It’s time to decide how you’ll read in 2013

kindle1VS iphone2

I found, via the excellent Speak Quietly blog, this Wired piece about e-books for sale in the iPhone app store.  In typical Stacked fashion, I will use this scholarly and well researched piece of journalism as a springboard for an extended rant on a tangentially related subject about which I am barely qualified to hold an opinion, let alone bloviate at length.  Ready?  Then let’s begin:

Notice the above graphic suggests a battle between two digital devices, rather than a battle between a Kindle and a physical book.   I hope you don’t find this too upsetting, but physical books as we know them are already doomed.  Barring the unexpected dawning of a new dark age, it’s a done thing.  If you are a reader who manages to stay alive for more than 5 years or so, I am confident you WILL own and use a device that allows you to read digitized books.  You will still own books.  You may even still buy books.  But you will do most of your reading on your new device.  Get used to it.  It is going to happen.  It’s time to stop fetishising books as objects, and start deciding how, in their absence, you’d like to get your hands on the information they contain, the containing of which is, after all, the point of books in the first place.

I really hope the Kindle, or something like it, wins.  Reading takes concentration, so we’re going to need something specifically designed to make reading pleasant and comfortable, rather than something designed to be as portable as possible.  If “e-book” reader becomes just another feature tacked on to an already feature-packed, highly portable device- an iPhone, say-  we’re all going to end up with bloodshot eyes, badly blistered scrolling fingers, and only a passing familiarity with the information we’ve just read. Comfort is important, and E Ink is good stuff.  Anyone who has ever looked at a Kindle screen knows what I’m talking about.

Anyway, I’ve said it.  Paper books are dying, but all of the joy and knowledge they contain is being reborn in digital form as you read this.  The bogus “there’s just something about a book” argument won’t save books.  There is “just something” about a book, just like there’s “just something” about holding a vinyl record, with its big, beautiful sleeve and non- quantized pure analog sound delivery process.  Unfortunately, the “just something” argument isn’t enough to save a technology whose time has passed (although I have to admit that Matt Yglesias’s bathtub argument holds water).

Say a silent prayer for the soul of paper books if it helps you cope, but after that, it’s time to start thinking about what you’re going to need from the e-book reader you’ll eventually buy.  Meanwhile, libraries should start coming up with new ways to stay relevant in the post-book era.  Forward thinking old timey libraries like the Mercantile already are.

-Norm De Plume

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Published in: on December 11, 2008 at 2:01 pm  Comments (11)  

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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Kindle is an extremely cool concept. If I had the means I might consider going that route, but right now I like having my physical copies of the material I read.

  2. Kindles need to get cheaper, that’s for sure. But they will, and I think once they do, people will start thinking about books the same way the iPod made them think about music (that having easy access to your entire library anywhere you are trumps having a physical copy), and attitudes will change quickly.

    I do wish I’d said it will happen within 10 years instead of 5 years, just to play it safe. Still, my point is that whether it takes 5 years or 10 years this is the direction in which things are going, and nothing is going to change that. Better to decide what our eReader will look like than whether or not we will get one, because we will end up getting one eventually.

  3. I think the “there’s just something about a book” argument is a bit like my late father-in-law’s inability to comprehend the concept of ATMs. “You just go to the bank when it’s open!” :D

    I like doing my reading for free from the library. I only buy books that’s I’ve either already borrowed once and now find I want to own (like a great cookbook, or a book I enjoyed so much that I want to reread) or that I can’t get thru the lib. Can I “borrow” books from the library via Kindle?

  4. Yesterday a Kindle owning friend suggested a future wherein readers would be able to use their Kindles (or other devices) to access a library’s vast collection of digital works for free while they’re at the library. The books would erase themselves from your Kindle after a few weeks. If you wanted to keep something longer, you could pay a fee to the “publisher” and keep it forever.

    The ATM thing is exactly what I was thinking of. Yes, it’s nice to see the smiling face of a real teller when you take your money out, but it’s even nicer to be able to withdraw your money anytime and practically anywhere.

  5. […] Norm’s probably right about the reading devices, but in mentioning bathtubs he failed to touch on the $400 problem you will run into if you take your Kindle or iPhone for a good read while you’re having a good soak and drop your reading device into the steamy suds. It was bad enough dropping a $12.95 paperback, but your phone! With its directory! And all that music! […]

  6. I’m not sure the bathtub reading market is big enough to carry the conventional publishing industry. :D

    The Sony Reader is supported by the Ohio eBook Program thru which you can borrow books from the public library. You download the books, and they disappear from your reader when the borrowing time is up.

  7. This should be a panel discussion for next year’s Books By The Banks. How will folks like PLCHC, Mercantile & other local libraries and the Ohio Book Store & other local merchants address the future of book reading?

    What would Helene Hanff think? Or Johannes Gutenberg?

  8. I was firmly set against eBook Readers until late this past summer. I was wandering in Borders and they had a Sony eBook Reader on display. I was fascinated! I couldn’t believe the ease of use and how much the screen looked like a paper page. eInk is amazing! I’m 100% sold on the concept now, for everything but price.
    I do intend to buy a Kindle sometime in 2009, but I assume there will still be paper books I buy as well. Our home is overflowing with books and wine – space is limited. At least a Kindle will help us with the books part.
    I have high hopes that libraries can figure out some sort of lending program for digital content.

  9. Let’s hope they never come up with virtual wine.

  10. Thank you so much!

  11. […] and an endemic lack of will among the big players.” Look, you and I both know that my previous claim that everybody will chuck away their paper books in favor of ebooks within the next few years is […]


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