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February 24, 2009

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Laurie

Okay, okay - I'd talked myself out of wanting a Kindle - I like the feel of paper - but now I'm back in.

Lyle T. Lachmuth - The Unsticking Coach

Barry ... I agree in part.

I believe e-books will fill a huge market.

But, and maybe this is my Inner Luddite, I still love the feel of a book in my hands -- especially when it's a John Rain story! (how's that for sucking up?)

Lyle

Paul Elwork

You make a number of very strong points, Barry, as usual. I think the dominance of ebooks is inevitable, too, and you very eloquently illustrate many reasons that we should think so. I'm hoping, still, that the specialty market of print books will remain somewhat more viable than you suggest, however, and we won't know for sure until the time to come. In the meantime, I agree that there's no sense in being gloomy about it, or whistling past the graveyard in denial, but I'm never going to have the heart to dance on the grave of print books, either. I'm Luddite enough to say that.

David J. Montgomery

I love reading and I love technology -- yet I've never had any desire to get an e-book device.

However, I think you're probably right that once we're all dead, the kids will look at books like buggy whips.

Jamie Fellrath

There's another point that hasn't been made yet - whether you "believe" in the science or not, global warming and the steps being taken to combat it are changing the way we do a lot of things, and the amount of paper we use is going to come under the gun soon, I think. That means books. The auto industry is having problems because of oil scarcity and global warming, the coal industry is under stress, and other industries that use up our resources are going to be stressed, too. That means books.

Hank Shiffman

In some respects, Barry is recapitulating Clayton Christensen's argument in The Innovator's Dilemma. Dilemma shows how companies fail by listening to their current customers when new and disruptive technologies arrive on the scene. The new technologies don't appeal to the existing base, but to new bases that aren't yet identifiable or at least quantifiable. His examples include smaller, cheaper disk drives; from my own experience I'd add 3D graphics in PCs vs. engineering workstations. Ebooks and downloaded music look awfully similar in the way new suppliers like Apple and Amazon are displacing existing brick & mortar.

Kim Derting

I love the idea of the Kindle or the Sony Reader (especially, like you mentioned, for portability...and to lose those lovely reading glasses). But on the flip side I also love a beautifully furnished library as well. I suppose the middle ground is to go ahead and purchase the books I love and to download the just *eh* books, so they don't take up precious space on my shelves.

Jenn Nixon

I'll always be a paper book reader...but I'm also into trends, so eventually it'll have to be both for me, I'm sure.

Great post, Barry!!

B Novotney

Isn't the fact that we ARE reading wonderful(?) no matter being e-book, paper back, hardback? A book is a book is a book. An e-book is an e-book is an e-book.
Enjoy the word...read something:-)

Rob Preece, Publisher

I especially enjoyed your points about how a Kindle/Sony reader would react to the proposed introduction of paper. eBooks aren't just cheaper, they're better. With advanced reader technology, I hope I won't have to listen to the old "but I don't like reading on my computer" line (as if we don't spend our lives reading on the computer).

Rob Preece
Publisher, www.BooksForABuck.com

Jeff

A lot of books will definitely go the way of e-books, especially genre fiction. But fans of literary fiction, for instance, will probably still prefer to spend the bucks on paper (even though the books may be produced POD rather than off-set but that's another topic). And what about cookbooks? Recipes have been online for years now but yet people still buy cookbooks. Sure the market for print books will change drastically but it will not disappear entirely.

Michelle Moran

I think Barry is right.

Certainly, paper will still be around. Most schools, for example, still use VHS, and until schools find a way of bolting Kindles (or some similar device) to a desk so they can't be stolen, it will have to be paper.

But the future is probably going to be a handheld device and instant gratification. Why wait days for a novel to arrive from Amazon when you can download it in minutes? It's about the new generations coming up, not necessarily us, and I suspect Barry is correct. Why would the new generations of readers want paper? Paper books will be like VHS: used in schools (until something every student can afford is invented), but few other places.

Dumbo Books of Brooklyn

As a bankrupt small press, we have to add that Ernest Hemingway's granddaughter is a dead model, too.

Jake White

Yay, Barry! I agree totally (if not more)

The touchy-feely paper book apologetic which we hear over and over is very tired...

Plus, how clunky and crazy expensive to chop down huge heavy trees, load them onto big diesel burning trucks, unload them, chop up and grind to a pulp, add bleaching chemicals, process until flat, dry, put on rolls, re-load onto big diesel burning trucks and haul cross-country to paper storage warehouses. Then re-load again onto big diesel burning trucks, haul to printing plants, add ink, cut and bind (sew or glue). Now ship to book distribution warehouses (via diesel -burning .. you guesed it ..) It seems well, kind of primitive, no?

Barry Eisler

Thanks for the comments, everyone. FWIW, I love paper books, too, but my sentiment will have little bearing on the medium's future. I loved my LP record albums, too -- didn't the art work just look better in that bigger format? And they were so hefty and tangible, too! -- but albums are long gone now.

To reiterate: of course paper wont' completely disappear, but again, whether a medium will entirely disappear isn't the point. If you're a bookstore owner today, does knowing that paper cookbooks and coffee table books will be around tomorrow cause you to breath a big sigh of relief?

Anyway, I'll have more thoughts soon about how the various players in the publishing ecosystem should adapt. After that, Fault Line kicks off on March 10 and after that I'll be on the tour for the rest of the month. The schedule's on my website; hope to see you on the road!

Cheers,
Barry

Beth

After staring at a computer screen all day long at work, who wants to go home and stare at another screen in order to read a novel for pleasure? Not I! Plus, I would definitely ruin at least two dozen electronic devices in the hot tub.

Looking forward to the new book, Barry.

Beth

Lee Child

Barry, I love the new book - having read an advance (paper) copy - and I'm sure it will do well in hardcover, and exponentially better in paperback. And it's those paperback buyers you need to think about. Statistically most of them will be infrequent readers who will buy your book almost as a distress purchase ... at the airport, leaving for vacation, aware of a vague cultural imperative or habit, thinking, "Oh well, I better buy a book, I suppose." They'll enjoy it, and next year they'll buy another one (or better still, one of mine.) Or between us we might up their consumption to two books a year. That's where the bulk of our audience is. Infrequent, almost reluctant purchasers ... but as a universe there are so many of them in terms of raw numbers that they form our base. What are the chances that such people would self-identify up front as readers, and pre-equip themselves with hardware? Almost none at all, I think. Don't confuse the LP to CD to iPod transitions. Hardware was always necessary for music consumption. With e-readers, we're asking fundamentally uninterested consumers to pre-navigate a brand-new speedbump that wasn't there before. I'm very dubious. Integrated devices might do the trick - phone, computer, DVD player, e-reader - but most people won't respond to something that's not small, and I think e-readers can't be too small. So I think we are heading for a genuinely split market - e-readers for habitual readers, and mass market paperbacks for occasional readers.

James Swezey

The Kindle and other electronic reading devices will revolutionize how individuals read and keep track of various forms of media. As a writer and author of a recent ebook, I am thrilled and excited for what the future will hold for the authors of the world that embrace this new technology. And for how the Kindle works, how awesome it would it be to get the Wall Street Journal everyday with having to accumulate piles of old newspapers. It is a new way for people to become environmentally mindful of earth's resources, and for writers to have more control of their creative works.

M.J. Rose

What Lee writes about is the single biggest issue (in my opinion) in marketing and selling book. And impulse buyers versus self-identified readers are the reason I think that paper books - especially paperbacks aren't going to disappear for a while... that doesn't take away the possibilites that electronic books offer and I've got a part 2 to my post coming up with some ideas of what we can do with ebooks we've never been able to do before with print books.

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Barry Eisler

This is why I love BBH -- it's not just MJ's great posts, it's the thought-provoking comments, too.

Lee, thanks for the kind words about Fault Line and for the insightful points about airport book buying habits etc. I'd argue in response that we're still talking about when and not whether paper books become the niche and ebooks become the mass market, and that buyers like the ones you describe are part of the inertia I referenced in my post. Why this is all a question of when rather than whether is the subject of part 2 of this piece, so I'll say more there and will look forward to more of your and everyone else's terrific thoughts in response.

Cheers,
Barry

David J. Montgomery

I think Lee makes a provocative point, and I think part of the fallout of this transition, were it to happen, is that a significant percentage of the authors who today are able to make a halfway decent living writing books wound find themselves making no living at all.

Chelo J.

Personally I rather have a real book that I can place on a bookshelf because it look so nice. Second if I have too many book, I can always sell them, trade them or give them away, I bet you can't do that with an e-reader. Once I buy a book I get the feeling it's mine plus I don't have to worry about a virus or someone placing a software program in my real book. Plus it's is easier and faster to scan a real book by flipping thru the pages. And I can always buy the book of my choice from a bookstore, with a e-reader a person is stuck with whatever books that company sells. Plus an e-reader cost about $300 to $400 a pop. Supposed a friend want to borrow my book, I sure am not going to give him or her my e-reader.

Susan Fourtane

Great post, Barry. An updated topic that also connects to Global Warming.
E-books are environmentally friendly. =)

-Susan

Conal Tuohy

It's true there's a dichotomy between e-book people and p-book people. And it's true that casual, occasional, readers will tend to fall into the p-book camp (unless they are geeks, in which case they might buy a Kindle for its Wifi capability). But it's important to realise that this dichotomy is not fixed. There are people who are intermediate between the two camps. What's important is what happens here, at the border.

The trend is clearly towards e-books, and (finally getting to the crux) every person who adopts e-book technology causes the trend to accelerate. Every new e-book person makes e-book technology marginally more profitable, and dead tree publishing marginally less profitable (economies of scale are vital). When e-books are mass market commodities, increased investment by manufacturers will drive the cost of e-book reader devices down, making them more price-competitive with paper books. At present, cheap devices are cheaper than the most expensive paper books, but eventually even cheap paper books will have to compete against cheap mass-market electronics. And as paper publishing becomes less profitable, p-books prices will actually tend to rise, and more people will abandon the sinking ship. You may like the smell of paper, but would you pay twice what you pay now for it? Three times? Where is your personal tipping point?

Ken Wohlrob

For the record, LPs haven't died out (I even bought a few this weekend). In fact the market has swung back, with higher price points for better quality vinyl geared towards collectors. Many albums (with the exception of mass market pop) are now being released in dual digital and vinyl formats. Radio has been considered dead for years -- then Satellite radio started bringing users back. Now podcasts (which really is on-demand radio if the only criteria is that it be an audio broadcast) are eclipsing satellite radio. The point is that everything old is always new. Tastes are always cyclical. The main point Barry is missing is that e-reading is a different experience from novel/paper-based reading. E-reading will focus more on shorter chunked content that suits portables and computers. We read every day on our computers and portables (you're reading a blog right now), but you read in smaller chunked formats. This means the form of what we e-read will change -- much in the same way that iTunes moved people away from buying albums and bringing back the practice of buying singles (which is how music was originally distributed). If I had my say, it would mean short stories (or even serialized novels) come back as a viable form. They better suit the e-reading experience. And novels still retain their beautiful printed form for long hours of intensive reading for purists or those who don't want to read off a screen for long hours. Simply put one format will not eclipse the other, they will simply co-exist with dedicated purists of the printed word, a new generation of raised e-readers, and dual format readers who prefer the benefits of each.

BeckyH

one thing that seems to get forgotten in this argument is the public library. How will people who can't afford a reader and downloads get books? Much of the world lives on less than 5 bucks a day. Should they not be able to read a new book because they don't have an ebook reader? What happens when a format is no longer supported? Or a company goes out of business? What about books with lots of diagrams?
I love POD technology, and an ebook reader has lots going for it. But there are physical pleasures that make reading an actual book more fun. I can make a puree that contains everything I need to ingest to stay healthy, and I would still rather cook and eat a meal of different flavors and textures.
A pocket-sized handheld device is going to be a basic item owned by lots of people. As long as the infrastructure is in good shape that will work out fine. But remember how hard communications in NYC were hit when the WTC and its servers went down.
And the argument that ebooks are more friendly to the environment? How toxic is the manufacturing process? How much of it uses petroleum by-products or rare metals like palladium? What about all of the batteries and plastic casings? Any idea how big the pile of dead cellphones is?
Just a few thoughts.

Kevin Callahan

I'm sorry, I tried to read with a Kindle and the electronic backlighting put me to sleep. I've still got it but I will continue to purchase books through abebooks.com because there is nothing quite like reading an actual book.

Robert Bidinotto

Last year I wrote a blog piece on the revolution represented by the Kindle, and I bought one for my wife for Christmas. She loves it. There is no question that ebooks and ebook readers are the wave of the future.

My own view of the market is somewhere between Lee's and Barry's.

Lee is right about the number and importance of casual readers: Most of them just want to find something interesting to read, and do so occasionally. They are unlikely to make a financial commitment to an ebook reader. For them, paperbacks will remain attractive, if costs can be kept relatively modest.

However, serious readers are a different matter. For them, being able to download and store a large number of books (even a library), then carry around and read them all from a single lightweight, compact ebook reader, is tremendously attractive and useful. Barry is absolutely right about that. I bought my wife a Kindle, and she loves it. It's definitely made a serious dent on her purchase of dead-tree books.

My prognosis? While I agree with Lee and think paperbacks will survive in some form and degree, I agree with Barry and think the hardcover market will suffer badly in coming years -- because the market for hardcovers are serious, constant readers, and serious readers are the most likely to migrate to ebooks.

This will change the literary marketplace in many ways, and Barry is right: Editors, publishers, agents, and authors had better be prepared for staggering transitions in the book industry, and in the very near future.

Lynne Connolly

I've been published in ebook format for 6 years now and seen the Wild West days fade and the reader wars go. I read on my Ipaq and my ebookwise, I'm holding off from a reader because I want a touchscreen and I want colour. I bought a netbook instead.
But I still say that I write books. I don't write ebooks, I don't write paper books, I just write books.
Don't know why we ever moved from the scroll anyway. I miss the feel of the roll under my hand.

Danny Bloom

MJ
can i do a guest post one day before 2025 AD on reading versus screening, just to see what people think? Why do you refuse to answer my emails? I thought we were friends.

Danny Bloom

AN INTERVIEW WITH DR ANNE MANGEN IN NORWAY ON READING ON PAPER AND READING ON SCREENS

AN INTERVIEW WITH DR ANNE MANGEN IN NORWAY ON READING ON PAPER AND
READING ON SCREENS

conducted by Danny Bloom in Taiwan (August 15, 2009)

Anne Mangen is a reading specialst at the National Centre for Reading Research and Education at Stavanger University in Norway, and a paper she published in late 2008 in the UK on the differences betweem reading on paper and reading on screens has catapulted her to the forefront of the debate on this very controverisal topic.

In a recent email interview, I asked Dr Mangen to go over some of the
issues involved here. As some readers might know, I have been
advocating that society adopt a new word for reading on screens, since
I feel screen reading is so different from reading on paper, and I
feel that with a new word we can study the differences better -- and
point out the differences better, too -- and I have gently, quietly
suggested the word "screening" to mean "reading text on a screen". Of
course, not everyone agrees with me; and even Dr Mangen does not agree
with me, even though it was her 2008 academic paper that got me
started on this quixotic quest. But that's okay. I respect Dr Mangen
highly, and I still consider her my mentor on all this.

When I asked her that since reading on paper is very different from
reading on screens, does she think that at some point we might need a
new word in English for "reading on screens", she replied: "Not
really, because I doubt that one single word is able to denote the
complexity of the process in any accurate and useful way."

Dr Mangen went on: "The term “reading” is already a general term
covering a range of very different processes on different cognitive
and perceptual levels, undertaken in a range of different situations,
with a vast number of different textual material. As well as
non-textual material, when one talks about “reading faces”, or
“reading the next move in a game of chess. When talking about
reading, there always follows a requirement to supply more precise and
narrower concepts to clarify what aspects of the reading process and
experience we are currently talking about, and this requirement is no
different whether we read on paper or on screen (or on any other
device). "

She added: "I think the main dichotomy might remain that between
“screen reading” and “print reading”, and then one will have to employ
add-on and ad hoc clarifications and specifications of these general
concepts, such as for instance scrolling and hypertextual reading as
instances of screen reading, and turning the page when print reading."


"Moreover, terms like scan, skim, browse, and close-read apply equally
as well to screen reading as to print reading. What is interesting is
what terms and processes such as these actually entail in the two
different reading conditions (i.e., reading on screen and print). And
this is what has to be specified additionally, I think, instead of
replacing the generic term “reading” with “screening”as you suggest,
Danny, -- which will be too un-nuanced and indistinct and hence, not
very useful -- at least not scientifically," she said.

"In general, I should add that I am critical to unnecessary
neologizing, as I think that too much research (particularly in the
arts and humanities) is about creating new words and concepts where
they are not needed, hence taking the focus away from discussing
substance and content of theoretical arguments and developments to
rather focusing on rhetoric and language," she added.

When I mentioned to Dr Mangen that my concept behind using the word
screening to try to capture the fact that the experience of reading on
a screen is fundamentally different from reading on paper -- and not a
priori worse or better; just different, she agreed, saying: "Yes, the
experience of reading on a screen is different from reading on paper;
although in what ways and to what extent must be specified in each
instance, situation and purpose of reading."

But she added: "However, whether reading on a screen is better or
worse than reading on paper depends on a range of variables -- the
reader’s prior experience with both formats, the purpose and situation
of the reading act, the type and genre of text, the disposition of the
reader, and other variables."


When I told her that I wanted to introduce the word screening as a new
word for reading on screens in order to draw attention to the vast
literary shift that is washing over us right now, as we speak, and if
she agreed that we are now witnessing a vast literary shift, Dr Mangen
replied: " Yes, I would say that the current shift from paper to
screen represents a vast literary shift, the implications of which --
short-term and, in particular, long-term -- we are not yet aware of."

I asked Dr Mangen if she feels, as I do, that reading on screens might
hamper or hinder the critical analysis skills of what pepople are
readingsne replied:
"This question is a too general – but very important also–and it
cannot be dealt with in such a general, either/or manner, as you
phrase it. The precise reading situation, context, purpose, kind of
text, reader dispositions, device characteristics, and other
vairables, would have to be specified in order to yield any
constructive and interesting answers to your question. So your
question is too general, but it's an important one."

I asked Dr Mange a specific question, asking her: "If in the future
most reading is done on screens, from computers to iPhones to Kindles
to even textbooks on screens, could this hurt the critical thinking
skills of young people to think, analyze and assess information?"

Dr Mangen replied: "It’s tempting to answer with the cliché, and say
that only time will tell, but I do think it is appropriate and
important to raise these critical questions, over and over -- even at
the risk of being marginalized as a Luddite, Danny. Maryanne Wolfe at
Tufts University in Boston raises this issue, too, from a
cognitive/neuroscientific point of view, in her excellent book "Proust
and the Squid", which I highly recommend to you."

Finally, I asked Dr Mange if she was willing or ready to say goodbye
to Mr. Paper and greet the Screen Age with a completely open-minded
welcome, she said: "No, at least not when it comes to the educational
aspects of reading."

So it goes. I was in Taiwan tapping on my computer keyboard in a
computer lab at a local university, since I don't even own a computer
and never have, and she was on the other side of the world in Norway,
on summer vacation, and I felt it was a good interview, a very good
interview indeed. I learned a lot.

Danny Bloom

censorship? MJ?

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Hi great blog I'm hoping, still, that the specialty market of print books will remain somewhat more viable than you suggest, however, and we won't know for sure until the time to come. In the meantime, I agree that there's no sense in being gloomy about it, or whistling past the graveyard in denial, but I'm never going to have the heart to dance on the grave of print books, either. I'm Luddite enough to say that.

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