Thursday, November 05, 2009

Are Printed Books Going Away?

Some Thoughts on Kindle and Other E-Readers: New technologies usually do not destroy old technologies, though they may force them to reinvent themselves. Until television came along, radio was the main source of scripted entertainment. When television came along and stole that role, radio became a source of musical and unscripted entertainment. Kindle--and its competitors--won't destroy the printed book, but it will change things. Other thoughts.
  • Each medium has its own advantages and disadvantages. E-Books promise greater portability (especially for porting around many books at a time), the ability to skip from part to part through hyperlinks (a huge potential advantage), and quick access for both locating, buying, and retrieving a book. Printed books have familiarity, physical presence on a bookshelf or coffee table, an archival advantage ("recorded" files have tended to get lost in technology transitions), and they don't require batteries. If you lose a printed book, you lose a book. If you lose an E-Reader, you lose a library. Printed books are an object that you can pick up and hold. You can pick up and hold the E-Reader, but the E-Book left unprinted is an idea rather than an object.
  • Look for E-Readers to become the way textbooks are delivered and read. They solve the "backpack problem" and may reduce student expenditures on school books.
  • Look for E-Readers to become popular with travelers. However, vacationers may prefer their "beach reads" to be in cheap paperbacks.
  • Look for E-Readers to be popular with those who hyperlink and for books that need to be hyperlinked.
  • Look for reading habits to change. Fewer will read the entire book. More people will scan books and jump from hyperlink to hyperlink, the "new book" equivalent of channel surfing. Short stories--or "books" that don't need to be read in their entirety--might became more popular than novels. The classic text-only novel needs to be printed. In any case, reading won't disappear. However, grammar and careful writing is in big trouble.
  • Look for E-Books to become multi-media rather than a single (text) medium. E-Books will evolve--or "devolve," depending on your point of view--to movies and interactive games.
  • Look for standalone E-Readers to disappear, instead becoming integrated as a feature in other devices (e.g., cell phones and notebook computers). For this reason, I would expect Adobe Reader and other cross-platform readers to outlive single-purpose and proprietary E-Readers. The Kindles of the world might have to evolve into mult-media and/or cross-platform devices.
  • Look for the velocity of publishing to increase. More books will be published. Fewer will be read in their entirety. And most of them will be lost as formats come in and out of existence. (Printed books will have a survivability advantage.)
  • Look for a technology solution that will help publishers and authors avoid going through wholesalers, instead selling E-Books directly to customers by transferring an E-Book from the publisher's device to the customer's device (and collecting payment in the bargain.)
  • Don't look for E-Readers to solve your "marketing problem." You will still need to persuade potential readers to buy your book, whether they do so from you directly, from a bookstore, or from an E-Book vendor. That part of the equation won't change.