Friday, September 9, 2011

My take on the future of print

People keep asking me when I am going to get an e-reader. I tell them I will probably break down and get one in the not-too-distant future because while I enjoy downloading books (we are 60 miles from a bookstore), I don't enjoy reading them on my computer monitor quite so much. If I'm reading for pleasure, I'd rather be in my comfy chair in the den.

But when people tell me that e-readers will make paper books obsolete in the near future, I beg to disagree.

According to IDC market research, 12 million e-readers were sold in 2010.That's a lot, right? But there are 312,175,400 people in the United States alone, leaving roughly 300 million people lacking this device. Further, the figures reflect world-wide sales, including China. The world's population is 6,960,965,142. Hmmm.

I bet these people aren't buying Kindles and Nooks and iPods for the same reason I'm not. They are expensive and fragile. I've heard people say textbooks will be downloaded into reading devices in all the schools in another generation. Please. I'd trust a first grader with my precious cloisonne vase before I'd give him a Kindle.

In this economy people are shelling out for mortgage payments and groceries, not electronic gadgets. They aren't giving up reading, though. I see people at the library checking out armloads of books. I see them rifling through the sale tables at discount stores and grocery stores. They visit used books stores and flea markets and estate sales and come away with precious books in their hands. If printed books disappear, what will these avid readers do?

Another argument is that printed books are a waste of natural resources My rebuttal is that trees are a renewable resource just like corn and wheat. Trees take a little longer to harvest, but they are a cash crop just the same. As for the price of paper going up, have you looked at the price of corn and wheat lately? Everything's going up.

We've had stories ever since the cavemen sang, danced and related their exploits in hunting or warfare. When printed books came along, did singing and dancing and storytelling fade away?

Drama has existed since the Greeks and was kept alive during the Middle Ages with the church's morality plays. Theater gave us Shakespeare. The traveling Chatauqua brought drama to the hinterlands of the United States and Broadway has entertained us for over two hundred years. Did live theater curl up and die when motion pictures came along? Did movies slink out of sight with the advent of TV?

I think printed books will be around until e-readers are cheap enough for anyone to buy and not worry about them breaking and having to be replaced. And I think that day will be a long time coming.


  1. I don't know how accurate your last prediction is Sandy- but I love the way you think (with facts to back it all up) into the past and future alike. I feel the same way and I hope we're both right. I do have a Kindle (want the one you have the picture of now) but there's nothing like cuddling under the covers when I'm sick or in winter months with a good paper book.

  2. I dare you to take a bath holding an EReader. Slippery fingers let go easily. You can put a brick on a paperback and it will dry, but you can kiss your expensive "toy" goodbye, including the books you downloaded. With my luck, my Kindle would hold just enough juice to zzzap me out of this world! When young readers were polled on method of reading preferred, ninety percent said "actual book." For one, they can check them out of the library for free. Not too many can afford the electronic readers, let alone pay for the books and the monthly fee (yes there's a monthly fee on ereaders with WiFi capability. VISA automatically gets $11.99/mo for my Kindle). I do believe, however, paperback books will become more prominent than hardcover, simply for publication cost reasons. Thanks Sandy for giving us more food for thought. I confess...I love my Kindle. Get one.

  3. I have both a Kindle and a Nook. I love my ereaders, but I still love paper books, too. For reference books, it's paper only. Period. Photos don't reproduce well in electronic format. And they can say what they want about it being easy to look things up in an ebook, but it doesn't work that well for me. If I'm reading a reference book, I like to be able to flip pages to find what I want. Table of contents and index work just fine for that. Even on a recent trip to Florida, I took only paperbacks and left my Kindle at home. I didn't want to have to keep track of one more thing that would be expensive to lose. A paperback is easily replaceable if I leave it on the plane by mistake. A Kindle—no. I've heard horror stories.