People will continue to read printed books for a long time, just as some people still watch movies on VHS. But the printed book will be “dead” in a few short years in the sense that the bulk of the adoption curve, the pragmatic majority, will have moved on.
–Arvind Narayanan, “The death of the printed book is closer than you think“
Narayanan’s post is the latest addition to the tiresome “print is dead” meme, and like the vast majority of digital evangelists, he presents a false dilemma, posits a zero-sum scenario, and evokes the tired and largely irrelevant example of Radiohead to make his point. By his “logic”, it could be argued that POD and podcasting should have already killed the publishing industry, and eBooks are simply dancing on its grave.
Ryan Chapman offered a much more pragmatic and realistic take on where the current eBook format fits in the big picture in his post for Digital Book World — A Brand, A Plan, A Channel: eBooks and Mass Market — noting: “After the digital transition, we’ll find that certain books fit an eBook audience, while others are meant for print.”
It really is THAT simple, and all else is linkbait blather and much punditry about nothing.
My two cents? Books are not LPs or CDs, and eReaders are not (and will never be) iPods. No one is ripping and sharing copies of Chapter 16 of The Lost Symbol, and the appeal of carrying more than 3 books around at once is limited to a niche audience of gadget freaks and heavy travelers.
If anything, eBooks are a great opportunity to expand the market, especially for novellas, short stories and anthologies of all kinds, as well as custom publishing of textbooks and how-to content, both of which several publishers are already experimenting with successfully, including Pearson and F+W Media (my employer). Plus, the same way TV evolved past televising radio broadcasts into its own unique format, there’s huge potential for digital books and mobile apps that incorporate audio, video, kinetic typography, geolocation, databases, etc. — formats that can no longer appropriately be referred to as “books”.
On a personal (and somewhat rambling) note, I bought my wife a Kindle last year for her birthday (thanks to Oprah’s $50 discount code!), and while she loves it, she’s frustrated by the lack of books she’s interested in reading. She’s an avid reader, but not a big popular fiction reader, and even when she’s found a good book (e.g. The Omnivore’s Dilemma) she’s been frustrated by the inefficiency of backtracking, bookmarking, and, of course, sharing.
For her birthday this year, I realized there was no gift-giving equivalent for eBooks that matched the personal touch of a physical book, so I bought her a print copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, as well as the Young Reader’s Edition, which is also available on the Kindle but would make reading it together with our nine-year-old son difficult, and sharing it with her students impossible. She loved both, and having finished reading The Lost Symbol on her Kindle, is now reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma with our son, and is halfway through My Appalachia: A Memoir, one of millions of books NOT available on the Kindle.
Over the past year, I’ve actually downloaded two books to her Kindle, and one sample:
1) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: Downloaded the sample last December, read it, enjoyed it, but didn’t buy the full version. Finally bought the paperback this weekend and added it to my (always visible) to-be-read pile.
2) I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah’s Witness Upbringing by Kyria Abrahams: Bought/downloaded it in March when it was released, read a couple of chapters, never finished. Plan to buy the paperback next March when it’s released.
3) Free by Chris Anderson: Downloaded it for free during its promotional blitz this summer, read the first chapter, haven’t looked at it since and have no plans to buy the print version.
Like the majority of readers, I’m neither a Luddite nor an early adopter; I love books and will likely always prefer the printed “artifact” over the “digital manifestation”, but with the right user experience– from discovery, to purchase, to formatting and shareability — I can see myself fully embracing eBooks for certain types of content.
The fact of the matter, though, hype aside, is that eBooks and eReaders simply aren’t ready for primetime.