shift happened 03.23.2011, 11:44 PM
posted by kim white
I do my reading almost exclusively on screen. I've got a kindle, an ipad, an iphone, a blackberry, and a laptop, but this weekend, I did something radical and old school, I checked a big thick book out of the library and attempted to read it.
This is going to sound incredibly lazy, like someone who gets in their car to drive a few blocks rather than walk, but the physicality of the book, having to hold it open then lift and turn each page, was a lot more exhausting than I remembered. All of that holding and lifting and turning distracted me from the act of reading, took me out of the story if you will. A few pages into it I gave up, logged in to Amazon, and bought the Kindle book.
Like many people, I've romanticized the feeling of paper books, so I was surprised at how easily I spurned the one used to love. I've been watching the evolution of reading devices for the last seven years, but it was the experience I had with this library book that made me realize that the shift is no longer about to take place, it has taken place. Other readers are switching allegiance from paper to screen as quickly and irreversibly as I did. What does this mean for the publishing industry? For bookstores? For libraries? How will they reinvent themselves to attract screen-smitten readers?
Scotto on March 24, 2011 11:36 AM:
I have the same problem. Since I got my Kindle last Christmas, I've done all reading on either the Kindle, my iPod Touch or on The Desktop Mac or PC.
I used to go the library every Saturday and read borrowed library book almost exclusively. I haven't been there in months. Now I have buy (or in some cases download via p2p) most of my books. Thank goodness for cheaper indie books for under $5. I refuse to pay $10 or more for big publisher books (those I get via Bittorrent).
Ralph Stoos on March 24, 2011 3:14 PM:
Please don't take this as an insult but if your Kindle/Nook whatever dies, you have no books (heavy with page turning or otherwise. I just read "Life" by Keith Richards. This is undoubtedly the most stream-of-consciousness book I have even see and I hated to put it down.
I am not your average book reader. All my books are either technical or autobiographies. Another tome I tackled was the marathon "Last Words" by George Carlin.
It cannot be denied that Kindle/Nook allows you to carry your collection with you whereever you go but, bound books have their appeal. I have the 1922 edition of the Yale Press complete works of Shakespeare. I also have the Complete Works of Mark Twain that where published by his own publishing company. Which ones do you think I have read?
Mike Perry on March 24, 2011 6:31 PM:
You said: "This is going to sound incredibly lazy, like someone who gets in their car to drive a few blocks rather than walk, but the physicality of the book, having to hold it open then lift and turn each page, was a lot more exhausting than I remembered."
I can see some very funny YouTube videos along that line:
1. Exercise classes to get people in shape to read a physical book.
2. Warnings from the Surgeon General and the FDA that those with heart conditions should not attempt to read physical books without consulting their MDs.
3. Weight-loss programs that have as their main feature all the added calories expended turning pages. "Read your way to a slimmer you."
4. TV ads from publishers in which buff, fit people credit their excellent muscle tone to reading at their local reading spa.
5. Researchers blaming the Kindle and iPad for our nation's expanding waistline.
Those with video skills feel free to expand on those themes.
ianf on March 24, 2011 8:00 PM:
My guesstimate is as good as anyone's:
[...] What does this mean
• for the publishing industry?It is important to distinguish between
roughly 3 types of paper-borne publishing:
(daily, etc) newspapers; (weekly/monthly,
etc) periodicals/ magazines; and books.
Most newspapers (in Western/developed
countries) will fold; some will migrate
to the web with occassional profitable
forays back into print in various forms;
some will transform themselves success-
fully into new news-mongering businesses
of yet unknown shape.
To survive, periodicals and magazines
will have to evolve and become more
niche-y, specialized graphic indices
to the ever more chaotically growing
web content (because, in the end, no
search engine algorithm can beat the
whimsy and caprice of human taste
and mind). Old-established magazines
will find new ways to repurpose old
Textbooks, educational matter, etc
migrate all to ebooks. Printed books
will survive to some extent, but
become elite/ collector's items [so
hold onto your bookshelves, and
bequeath them to your grandchildren].
Present-day book publishers will
fight tooth and nail to "defend"
current status-quo, and at best try
their catalogs into digital editions
— which they'll want to palm off
at the same, or similar high price
levels. In the end they'll realize
however, that something's gotta
give, that back catalogs protected
by restrictive copyright laws and
sales practices that generate no
sales is a fate far worse than
selling etexts at low/ uniform/
much discounted whole-collections
levels. Or something. It won't be
pretty, but it'll be interesting.
• for bookstores?
Same fate as that of formerly
pretty ubiquitous (in urban settings)
gentlemens' clubs etc.
• for libraries?
They'll survive, but will become
even more of community/ local
cultural centres than at present.
• How will they reinvent themselves
to attract screen-smitten readers?"There will be blog." ;-)) That said,
we shouldn't discount a possibility of
unknown unknowns. We could wake
up tomorrow reading of the invention
of some nano-ink that's invisible
to the human eye, but not to suitably
constructed cellphone cameras, etc.-
all of which would reopen the door
to paper publishing, hybrids with,
Gary Frost on March 24, 2011 8:29 PM:
I have noticed another shift related to changing reading behavior. Just a few decades ago it was presumed that activities of reading, for pleasure or research, would begin in print format. Now that assumption is converted to presumption that activities of reading, for pleasure or research, begin on the screen.
So we must have displaced the agent of culture transmission that books represent. We can then ask how will screen access, distribution and display serve culture transmission dependent on books. My guess is it will serve just fine.
There are other questions that follow concerning culture transmission. Are we OK if the conceptual work is not embodied to the display device? There were some benefits to paper that provided both storage and display for a single price and some strange comfort in allocation of each conceptual work to its own, persistent display. Then there was the even stranger capacity for the paper book to self-authenticate an overt content. Something was either conveyed or not conveyed with rather forensic certainty. The physicality even indicated evidence of use across time and cultures. This embodied print book did work for a while.
Disembodied screen display probably will work for culture transmission conveyed by books too. We should try it.
Chris Butler on March 25, 2011 10:52 AM:
We're definitely in the midst of an uncomfortable transition that will probably outlast the current e-readers that some of us have decided to purchase (iPads, Kindles, Nooks, etc.).
I have an iPad (v1) and have been through waves of encouragement/discouragement as far as my use of it relates to books and reading. Compared to the computers I’ve used over the past two decades, it’s a stunning achievement. I can browse the web, send and receive email, listen to music, watch video, play games, create documents, record audio, and many other things on this tiny, beautiful tablet that recognizes the touch of my hand and has to be recharged so infrequently that it seems to simply run on its own lifeforce. It makes real the utilitarian props of science fiction books and film; it’s the time machine that reminds us we live in the future. Oh, and given all that it does, it’s really not that expensive.
While I think that iBooks has done a decent job of creating a new kind of reading experience, I'm ultimately disappointed by it for practical reasons. For the most part, I would rather not purchase books. I’d much rather borrow them from the library. The library - where I have found and accessed the vast majority of books that I’ve read over the past four years - need not be threatened by the iPad. Maybe it is or will be, but it really shouldn’t have to be that way. My dream for this device is to be able to borrow books from the library collection in electronic format, either by gaining access to them through the library’s website, or by “picking them up” while physically browsing its collection. The serendipity of discovering books in proximity to those you’ve sought out is a powerful thing. It’s how I’ve come to read a substantial number of books. Proximity is a recommendation engine of its own - an algorithm composed of the gaps between books, the curatorial decisions of librarians, and the element of chance determining whether a book is there or in the hands of a fellow citizen. It’s a human engine that is more likely to deliver you a book you didn’t know about than those recommendation engines you find on sites like Amazon.com. Those are so heavily influenced by popularity and inventory, that you are likely to see a smaller and more predictable array of material “also bought by” or “also viewed by” those who bought or looked at the book you’re considering.
In the meantime, I've purchased several books using GoogleBooks, as well. Its selection is much better, its prices are competitive, and you have the option for most books of reading original page scans, which I enjoy for older books.
We'll have to see how this all pans out...
ianf on March 28, 2011 4:34 AM:
An opposing view of sorts, all is not lost.The Guardian: Why book lovers love Book Swap
[...] A sign of the times: there was a brief
discussion about the ebook, but everyone
present was trading well-worn hardbacks
and dog-eared paperbacks. Only two or three
of those present admitted to having a Kindle
My conclusion? Among dedicated, serious
book lovers, the inevitable digital revolution
still has a way to go. Publishers and authors
are beginning to explore the possibilities
of the new format, as they should, but readers
remain stubbornly devoted to paper and ink
– and word of mouth.
kim white on March 31, 2011 7:33 AM:
I’m pleased that this post generated such an interesting comment stream. I started responding and then realized (after surpassing 1,000 words) that many of the ideas raised in these comments will need separate posts, so just responding to one point here. Gary commented that one of the benefits of print is that it offers both storage and display for the same price. This is really important and should be central to the debate over ebook pricing. Book-buyers know that it costs money to produce an ebook, just as it does to print a paper book, but they also know that they are now footing the bill for the delivery device, which means they are not willing to pay the same price. Publishers have to address this issue with more creativity if they want to maintain their margins. Additionally, and perhaps of greater concern to publishers, when I shop for books on my ipad device, I’m not in a bookstore. I’m in a space where a diverse and seemingly endless supply of interesting media is available. If the ebook is too expensive, I might decide to read a blog for free, or watch a TV show, or rent a movie. The problem in the ipad space goes beyond pricing. How will publishers make their book products attractive next to movies, games, or the wealth of free reading on the internet? This is a problem that publishers need to address more aggressively. If we were seeing a burst of creative, start-up activity in the book publishing business I’d be hopeful, but publishers aren’t doing enough right now. They need to go beyond simply offering the print book in electronic formats.
Marilou Polymeropoulou on April 1, 2011 1:54 PM:
I've found your blog by searching online for "dystopia", which is such an irony. Few hours ago I was reading a paperback book, thinking of iPad, Kindle and the like. I'm very much tempted to buy one - thanks to capitalism, it's really affordable nowadays. However: I agree with Ralph, if a digital book "dies", there goes your book collection too. But a couple of years ago, many of my books were destroyed by flood. So maybe the breaking down of technology is the "natural" disaster of the digital, and one of the many fears. I'm sure we'll be able to save everything online, but for how long? How big can the Internet be? And what if the Internet servers collapse?
I believe that the notion of ownership will be severely transformed to accommodate these issues: we can buy the same item as many times as we want, at an extremely low price, so that we don't have to store it anywhere.
Bookstores may become retro meeting points, I somehow would like to believe that human contact will always be necessary...
Peter Korchnak on April 12, 2011 6:29 PM:
If a basic human fallacy is to think that one is more different from others than one really is, it is a technophile's (or early adopter's) basic fallacy to think others are like him or her.
It is unfortunate the main debate around e-books continues to be in the either-or vein, rather than around co-existence. E-books are going to supplant physical ones the same way TV was supposed to kill the radio, or the Internet was supposed to kill TV. That is they aren't. What we'll see, imho, is different formats satisfying different people's needs. Not a bad thing.
And as for the amount of exhausting manual labor required to handle the physicality of a book, I am reminded of the morbidly obese humans in "Wall-E" who cannot perform the simplest physical tasks without the help of machines. If that's the future e-books are bringing about, I'm building me some more bookshelves.
Thanks for the thought-provoking post!
ianf on April 14, 2011 1:12 AM:
It so happens that your, and Ralph's, point
of irreversible death of ebook collections
(when physical ereader collapses) is moot.
That's what iTunes and [Amazon, etc.] store
equivalents are for. Currently Apple requires
us to maintain private offline archives, but
there is nothing to prevent them, or any other
vendor for that matter, from maintaining our
respective app /book/ other media collections
entirely in the "offshore cloud" - permanently
there to be accessed/ re-downloaded whenever
> I'm sure we'll be able to save everything
> online, but for how long? How big can the
> Internet be? And what if the Internet
> servers collapse?
Baring worldwide-catastrophic events and
simpleminded human bungling of things, the
Internet and virtual data storage will keep
on growing up indefinitely. As individuals,
we already only interact with miniscule, if
not truly nano-microscopic parts of it anyway.
Doug K on May 2, 2011 11:48 AM:
The advantages of the physical book are that it needs power only at the point of production, and the decoding software is in our wetware. The object can then persist for centuries with a modicum of care, and its readability is also persistent. How long are the different ebook formats going to be supported ? How will you migrate from the Kindle to its successor ? will there even be a migration strategy ? After thirty years in software engineering, I know enough not to expect one.
I have numbers of LPs and cassette tapes with music that is no longer available in any other format: it's likely I will never have time to complete the digitization of this music. It's gone forever. My grandfather's first edition of The Ivory Coast in the Earlies (aka Trader Horn) is being read by his great-grandchildren.
Brian Bordenkircher on May 15, 2011 12:10 PM:
I'd guess that in the next 20 years that 90% of book sales will be in e-book form. There will be many other drastic changes that could take place because of this major shift..
What will happen to libraries? Will libraries really be needed as much, other than to research old historical documents and perhaps mostly digital media and the internet?
Will the price of paperback books rise to more than double the cost of a book to have the luxury of the "classic" look and feel of a book? I think this would be quite likely if the majority of a books sales come from digital reading devices. This would be so because the cost of producing each book would be more expensive if only around 5 to 10% of the books sales is in paperback.
With the ease of self publishing becoming cheaper and simple will this also change the industry much? There may be many more books available for purchase if the cost of producing the book is cheap. Then the cost of advertising per book may become higher.
We have a great number of changes still to come in the publishing and print industry
Andrew Eason on May 21, 2011 6:39 AM:
Libraries are in the business of offering access to media.
This means ebooks too, and trying to offer comprehensive accessibility through bulk licensing and other legal forms of availability.
They also offer a social component of doing things in a real space with real others. Whether that has anything to offer over and above digital forms of meeting up is a moot point, but they can offer a space for that to happen.
Additionally, they offer forms of 'disruption to the personalised' - knowledge and discovery structures (often social, sometimes not) that offer different forms of access outwith the increasingly entrenched preferences that will be guiding your usual search experiences. Opportunities for serendipity.
Most of these things have analogous forms over the web, and some are even preferable that way. But a *real* social media space can surely offer us something?
This could rapidly sidetrack into being some sort of discussion about what the 'essential' IRL experience of libraries is. Maybe that gives us some clues, but I think that we can just as profitably respond to whatever is flavour of the month in the digital sphere. E.g. Semantic social structures, anyone? - what can a real space offer? Meetups? Access to media in real space and time. Access to old media alongside the new? Imbrication in other, unexpected networks? Etc...
ianf on July 19, 2011 3:45 AM:
Hate to tout my own horn, but little did I know
that in less than 2 months time Apple[*] would
introduce just such an ebooks-in-the-cloud-
forever storage service at its annual developers'
conference WWDC 2011. That effectively
means doing away with the need to keep back-
up of ebooks (and other such similar/ Apple-
procured data, including the free items) on
physical local, thus perishable and ultimately
obsolete, hardware media/substrates.
[^*] Amazon, Microsoft and Google all have
or plan to have similar "cloud storage" of
their digital collections.