpetuity."

Now that's what I call agent talk :)

Anonymous said...

This goes for both the anons and nathan: Don't take this the wrong way, but the green vs. not green debate is highly technical, and unless you're an experiend environmental engineer, electrical engineer, petroleum geologist and an MBA specializing in supply chain management rolled into one, none of you are qualified to specualte on which device or system is more environmentall friendly.

Writing vampire books--okay, but environmental enginnering? Doubtful.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of people will use eReaders in the future. Everyone I work with has one. I think the real question is when will publishers make more of their books available on eReaders. When will the publishers embrace electronic books?

And how will pricing work with the current DRM technology? If I have a Kindle from amazon and the book I want costs $10, but I can buy the same book for the Nook for $7, am I really going to have two devices, or am I just stuck? We are in an environment now like the blueray versus HD-DVD. This is another obstacle that needs to be overcome before more people embrace the technology.

Anonymous said...

I've looked at and studied environmental issues in a formal academic setting.

None of the studies favoring e-readers as more environmentally sustainable take into account all the real world costs. Not knowing all the facts of e-reader environmental impact, my sole conclusion is that the studies are biased. Bias to me means that there's something hidden. What are the hidden real world costs? And by costs I mean every value of every impact.

We're only lately coming into a carbon setoff economy. My electric company started offering carbon setoffs this month.

Anne Lyken-Garner said...

What can I say? Everything has already been said, I'm sure. I haven't read all the comments here, though I did glance at one that said;
"Anonymous said...
Sorry, but I respectfully disagree. I like books, I like paper, and though it may take awhile, I don't believe those will be extinct anytime soon."

I don't think you said this at all, but anyway...

Yeah, what you said. E-books rock, even though hard copies are valuable too. Smartphones should thank you for the plug. At least 100 of us have seen it now.:-)

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm just going off of the studies I've read.

Lisa Schroeder said...


BUT, while it's more efficient to have a movie delivered to your house via netflix, guess what? People still go to the movies. It's a different experience, and they're willing to pay for it.

So, what can bookstores do to help make it an experience people aren't willing to give up? Sell $10.00 popcorn perhaps?

Nick F. said...

While I'm sure some form of e-reader will someday surpass print books, I'm hopeful, and rather certain in my hope, that it won't happen until I'm a fair deal older. Partially because they are certainly gathering sales, but right now the state of the e-reader market, at least with what (no doubt infinitesimal piece) I know of it, reminds me a lot of Blu-Ray at the moment. There's a lovely article I read somewhere a couple of weeks ago that compares Blu-Ray to LaserDisc. Sure, the HD revolution is coming, but BR won't be it. I have a feeling e-readers, as they are now, is the LaserDisc of the publishing world.

Anonymous said...

What's going to piss people off about ebooks is that companies will be overly aggressive in rolling out new ones so fast that customers will be frustrated that the model they bought last year is obsolete. Also, and I don't have one so let me know--do ebooks pester you for "updates" the same way windows does? I need more of that b.s. like I need a hole in my head.

So until the whole thing stablizes I think the demand will be lukewarm.

Jen said...

I was fortunate to attend a webinar just yesterday on the future of eBooks. One of the take-away points from the meeting is to make an effort to stop focusing on eReaders such as Kindle, Sony and so on and focus on eReadING. The highest percentage of ereading takes place on pc, laptop, netbook. And the technology being talked about for eReading going forward includes ebook ready PlayStations and Nintendo DS. Flexible products (that you can roll up and tuck in your purse or pocket) are also in development. So what we're seeing today in eReaders and their early adoption is only a hint of what's coming in the next couple of years. Too often discussions of ebooks focus on the device used to read them, when really what needs to be looked at is the ebook itself.

Anonymous said...

Publishers should start giving the e-readers away with a purchase of ten books or something. (Like cell phones that come free with signing up for X amount of months.) It would be great for e-book business.
I worry that (like cell phones) these readers will get a chip inserted that will only let you read a certain publishing group's books though. Yucko.

I read that the best thing we can do for the environment is not procreate. (Doesn't sound like as much fun as procreating though.)

Marilyn Peake said...


Don’t you think it’s important to have people who continue to produce older forms of art and preserve older ways of life, even while the larger world allows itself to be pushed into the future based on efficiency? The people who decried moving so many jobs overseas, for example, may have important insights into how to bolster the United States’ economy even as China’s economy ascends into an influential position in the global market. Audrey Niffenegger, author of THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE and HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY, is also an artist who loves illustrated paper books and works for an institute to preserve them. As much as I love eBooks, I feel her work to preserve the art of creating beautifully illustrated paper books is extremely valuable.

Nathan Bransford said...


Definitely, that's why I don't think printed books and bookstores are going to go away entirely. Printed books will always be around, just like all the other technologies that have mainly been replaced. There's absolutely a place for them, and I'm not trying to suggest that they should or will be done away with.

But in terms of the majority of books - I think we'll be reading e-books.

Like Jen, I think it's important to look past the devices currently on the market. They're almost instantly out of date and certainly not an ideal experience.

But another couple generations of smartphones and tablets and dedicated e-readers will come along, things will get more affordable, and all of a sudden e-books are going to look much more of a no-brainer and we'll look back and think it was all inevitable.

Lena said...

Interesting thing... According to the survey, as seen in Publishers Weekly, teens have not (yet) embraced ebooks. The vast majority got their books from the library or bought hardcopies (or their parents did for them).

I'm sure the time is coming, but I find it kind of refreshing to hear that people still like to go to the library. (It's one of my favorite places.)

PW article

Violet Baudelaire said...

we still have milkmen where i live.

Nick F. said...

Whoops, just realized I never finished my earlier comment before hitting the publish button (why can't book writing have one of those?). Anyway, another reason why I'm hopeful e-readers won't catch on too terribly quickly, and no doubt one I've said before, I love books.

I have somewhere between 300-370 books in my bedroom right now, and I would have so many more if this were my house and I were free to arrange things as I see fit. I have books in my room which have been sitting there for years, never so little as opened to the first page, and will very probably go unread until the day I die. I tell some people this, and they assume I just like having books for decoration.

I don't. I love books. There's nothing quite like the feeling of being surrounded by them, browsing them, kicking up in a comfy leather armchair by the window and just reading all morning. The sound and smell of the pages, everything about it is like a drug for me, really.

Conversely, because I am B-R-O-K-E (okay, well, not really, I have $100 but I'm saving it, therefore it doesn't exist as far as I'm concerned) I don't have the money to go out and buy Psychopathia Sexualis right now. I found a free-to-read copy online and have been working my way through it since Sunday evening. It's still a very stimulating read, but I get nowhere near the same level of enjoyment as I do reading print copies. It's been the same way for every e-book I've read.

Horses for courses, I suppose.

Scott said...

I agree to an extent outside of those things that bring us pleasure or a deeper sense of experience, because it's impossible to quantify. I mean, imagine if your philosophy were applied to the bedroom. :^P

Books aren't always to "get through". To make more efficient the rest of your life so that you might spend more time with them makes sense, but I notice that a significant proportion of avid readers either reject e-books for failing to satisfy them in a tactile sense, or they're not all that bothered to start.

The concept of rush kills a lot of stuff, for me. I think there will always be those who promote activities done inefficiently, because it's in those spaces we discover things we don't always expect. Yoga is another example of an activity that comes to mind. Why not just run off those calories in fifteen minutes or tone those muscles with some weight training? Because there's something to be gained by the individual experience of taking one's time.

For me, e-books will be great for information. But when I want something more than just info, I'll always pine for paper.

Sam Hranac said...

GOD I miss fresh milk.

Nathan Bransford said...


But it's not about speeding up the reading experience (yet - books beamed directly to head come on I'm ready!!), it's about speeding up the acquisition of the book.

And I know, libraries and bookstores = great and all that, but so were soda fountains and record stores and video stores and and and and

Dara said...

E-books and eReaders are nice...but will be even better when you can use one to get books from the library. And not just the ridiculously small number that are available now on library eBook catalogs; there has to be a significant amount of books that I can borrow just like I can from the library now.

I know I mention this nearly every time eBooks and eReaders are brought up :P But I won't even consider an eReader until there's a wider selection of loanable books from the library AND when it goes below $200.

Sarah said...

I dunno, man. People adopted 8-tracks and then cassettes and then CDs and then mp3s not because of efficiency, but because of increased quality. An e-reader - for the people who have them - may be more efficient, but there's no arguing that the quality is higher. People love the physical act of turning pages. A book dropped in the bath will recover; a Kindle won't. I think e-readers have to offer something beyond convenience to really sway the (many) people who claim they'll go down swinging for print.

As someone who's worked extensively with people with disabilities, I say yay to the increasing availability of digital text. It makes so many things easier on so many levels. And I'm sure that the printed book is going to keep waning, but slowly - the radio, after all, still exists in tandem with television, and as much as I love my iPod touch it hurts my bloody eyes.

You must have read Nicholson Baker's Kindle 2 review in The New Yorker - I thought it was tremendously insightful. There are diehards who won't give up their typewriters, but we see them as eccentric or wacky. Not so with book lovers. I want Amazon to tell me how I'm supposed to decorate my bloody house if all my books are on a gizmo the size of my hand. I'm too in love with the technology of books - the technology of print - to give them up in my lifetime. I'll go for an e-reader when it gets cheap enough, but never at the expense of print.


ella144 said...

Thank you, Nathan. This is what I've been saying all along.

As much as I LOVE the sensory experience of holding a book in my hand and seeing it on my shelf, e-books provide instant gratification and are mobile.

As you say, all the kinks will work their way out of the system.

Or contrary-wise, they'll become ingrained and accepted, and the shouts and fist-waving will become quiet grumbles forgotten before they can be blogged, though they will probably be Twittered.

(I drastically cut my comment due to an excess of rant (it was just super-long, not angry), and posted the full text on my blog if anyone is interested.)

Colette said...

I'm not sure.... I do think e-books will become a bigger part of the market. But are they always more efficient? That depends on what your needs are.

Let me ask you this. I think we'd all say the digital music has arrived (iPods, music downloads etc.) Do you ever buy an actual physical CD anymore? I do -- unless I just want a couple songs.

Do you really think it's possible that we'll have libraries that have no books in them? Or bookshelves with no books? Don't you love walking into the bookstore and browsing -- picking up the books, reading the copy?

SZ said...

Just wanted to add part of what I wrote to Gordons response yesterday as it seems to tie into today. Then I will try an be quiet lol ~

I miss my paper. Especially Sunday. I have comics I cut out from as far as 1980. Gary Larsons The Farside =} I miss holding the paper and falling asleep on it only to wake up later with ink all over my face ! I enjoy not knowing a word, and not knowing NOW. I tend to look them up later in mass when I am done with the book. It sort of lets you enjoy parts of the book a second time.

Reading a book is not my job. I get to read when there is time and it is a "fun" break for me. As todays efficiency blog continues, the day I have to effectively have efficient fun, it will no longer be fun.

Anonymous said...

On efficiency, I think the days of dedicated devices, period, are about over. A gadget that only plas music? Silly. A gadget that only displays books--what?! A gadget only for phone calls/email-huh? So I gotta carry around 3 devices + a laptop/netbook if I have one?

It's laughably inefficient these days if you ask me.

Someone is going to come along with 1 sleek cell-phone sized device that does it all--and they will dominate.

Joseph L. Selby said...

I sometimes read on my Blackberry and I'm not a fan. perhaps if I had a full-device screen like an iPhone or a Droid, it would be more enjoyable, but not so much with the Blackberry. It's not bad, mind you, but I'd prefer a nook.

Also, I wish the other agents at Curtis Brown would embrace email submissions. I dislike having to mail paper submissions for a variety of reasons.

You did put one thing in perspective for me. When you said, "some people still go to the theatre," I had to stop myself from unleashing my indignation. A theatrical performance creates a different, more visceral experience than a movie. And I realized, some people have a similar experience with a book. That's why they're always talking about the feel of the paper and the smell and blah blah blah. I don't have that experience. I want the story. I don't care if it's on paper or on a screen. So now I get it.

Still, theatre is better than movies. ;)

Joseph L. Selby said...

Looking at all the Nathan responses. Someone have a half-day did he? ;)

The Storylady said...

I wonder if it's possibly that MORE books will be published since publishing costs will go down. Without having to pay for the paper, ink and shipping costs, maybe publishers will be more willing to take a chance on some of us aspiring and unpublished writers.

Anonymous said...

1 possible game-changer that could lead to what anon 1:56 is talking about is the projection screen. Cuz no one wants to lug around a big device or more than 1 device, but at the same time it's no fun to read a book on a cell-phone sized screen. the solution is the projeciton screen--a cell-phone size gadget that has a built-in projector so that you can beam the content onto a screen or wall (I don't know what you do if ytou're riding a bus or something). But that seems interesting.

Nick said...

"it's about speeding up the acquisition of the book."

But is it really necessary to speed up the acquisition? To me that just screams of a lot of what I find wrong with today's world. Everything is go-go-go. When was the last time you woke up at 6:13 on a Saturday morning and just went and sat down in the middle of the woods, and I mean just sat there? Or the last time you went walking somewhere with no destination in mind until you reached a point where you absolutely had to turn back? Maybe it's because I live up in the Northeast, which is rapidly urbanizing, and in one of the more rapidly urbanizing areas of the Northeast at that, but it seems to me no one stops to enjoy life. It's all "School! Work! Sex! iPods! McDonald's! What? What's this park doing here? Tear it down and put up an office park straight away! Back to work you dogs! Yes, good little monkeys. Drink the coffee, that's right..." Okay maybe that's taking things too far, but you catch my drift. Personally I'm not a big fan of speeding most things up. I'd rather spend the entire afternoon mucking out the barn where I board my horse than buy some machine which could clean it all in ten minutes (which, so far as I am aware, does not exist...yet). Hell, I refuse to use common day-to-day things like the dishwasher, something most people use rather unconsciously. A sort of personal rebellion against the Information Age, I guess.

Anonymous said...

"When was the last time you woke up at 6:13 on a Saturday morning and just went and sat down in the middle of the woods..."

What are these "woods" of which you speak?

I remember the last time I woke up at 6:13 Sat AM and I had wood, but that's a different story...

Anonymous said...

Personally,as long as it comes in print, that is what I will buy. No one can take those away from me or make me rebuy the books when they change the technology. And yes I go back and re-read books I bought 20 years ago.

Ink said...


This book was written just for you.

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan @ 1:39 PM,

I agree with you completely. I’ve seen people skeptical about eBooks become instant converts after receiving a Kindle as a gift. I went from dreading learning how to use the Internet to ... well, here I am. I resisted using the early digital cameras because I loved the clarity of 35-mm. photographs. Once digital cameras came along that have manual as well as automatic settings and clarity as good as 35-mm., I bought one and started using it. I wish all my photographs were digital! My older photos – thousands of them – are sitting in bins, some of them have fading colors, I can’t digitally email them and most of the time I can’t even locate specific photographs. I’m beginning to really appreciate the efficiency of digital.

Nick said...

Also, one more point regarding the speeding-up of acquisition and why I don't much care for it. Aside from plenty of other objections I could raise, I love it when I go to Borders and find there's only one copy left on the shelf of a book that interests me. It's like a tiny little victory that just makes me so inexplicably happy for the rest of the evening. And I'm only that way with books. Last copy of a game or a movie? Eh. I still got the game or movie. But books, man. Something about getting the very last one on a shelf...And e-reading just doesn't allow that. It's pretty much in infinite supply unless the source goes down.

Kelly Bryson said...

I like the milkman analogy. Feels true. Think of all of the saved marriages since the milkmen stopped knocking on the back door. There could be some social implications here.

Mary Anne said...

I agree completely. I think the publishing revolution has been a long time coming. Writers can get their work directly to readers. The market, instead of a big NY company, will decide whether a book is marketable.

I think smart writers will still want agents because - after all - writers would rather write than deal with the business end of things!

Anonymous said...

I LOOOVVVE technology!!! Love it, love it, love it!!!! I can't wait for someone to improve my movie, gaming, listening experience, but I hate have all of those old devices sitting around because they are obsolete. My old stuff unusable because someone perked it. Going through shelves picking out a book that looks good, smelling the fancy coffees, re-reading same book 5 years later. PRICELESS!!!!

Jade said...

You have a point but I still prefer printed books. Perhaps one day it will be eccentric to read printed books, kind of like writing a letter and sending by post. Do people still do that?

Speaking of inventions, I'm working on one called the Awesome I-Write robot. It's going to write my synopsis for me. The upgrade will also do mad query letters. It's going to take the world by storm.

Lena said...

PS on the flip side to my comment about teens not embracing e-books (yet), I really wish they would. I'd love to e-pub some YA short fiction and put it up on my website. I just... hesitate.

Also, I love my Sony Reader. It's great for reading manuscripts on the go. And it saves the eyes from computer-screen-burn-out. The iTouch/iPhone reading experience isn't all that bad either, for short reading stints anyway...

Karen McQ. said...

Great post, Nathan! Last week I did a NPR commentary detailing how I self-published on Kindle, and I mentioned a few of the points you made. Great minds and all that.

You can embrace change or ignore it, but you can't stop it.

Diana said...

I disagree. It isn't faster and easier to download a book and read it on your computer, because you have to be able to find the book that you want. When I go shopping for books, I do not go on Amazon or any of the other online bookshops. I get in my car, drive down to the bookstore, happily browse through thousands and thousands of printed books before walking out with a hundred dollars worth of brand new books and driving home. In the same time that it takes me to do that, you can maybe surf through a few hundred books on Amazon and you will not run across books that you didn't know existed because you would have never thought to search for it. You don't discover new authors as readily. You will be limited to what you have bought or searched for previously. And it will take you longer to find and get your ebook than it does for me to go down and buy a printed book.

As a source of information the internet sucks. The original purpose of the internet was to be able to quickly and easily share quality information. It has degenerated to the point, that it is faster and easier for me to go down to the library and check out a book on the topic that I am interested in instead of staying home and surfing the internet for a reliable source of information.

As an efficient means of marketing a quantity of books, the internet is not where it's at.

Amazon and the other online book retailers are good for finding titles that are specialty books or are out of print, but for general book buying it's faster to go down to the brick and mortar store.

Nathan Bransford said...


As a source of information the internet sucks?!!

Kristi said...

Bryan - I'm so sorry about your book store. My favorite place in Denver is the Tattered Cover and I'll be beyond sad if all the indie book stores go under.

Vacuum Queen said...

So...with the ebook future, do you think the "self publish to ereader" will also go up in popularity? I think it'll be hard to choose what to buy. At a land book store...will there be posters? Fake books so we can read a cover and then know what to buy? I feel like that part would need to "look" the same. ??

Bethany Mason said...

I would agree that society today does seem obsessed with efficiency; but I would also say that comfort is high on the list as well. The problem with reading off a screen is the headaches awkwardness it causes - sure, if a piece of literature is designed to be read on a screen, then it may become a more accepted form. But overall I think that unless writers embrace the form in that way, books will ultimately win. (Not to mention the fact that the more efficient the technology, the more likely it is to break or crash - infuriating if you're in the middle of reading something that you then cannot retrieve.)

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time, long, long, ago, the personal computer was poised to usher mankind into a paperless age. Society would eschew war against harmless trees and all would embrace a golden age of freedom! Weather prediction will be 100% accurate! Used underwear would be recycled into candy! Technology will make all products better, faster and cheap enough to purchase by the truckload!

I await the future with baited breath...but I think I'll have an apple instead of candy. :D

Anonymous said...

A major reason for the success of digital cameras is the consistency of the formatted output, i.e., the .jpg. The camera makes jpegs, everyone'll be happy.

ebooks don't have that consistency. each one has its own proprietary format. That's what's holding the entire industry back.

Kate said...

Sure, the feel, smell, and comfort of a paper book is unmatched. But I don't object to the technology. I object to more screens!

I, like many, spend so much time looking at lighted screens that sometimes I sit down with a book just to give my eyes a break. And I already have carpel tunnel from so much scrolling and typing.

Of course, the rise of ebooks and readers wouldn't make it illegal for me to enjoy a paper book. But sometimes efficiency is hard to resist.

Nathan Bransford said...


We may not have eliminated paper, but US per capita paper consumption peaked around 1999.

Sarah said...

I think the problem with increased utility on the web is that it's making people stop browsing, really browsing and taking chances in things. Amazon's recs are OK but they're just not the same. I think it'll be sad when people stop poring over bookshelves mining for gems.

reader said...

For access for children/adults, do you forsee libraries somehow stocking books you can download into a kindle and the like (when digital reading takes over paper books) and return after reading?

What will happen to libraries if not?

Nathan Bransford said...


It already exists.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sarah a few posts above -- I find most books while browsing through a bookstore. It's not the same looking on Amazon etc.. You can read the first page or whatever, but you can't flip around in it.

Mrs. Parker said...

I also agree with Sarah. I would much rather pick up a book and look it over. Also, unless these readers are the size of my computer monitor, and you can adjust the size of the font, forget it. I already find my nose pressed against my computer monitor at times when I am having to read a lot. Plus it just won't be the same to curl up in my favorite chair with an e-reader.

Terry said...

Ink, Thanks for the link. This book is for me, too. You must be a great bookstore owner. You know what people like.

According to my mother, I "grew up too fast," Always the first in line for new. People, who've worked with me, have actually said, I seem to appear and disappear so fast, they think I'm a magician. And I drive with a lead foot on the accelerator. But lately, I feel overwhelmed with speed.

I love this review of the book. OK, quickie sex and fast driving, I can go along, with but the rest... Oh yeah:

"Life is getting faster, no doubt about it. We rush everything: we eat fast food, have quickie sex, drive like maniacs, and compete hard for fast-paced jobs. We wish to slow down and slack off, but we're afraid we'll fail... A London-based journalist, Honoré shows us the benefits of slowness, with chapters on food, transportation, meditation and exercise, medicine, sex, work, and parenting…. This book presents ideas and resources that will be new to most readers and is recommended for both public and academic libraries."
—Library Journal Review

Doo you ship to the US? I'll buy it from you.

Anonymous said...

If you borrow an e-book, do you have to return it?

I am looking forward to reading again without reading glasses.

L... said...

I get an image of an author sitting in the electronics department, signing a copy of their book on someone's e-reader the same way they would that device the UPS guy hands you when you get a package.

Pam said...

Two years ago when the Kindle came out, no one would have ever convinced me that it was anything but a bastard contraption. I swore to never go the way of the e-reader. Well, guess what? After whittling down my 5,000-volume book collection over the last decade to a select 600 books, I've decided that I'm even getting sick of dusting those surviving orphans and the shelves on which they sit. I'm ready to move on, roll with the tide.

My biggest dilemma right now is whether to go Kindle or wait a couple of months and see how the Nook pans out with the consumers.

Laura Martone said...

I'm lacking in efficiency this week, which is why I haven't been keeping up with your blog, dear Nathan. But I should say... while efficiency is to be lauded, it isn't everything.

I love my e-reader for its compact nature, but I will never abandon books entirely. And though I appreciate supermarkets, I love visiting tiny stores and U-pick farms even more. There's something to be said for one-on-one service, and in our hell-bent search for efficiency, the personal touch is often the first thing to go!

Arwen said...

I write in both media - write digitally and do a pen and paper edit. To my brain, they really are different in function as with form.

I don't disagree that it the world will get a heck of a lot more eBook heavy, but I think physical books will stick around. End up as status/class markers for decorative objects, if nothing else. Like wine collections or cooking gadgets. Cooking has amassed more gadgets and geegaws as a subculture - because the act of cooking is different than the act of eating.

Similarly, why does anyone have a bookshelf full of trade paperbacks when a library exists? (I certainly do.) At least in part because reading people's literary spines is a human equivalent of dogs sniffing each others butts. So far, the iRead app on Facebook does not seem to have quite the same appeal.

Anonymous said...

Waiting for a lotta things to happen before I get an ebook.

1) no more format wars--I wnt 1 consisent format so I don't have to worry the ebooks I buy today will be unreadable without some 3rd party device in 10 years

2) a way to back the files up on my own without depending on the company I buy from--I just want a book, not a long-term relationship

3) the ebooks, for their cumbersome size, need to also be mp3 players AND video players. No reason they shouldn't do these 3 things.

4) even with #3, the price needs to come down, perhaps free with a purchase of a certain # of files (a little sad that all our future art will be essentially a "file, isn't it?" or perhaps a Netflix-for-eBooks model whereby by you get x # of books free per year for a yearly or monthly fee

5) that's it--if all those 4 things happened I'd buy one imemdiately

Anonymous said...

But anon 3:43, if you can back the ebook files up on your own, and all the devices use the same file format, then what's to stop people from just sharing the files amongst their ebooks, even though the file was only purchased once?

Kim said...

I just want to clarify something, as someone who comes from a family with 3 generations of loggers. Trees aren't cut down to make paper. Trees are cut down for lumber. Paper is made from the pulp that's left over.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:46:

What's to stop people from giving away a physical book after they've read it, and then that person giving it away, and then it ending up on Amazon for sale as a used book that the author or publisher get no proceeds from?

Nathan Bransford said...


The difference is that a physical book can only be shared with one person at a time while an unrestricted digital copy can be shared infinitely immediately.

I think people are going to have to live with some restrictions on their digital content in order to prevent piracy.

Jil said...

Our beautiful new library opened last weekend = very efficient as a machine checks our books out for us.
I can buy stamps from a machine in the post office and in ever more stores check out my own groceries. Messages come and go on my answering machine. People can work at home and attend meetings on their computers instead of going to the office:even take college classes on line. No need to speak to anyone all day. A very efficient world we are working toward, but what a lonely one!

Anonymous said...

Great till there's a world-wide EMP, or (far more likely) the tech and standards change, and your beloved e-books are gone because the tech no longer supports their format.

Nathan Bransford said...

I also don't really understand the format concerns. Digital copies of aren't like VHS to DVDs. I can open every file I've ever used on any computer. Why would it be different with e-books?

Sierra Godfrey said...

There are some necessary adjustments to occur to the ebook technology, but once those kinks are sorted out to a satisfactory degree, print books will go away entirely. Kinks include front and back covers to sway us, color ebooks, easily lending or reusing ebooks (I predict a burgeoning market around this once we figure out how), and most especially: how to display ebooks in your home or office. The display of books is still very much a personal statement. But I suspect that will be sorted. Look at how many iterations the iPod had in the first few years. Ereaders will do that too.

It's inevitable. I look forward to seeing how it shakes out. I love my tangible books, but...I love the instant gratification of reading a good book more.

Anonymous said...


Well, if "restrictions on [my] digitial content" means that I'm not allowed to back up my own ebook files that I buy--then where is my incentive to build up a longe-term colelciton of books, as with physical books? OK, the company, Kindle or Sony or whoever, says they'll keep a database of the books I've bought so that if my devoce is ruined or stolen, I can still get my books back,,,but I'm thinking LONG term--like what happens if the company goes bankrupt or gets bought and changes, or the formats change,,,I just know that all the ebooks I buy today won't really be MINE, that's what I don't like about it. It's like paying to read a book without really owning the book. It's a more convenient library alternative, with fees, is what it seems like to me.

Nathan Bransford said...


I mean.... yeah, Amazon could go bankrupt and completely go under and also refuse to allow anyone to convert their e-books to another format, your basement could flood, your town could get hit by a meteor......

Anonymous said...

I guess.

Pam said...

Even should the technology change, it's not like we're not accustomed to this. Vinyl to 8-track to cassettes to CD's. Those favorite songs that I had waaaay back then are now present on my i-pod. We always find a way to keep around what we cherish most, and books will be no exception.

BUT I am worried (she who thought Beta would beat out VHS and bet on the wrong horse) now that I'm shopping for an e-reader and now that the race is on amongst competitors, that I'll make the wrong decision at the wrong time. (yes, those Beta-max scars run deep)

Nathan, are you sticking with Kindle? Perhaps a better question is this: if you were shopping for your first e-reader, which one would you purchase today?

Marilyn Peake said...

I think one of the most amazing inventions relevant to the future form of eBooks is OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays that allow computer screens to be printed onto paper. You could put this paper anywhere – on your spice cabinet to read cookbooks while you make dinner, across an entire living room wall like wallpaper, etc.

Here’s something even more freaky about future printers. Scientists are currently working on the development of printers capable of printing out human organs for organ replacement.

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm actually all converted to reading on my iPhone. I haven't seen the new Sony Readers or nook, so I'm not sure - I love both my Kindle and older Sony Reader though, so I think you can't go wrong.

Kim said...

As I've been sitting here, reading all these posts, the UPS guy just brought me a package I've been waiting for all day.

Okay, okay...I'll cop to it: I ordered the complete Twilight series.

Between posts, I cut open the box and held the box set. Then I opened that and took out the first book. I've stopped fondling them to write this.

I feel the same way I did when I was nine years old, on Christmas day, opening my gift set of Little House on the Praire books. It's just magical. I can't wait to come back home in an hour, put on my jams, and read all night.

Corny? Yep, yep, but it's true.

I'm not saying the industry won't change. Of course it will. But I'll hang on as long as I can, and continue to surround myself with as many books as I can afford to buy.

Someday, I'll be considered "all old school 'n shit".


Anonymous said...

I while ago I heard a flap over the ebooks offering included text-to-speech funcitons, which basically turrns all books bought into audio backs. Any news on this? Publishers were understanably mad because people are getting an audiobook for free with the text book.

And it's not much of a stretch to htink that soon the ebooks will offer text to speech + background music--select Jazz, Ambient, Rock, nature Sounds, Pop, accompany your reading, and then you've really got an audio book on your hands.

And then add in celeb voices doing the text-to-speech, male, female,,,,instead of the Stephen Hawaking-like voice they have now. Ooooh boy.

Michael Broadway said...

You may be right, Nathan, but I hope not. Perhaps I'm nostalgic, being a baby boomer and remembering a simpler time, but there's something special about browsing the library shelves, picking out that perfect book to take home, and actually holding the words in your hands.

At the same time, there's a big disconnect, I think, in reading it online or with a Kindle.

Maybe it's just me, and perhaps the next generation of readers will have nothing to compare the reading experience to other than electronic delivery.

As usual, you've posted another thought-provoking entry.

Anonymous said...

The future doesn't look very promising or stable for the near term. What once was always reliable is no longer so. Take real estate investment, that's no longer fail-safe.

Technology-wise, I do have files on my computers that I can't open anymore, not on later platforms. Some of the early digital cameras worked only with proprietary softwared. Proprietary applications serve a purpose, but they create obstacles. Currently, e-readers by and large are evolving toward a standard format, but they're not there yet.

And the changes going on in other areas of life, society, and culture aren't done making sweeping changes to our daily existences. Efficiency will win in the end as long as it's for the greater good. But I don't see that as an exclusive outcome either. The oldest technologies haven't become anymore extinct than they've markedly changed. Fire is still fire, a wheel is still a wheel, an inclined plane is still an inclined plane, and so on. Greed is still greed.

Big changes coming in the next decade, tough, hard decisions, sacrfices and compromises. Books will survive it all.

Ben-M said...

Nathan, I'm not sure I completely agree with your argument. You note that Every energy technology seems to pollute more than the last, but we make the tradeoff because the other technologies are less efficient, in which you define human efficiency as the key metric in innovation, but then you claim It's ...more efficient to download ...than to cut down a tree, make paper, print ink on it, bind it, ship it across the country...(etc).

These are not the same motivations.

The consumer doesn't care how much effort went into making the product - they only care about how easy it is to use it. Once eink technology improves (is faster, etc), DRM is standardised (or dropped) across the industry, and ereaders can trade books easily, I can imagine them being adopted much more widely.

But in the meantime, when I, or my children, my wife or a visitor can pull a book off my bookshelf at home and have a read, the printed book seems far, far more efficient.

For the user.

Jen P said...

I'm not sure it's all about achieving greater efficiency, but rather about greater freedom, through increased flexibility and choice and enabling improvement in something beyond the technology itself - ie instantaneous communication allowing faster decision making and the benefits that brings.

I agree e-readers achieve instant delivery - it may be a more efficient method of publishing and distribution for the publisher - but it cannot make the consumer more efficient in the process which follows the purchase - the reading itself - which still needs dedicated time. Since I believe the average consumer reader does not often discover a book he wants to read (whether through recommendation, blog, news article) and wants to read RIGHT NOW ON THE SPOT (at work, in the supermarket line, whilst browsing the Internet) I would argue the "efficiency of delivery method" whether through an overnight online paperback provider or e-delivery format is still largely irrelevant for most people most of the time.

If to the consumer, the efficiency achieved by an e-reader in delivery is not significant, if e-eaders appear not to achieve anything wildly beyond a paper book in terms of reading efficiency and freedom, I don't think it carries the same weighting in comparison to other inventions.

The e-devices' consumer led adoption is tentative - if publishers want to speed up adoption in order to benefit from the efficiencies at the back end,(quote: to cut down a tree, make paper, print ink on it, bind it, ship it across the country) then I still believe they need to cut prices significantly in comparison with paper to give consumers the incentive to find a greater difference between the two.

Mary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Madeleine said...

I wish I could say I'd rather drop book reading in general than read from an e-reader, but I can't.

I would much rather destroy all e-readers and go on happily with "authentic" books, but I have to admit your point is valid.

I'll treasure my small collection!

Nathan Bransford said...

ben-m and jen p-

I think you both raise good points. Part of my assumption about the future, though, is that the devices on which it's easy to read e-books, (think improved smart phones), will be much more ubiquitous than they are now and the ease of adoption of e-books will be far greater.

Right now you basically either have to have an iPhone or similar smart phone or go out and buy an expensive device.

But when e-readers get cheapaers and iPhone or iPhone-like phones become more ubiquitous that ease of access is going to come into play more and more.

The current moment isn't ripe for change, which is why we haven't reached a tipping point. But a couple more generations of devices and I think we'll probably be there.

thoughtful1 said...

I pride myself on my efficiency because just as you said it allows me to do more within the same amount of time. I would love love to get an e reader! But I also agree with Katie and Matthew that there is something more to experiences than simply a sense of accomplishment. There is the luxury of a moment. And also I agree enough with you to have to worry that efficiency has moved into center stage and is perceived as a well not exactly panacea, but a status symbol or something. Anyway such admiration of it seems to pull society away from those less able to compete in it. You know, the measure of greatness is the way a society treats its least fortunate and all that. On a personal note one of my children has a physical disability which makes her move more slowly and less efficiently. Now. Really, technological advances serve her well. But being measured in a societal situation according to efficiency makes her struggle. I think there is something else operating in the appeal of the e reader. Maybe instant gratification. And who doesn't like that? But is efficiency and the consumption of more really a guideline for society? Not everyone enjoys being as busy as you, Nathan. Remember the old stop and smell the roses advice. It helps keep your blood pressure down, too.

Anonymous said...

where ebooks really shine is for temporary situatiations where you need a lot of information with you. A field researcher for example, can easily have access to every Handbook of XYZ at his fingertips without lugging them around or having to choose only 1 or 2 of them. And for university students--this thing is made for them! No more lugging around backpacks full of books--you can have all your book of your entire collegiate career at your fingertips in every class!

For doctors in the field...etc, etc, etc...

But for the average reader? why not just buy a regular book?

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the poster who pointed out the failure of the internet and specifically Amazon for book selling.

I think her point is that if you are looking for a book to catch your attention or simply browsing, that's a bit hard to do online. there are no rows of spines or tables with books standing on end flashing their covers at you (oooh sounds dirty when I put it that way)

You either search by title or author or - i guess if you have a ton of free time - search by topic/genre. But you really aren't getting a full look at the possibilities are you?

I also agree with the folks who pint out that I am not about to pay hundreds of dollars for for something that might go the way of Betamax in ten years.

And I am sure as hell not buying 4 of them so everyone in the house can read when they want to. Sure four people can;t read the same paper back at once, but they can read 4 different physical books at once. IF e-books take over, that means 4 Kindles (or whatever).

No thanks.

Ginger Simpson said...

I didn't read all the comments and someone may have alredy touched on this, but I'm throwing in my two cents worth.

Although I AM e-published and I promote awareness of the new technology and convenience, I feel somewhat torn between the the print and digitial industry. With the economy such as it is, and unemployment at an all time high, I shudder to think of more people (printers, binders, truckers) losing their livelihoods at a time when we can't afford to have more people suffering.

I want the e-book industry to flourish, and I'm very proud to be part of a select goup, but at what expense?

Amy said...

Nathan, I think so many of us have been burned by tech advances, we're just wary. And I'm not a techie -- I don't understand exactly how all that stuff works. But I do know that every single computer game we bought for my oldest child when she was a toddler no longer works for my youngest. It's just that Windows XP/Vista/7 aren't quite backwards compatible enough. And our PS3 is awesome, but many of our PS & PS2 games aren't quite cutting it either. And my PS2 dance mat? Forget it. PS3 changed the little plugs, so I'm out of luck (did I mention I'm not a techie??).

So who are we to say that these e-reader companies will always accommodate our files from today as they grow & develop? Yes, consumer backlash offers some protection, but if that were 100%, my dance mat wouldn't be down in the basement, and my little girl would be playing our old Jump Start and Reader Rabbit games.

I have a large music library. My husband insisted on getting me an iPod. Ok, I loved it, and I still do. While I don't need my library of books to travel with - I only read one book at a time, not chapters from several - I do like to choose individual songs from several albums. But we recently lost a HUGE percentage of our library when converting to the latest iTunes. We thought we had it backed up, but it wasn't. iTunes said they'd allow me to download again in this specific instance (I wondered if we weren't the only ones??) but said typically, we'd be out of luck.

I didn't like that. Instead of downloading for my latest music purchase, I bought two CDs (& it was cheaper than downloading). At least if I make a mistake this time, I have a backup I can count on.

Anonymous said...

You think efficiency is one of the great human achievements? Really? What a discouraging idea. Efficiency may be fine for certain practical enterprises--housework, engines, internet searching--but as a value it has a lot to be desired, especially for the creation of art. I would argue that at the core of the creative process is the opposite of efficiency. That is, the imagination craves idleness, dreaminess, expansiveness. Efficiency is a value that invokes productivity, not art. Do we want efficiency to be at the heart of reading? Not me. I don't mind if I have to wait for a book to arrive. I love the time it takes to turn a page. I love the concreteness of the physical book itself, the heft, the smell, the feel of the cover, the way the pages get creased. I love writing in the margins. If all human accomplishments were judged solely or mainly by their efficiency, there would be no room for novels or poetry or symphonies. UGH...down with efficiency!!

Anonymous said...

yep, that's the thing with "e-everything"--it's like you don't really own your own stuff anymore. It's not the technology I don't like--it's the lack of real ownership that comes with it--I have to depend on a third party for access to my oen music/books/ thaks! If I can't have complete control, including backups, then it makes me nervous. It's MY stuff, right? Not Sony's.

Anonymous said...

Agree that while it SEEMS like Amazon will be around forever, history shows us that most companies don't last that long. it's not that they'll go out of business, but they'll be acquired, or merge, or the laws will change that prevent them from operating the way they do now...and then one day they'll just be like, "Sorry, we are no longer restoring ebooks from those who purchased before 20XX.

And there wo't be a thing you can do about it, You'll get a letter in the mail one day asking if you'd like to participate in the class aciton suit against Amazon, and meanwhile after your 2007 Kindle fell in the lake camping, you've got no books.

Not for me, unless they can give me the files to back up myself on my own drives.

Nathan Bransford said...


Efficiency is the reason you had time to leave that comment on a computer connected to the Internet instead of being out hunting for an animal with a spear or out in a field growing your own food.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Anon 4:49. Make it so that I can back up the ebook files on my own equipment, and I'll probably get an ereader at some point. Until then, I'll add to my physcial book colleciton where the only thing I have to worry about is a fire or a flood.

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