Is the Kindle the Future of Literature or the Death of Publishing?

by Ali on November 8, 2012

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I’m delighted to have a guest post today from Megan Hopkins, one of Author Attic’s writers, today. Megan takes a look at the Kindle (and e-readers in general), discussing one of the most debated questions of today’s literary aficionados: whether ebooks spell the end of paper books and traditional publishing.

 Image from Flickr by kodomut

Who doesn’t love the smell of a new book?

Well, Kindle owners aren’t all that keen on it. They prefer the convenience of digital reading. For the Kindle enthusiast, bookshelves are unnecessary, reading in the bath might be a shockingly bad idea and their books occasionally run out of battery mid-chapter. On the bright side, they can take thousands of books on holiday without overweight baggage restrictions kicking in.

Sometimes you read a book so special that you want to carry it around with you for months after you’ve finished just to stay near it.

- The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

The Growth of E-Readers

The original Amazon Kindle was released in November 2007 at $399 and sold out in six hours. Today, consumers can pay as little as $69, and Kindles are hardly the only e-readers available. Affordable e-readers range from the Nook to the iPad to Samsung’s Papyrus. Smartphone and tablet users can also download a free Kindle app.

It seems inevitable that a slim pocket-book sized library will easily trump heavyweight paper books. A Kindle’s storage capabilities are perfectly in sync with our modern minimalist lifestyle. E-readers come with all sorts of benefits which books lack: enlargeable print for the short-sighted, a screen designed to reduce eye strain and search features.

Are Paper Books Dying?

Many bookshops are incorporating coffee shops and marketing events in an effort to attract people to the ‘real-life’ paper versions of literature. Despite these changes, an IHS iSuppli report predicted that the sale of paper books will decline at 5% a year. For hundreds of years, the publishing industry has focused its effort upon paper and ink literature, and unless it evolves with the times, it will certainly become obsolete.

Publishers are not unnecessary, however, and production is not cost-free. All ebooks are typeset and formatted, their front covers designed and they are distributed and advertised. Interestingly, a third of bestselling eBooks are more expensive than the same book on paper. On Amazon, Rowling’s recent adult novel, the Casual Vacancy, costs £11.99. The hardback is £9. Last month, evidence was found of several publishing houses conspiring with Apple to increase ebook prices contrary to EU competition rules.

This seems rather unfair given that the production of eBooks is inexpensive compared to paper books. Ebooks are more environmentally friendly than their ‘dead-tree’ counterparts, requiring no paper, ink or petrol to transport them to their destination.

[Ali’s note: in many cases, self-publishing are undercutting big publishers’ prices – one of the reasons for the success of the indie author movement!]

Are Publishers No Longer Necessary?

Literature has never been dependent upon publishers, and will continue to endure and hold its own. Something in the human psyche demands stories. Literature evolved from the spoken word tradition, with primitive tribes often sharing lore around the fire. When hand-made illuminated scripts took over from storytelling, authors lost personal contact with the audience, and readers lost an entire dimension of fiction as a collective experience. The Gutenberg press, in turn, ousted the beautiful artistic books of that age.

The digital age is just another step for literature. But once again, humanity loses the sensory element of reading as we graduate to another level of technology. You can’t ruffle a thumb along the page corners of an eBook. You can’t smell fresh ink or hear the flick of paper leaves. You can’t use it to prop up a wobbly table or smash a blue-bottle.

However, it seems unlikely that even the most steadfast traditionalist will grow nostalgic about paper cuts.

 

Megan Hopkins is 23, studied law, works at an icecream shop and writes for Author Attic. She is fueled by Diet Coke and vitamin C.

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Over to you … what’s your take on this? Are Kindles (and ebooks in general) the future, or just a passing fad? Will paper books ever die out? What about the publishing industry? Megan and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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Dawn King November 8, 2012 at 4:04 pm

I believe paper books will just be collector’s items or decorations. I love my Kindle and only buy Kindle books. And I do read in the tub. A Ziploc bag works great to protect it. The physical buttons on the Kindle still work through the bag. :-)

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Ali November 8, 2012 at 9:16 pm

Great tip, Dawn! I’m going to have to try that one. :-)

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Pwassonne November 8, 2012 at 4:11 pm

I like the smell and the feel of a paper book, and I thought I could never appreciate e-books. I now have a Kindle (the basic one) and I use it a lot, mainly because it’s lighter than some paper books and I don’t have room for more paper books anyway (and some e-books are cheaper than their paper counterparts too). But I still like paper books. They take up space, but I’m definitely not getting rid of mine yet. =)

Also, the phrase “our modern minimalist lifestyle” surprised me. I guess it’s because your definition of minimalism may be different from mine. For me, “minimalism” is about owning less stuff than most people do, and getting rid of things you don’t need and/or that aren’t meaningful to you. The way you say it, it sounds like this is the mainstream, accepted lifestyle today, which I don’t think it is (sadly).
So I’m curious, what did you mean here ? ^^”

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Ali November 8, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Like you, Pwassonne, I’m a big fan of both Kindle books and paper books. I love my Kindle for travelling and reading cheap novels, but I still tend to buy non-fiction in paperback or hardback (I can’t flip back and forth so easily on a Kindle) — and sometimes Amazon’s pricing means that mainstream novels are actually cheaper in print than ebook form.

I’ll see if Megan can swing by and elaborate a bit on her phrasing there. I have to confess that I’m not particularly minimalist — but it does seem to be growing as a movement.

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Megan Hopkins November 9, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Hi Pwassonne, thanks for reading my article!

I suppose what I meant was that it seems to have become increasingly fashionable, in everything from home decor to appliances to food presentation, to strip away unnecessary elements. Bookshelves can be beautiful, but they can also create a cluttered space. Today’s styles seem to favour a clean and streamlined look, for example, preferring touch screens to numerous buttons. Simplicity is the new luxury.

Of course, this isn’t necessarily to everyone’s liking, but minimalist fashion seems to be something of a movement – possibly pioneered by Apple? I hope you’re a little clearer on what I mean now!

Megan

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Pwassonne November 10, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Oh, so it’s more about the appearance of minimalism rather than about actually owning less stuff ? I think I understand it now. Thank you a lot for the clarification ! And sorry for my poor English xD

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Cynthia H November 8, 2012 at 4:16 pm

My new Kindle allows me to read when I’m relegated to the bed or sofa with my illness…no heavy books; no getting up to find something to read. It also allows me to take my books with me without having the weight to worry about. My local library (a small, agricultural community) is very far from being up to date and inter-library loans take forever, so I can’t rely on it for reading material.
When my financial circumstances are difficult, I can find free or low cost books on Amazon. And since I’m living in a much smaller place than before, I don’t have to worry about where to keep the books either.
But I still, and always will, love my printed books! I love the feel of them; I love seeing them standing at attention on the two bookcases that I still have (down from five with my altered circumstances). I love the cover artwork and turning the pages. In some books, I enjoy being able to add comments in the margins. Stacks of books are a comfort thing and without them homes seem sterile to me. And I love sharing paper books with my grandson!
No, I don’t think that paper books will die out.

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Ali November 8, 2012 at 9:33 pm

This makes me realise how lucky I am with local libraries, Cynthia — I live in Oxford in the UK — plenty of libraries, bookshops and books around.

I agree that every home needs bookshelves and stacks of books. (Though in our house, we could do with a couple more bookcases and not quite so many stacks…!)

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Shaquanda Dalton November 8, 2012 at 4:31 pm

I think ebooks are going to keep growing and become a big deal to college students who don’t want to haul around big text books.

However I don’t think print books are going to go away. I mean what if the Internet crashes and all our brought ebooks are gone? You can always have a print copy in your hands and old school people may never be talked out of it.

Love this topic in general and I guess we’ll just see what happens in the future.
Shaquanda Dalton’s last blog post ..Give Your Characters Chemistry

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Ali November 8, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Thanks Shaquanda! And the security of digital is something that’s definitely a concern — for instance, Amazon technically “loan” you ebooks rather than you owning them outright, and Digital Rights Management is on some ebooks, meaning you can’t read them on other devices. A print book, of course, is going to be a lot harder for a big e-store to ever snatch away…!

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Joel D Canfield November 8, 2012 at 5:14 pm

It’s not a zero-sum game. Digital will continue to get bigger, broader, better. But print books have been around for 500 years. They’re not going away. Writing stuff down is as old as humanity.

I’d love to see a movement toward more of what Gutenberg replaced. It would be properly counter-intuitive if hand-made books rose again while digital was gaining ground.
Joel D Canfield’s last blog post ..A Date is Just a Date, As Time Goes By

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Ali November 8, 2012 at 9:37 pm

That would definitely be interesting, Joel — and perhaps paper books will become more of a luxury item (which could well mean that we’ll see hand-made / written / illustrated books making a return!)

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Joel D Canfield November 9, 2012 at 12:09 am

Experiments along that line are in my someday box.
Joel D Canfield’s last blog post ..A Date is Just a Date, As Time Goes By

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Joanna Penn November 8, 2012 at 7:09 pm

I’m totally a Kindle junkie :)
I just got my new Paperwhite and it is awesome. I read 99% on my Kindle device or iPhone (brilliant for the train or in queues) and I buy 5+ books per week, devouring them :) (we have no TV so books are my entertainment)
Also, when I left Australia to move back to the UK, it was either spend $thousands on shipping my 3000 paper books or switch to digital. We switched entirely to digital and moved to a 1 bedroom flat in central London, so there are practical reasons for digital too.
As an author, it means I can publish and make an income from my books, so digital is definitely the right now, as well as the future. It’s truly a renaissance in reading too, as kids love reading on devices.
Joanna Penn’s last blog post ..Thriller Author Interviews: Boyd Morrison, Author Of The Roswell Conspiracy

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Ali November 8, 2012 at 9:41 pm

I still find I’m buying around a third to a half of my books in paperback, usually either because it’s cheaper or only a few pence more on Amazon, or because it’s non-fiction, which I still find easier to engage with in print than ebook form.

For us authors, though, I absolutely agree that ebooks are the future. And great point about kids — when I first got my Kindle, my husband’s young cousins (twin girls, both very keen readers) were absolutely enthralled, and sat reading *Little Women* on it together!

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Priska November 8, 2012 at 9:29 pm

I now have the opportunity to read much more and am loving it.
Whilst I still have paper books at home, when I travel I take my ipad and iphone.
They are light and portable and I can both read or listen to books in waiting rooms, coffee shops, commuting or on my daily walk.
Priska’s last blog post ..Blogging Boomers are Blooming.

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Ali November 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm

I think the convenience factor is a big reason for the success of ebooks — it’s often a lot easier to pull out a phone or Kindle than carry around a big print book!

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Deborah HH November 8, 2012 at 9:45 pm

I resisted the Kindle for a long time, but when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, my husband gave me one anyway (and a handsome monthly “book” budget). Two years later, I still read print books in my easy chair, and at my desk, where I constantly use my reference books. In bed, on the road, and during my assorted treatments for cancer (I have been poisoned, chiseled on, and nuked), the Kindle was a great comfort because I developed neuropathy in my hands (from the cancer drugs), and it was much easier to push a button than to fumble at turning a page. I wear trifocals, but I can read without glasses in bed by greatly enlarging the print size on the Kindle screen.

My Kindle is loaded with classics (all of Jane Austen, for example) and I buy the Amazon daily deal once or twice a week because the books are very inexpensive. I will never give up on print, but I never leave home without my Kindle.

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Ali November 9, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Deborah, so sorry to hear about the tough time you’ve had with treatment … I do hope things are improving. It’s great to hear that books could help you through, at least.

My Kindle has plenty of classics, too — in fact, I’m sure ebooks must mean that more classics are being read nowadays, since so many of them are available for free!

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Rebecca November 8, 2012 at 9:47 pm

I think saying that ebooks are the death of publishing is analogous to saying that computers were the death of paper. Computers certainly changed businesses, expectations, and interactions but they never, and could never, wipe out paper.

Ebooks are a change from the norm. It takes awhile for the large corporations to adapt to a new format. One of the biggest issues is that at the moment there aren’t any legal methods of sharing an ebook, something that is done constantly with paperbacks.

Online music didn’t kill the music industry, it just forced a change – albeit one that the Music Industry is still sticking their heads in the sand over. People still buy cds (heck people still buy records) and people will still buy paperback books.

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Ali November 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm

I think Amazon US allows for some Kindle-to-Kindle lending, but I agree with you that there aren’t really any good options for this yet. One thing I do like about the Kindle is that you can link up to 6 to the same Amazon account — my husband and I have a Kindle each, and this means we can effectively share the books we buy.

Good point about music … I buy almost all mine in CD form, because I like to have them on my shelf (and I like the security of having all the tracks in a physical form) — though I then rip the music onto my computer and phone and listen to it from those! If only we could buy print books and then rip the words out onto a Kindle…

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Rebecca November 9, 2012 at 5:56 pm

I would love an option for a unique download code with buying hardcover editions or even specialty editions. There should be more (re any) cross-platform marketing with ebooks.

I’m on Kobo, so things are a little different at my end. There’s no lending library idea and no linked account options that I know of.
Rebecca’s last blog post ..NaNoWriMo – Week One

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Sean Cunningham November 8, 2012 at 10:03 pm

“Who doesn’t love the smell of a new book?”

It was always the smell of a used bookstore that would drag me off-course and inside. Like a dozen libraries all crammed into one tiny, disorganised shop space.

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Ali November 9, 2012 at 5:51 pm

I hate to confess this, but I actually sniff books sometimes, especially old ones. I suppose there are worse drugs out there…! ;-)

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Michaela November 8, 2012 at 10:16 pm

I’m hooked on my Kindle and one aspect I love is that my husband and I can share books and read them at the same time. We have both our kindles on the same account and so we pay once for the book and can read it at the same time and be able to talk about the twists and turns and enjoy the book together.

The size is great and I now often carry around my kindle in my purse when I wouldn’t have bothered to grab a paperback on the way out. The net result is that I actually am reading more with my kindle than before I owned it.
Michaela’s last blog post ..Moist Flavorful Chicken

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Ali November 9, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Michaela, it’s exactly the same for me and my husband — we have a Kindle each, on the same account.

The portability factor is a huge one — and I also really like having access to lots of different books while on the go, so I can pick something to read that suits my mood at any given time, rather than having to commit to just one or two books.

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Deborah HH November 8, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Forgive me—I need to go down a bunny trail: In Irving Stone’s magnificent biographical novel about John and Abigail Adams (Those Who Love), there is a lovely scene where John and Abigail, recently introduced to each other, engage in a lively and spirited discussion about the various smells of book papers.

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Ali November 9, 2012 at 5:54 pm

I’m glad it’s not just me and Sean..! :-)

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Adrian L. November 9, 2012 at 12:06 am

It’s interesting, as so far a non-e-reader myself, two points.

First, to Cynthia. About the margins. Technically, some devices and books allow an annotating sort of function. BUT – serendipity. Picking up that random old book that intrigued you on the shelf at the coffee shop, only to find someone’s scrawled notes at intervals, inspiration and connection.

And, to Joel. I agree. Nonetheless, perspective on the scale and extent to which paper books may be replaced: http://www.condenaststore.com/-sp/Nice-but-as-long-as-there-are-readers-there-will-be-scrolls-New-Yorker-Cartoon-Prints_i8772819_.htm

Thanks, everyone :-)

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Joel D Canfield November 9, 2012 at 12:11 am

That’s funny, Adrian!

Though, to get all serious and didactic for a mo, the usability differences of scrolls vs. codices, and codices vs. ereader are probably similar in scale, but the ephemera are substantially different.

I mean, who doesn’t love the smell of an old scroll just as much as their first Dr. Seuss, right?
Joel D Canfield’s last blog post ..A Date is Just a Date, As Time Goes By

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Turndog Millionaire November 9, 2012 at 7:02 am

Just another part of the evolution process. Ebooks offer convenience, but many people will still like to hold certain books.

For me, I always buy business book and non-fiction on Ebook, so I can have them on me 24/7

With fiction it is a little different. Some authors and books need to be bought physically so I can hold it and smell it and be closer to it.

Choice, isn’t it great :)

Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

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Ali November 9, 2012 at 6:01 pm

That’s an interesting one, Matthew — I can certainly see the logic of having business books and non-fic constantly to hand (and this was something I initially thought I’d find useful) — but I’m definitely still finding it easier to absorb non-fiction material in paper form. I guess it’s definitely a good thing to have choices! :-)

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Heidi Furnace November 9, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Such a well written and interesting article! Really enjoyed it – especially the quote from The Book Thief! Literary genius!

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Cyd Madsen November 11, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Deckle edges. I love nothing more than rubbing my fingers along deckle edges as a book’s intensity picks up. Reading them becomes an intense tactile experience, and I do love falling into a book with all my senses. The smell seems to intensify at those moments as well. It’s nirvana. But God help the pitiful soul who even thinks of messing with my Kindle, my iPad, my iTouch, or iPhone–all little bits of magic that hold libraries of my choosing. I will always love both–cloth/paper and eReaders. And right now I’m terribly excited by both.

Paintings by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were done by a band of artists in reaction to Impressionism, which was a reaction to something else. Craftsman homes were built in reaction to houses built with cookie-cutter machinery. Whenever technology arrives, no matter how primitive it may seem now, there is an equal and opposite reaction back to what was. Minimalism is sweeping the globe out of necessity. The global economic crisis has left us with no choice but appreciating a different aesthetic and mindset, and that crisis may turn into the new norm for the majority of us and last for generations. In times of scarcity we generally see a return to handcrafts, and I have nearly a dozen cloth books on the artistry of handmade books, and the tools to make them. The artistry shown in these books is astonishing. I think with time we’ll see fewer books made with more craftsmanship, more sensory stimulus, and more beauty.

Is there an increase in reading that has come with eReaders? At Century’s turn only 10% of books bought were finished by those who bought them. With so many books flooding the market at such low prices, do we gather and hoard them, or read them through to the end? Do we have the time to do as much reading as downloads would suggest, with so much reading time spent on blogs (which isn’t a bad thing)?

There are exciting developments yet to come in eReader design and technology (motion graphics, musical scores, interactive stories), and new crafts developing around the book-as-object. As contentious and confusing as these times may be, they hold a great deal of excitement and creative options. Only time will tell if this generation of children raised on video games and YouTube and cartoons on the PlayStations given to them in the crib will completely abandon reading for alternate forms of storytelling. If so, the story remains the same but the storytellers will change.
Cyd Madsen’s last blog post ..Final Words Before NaNoWriMo – Trust Yourself

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Ali November 12, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Some great thoughts here, Cyd! I think you may well be right on the return to books as crafted, handmade items.

I don’t know whether reading is on the increase in general — certainly, I’ve heard a number of people say that they’re reading more now they have a Kindle / Nook / Kobo / etc … but I have to confess that my own Kindle houses just as many “to be read” books as my bookshelves do!

I don’t think reading is set to disappear just yet — though I do suspect you’re right that we’ll see more innovative forms of storytelling becoming popular, and I’m sure reading is going to become a more social experience. (Sites like Goodreads are paving the way there — along with e-reader features like being able to see what parts of a book other readers have highlighted.)

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Cyd Madsen November 13, 2012 at 3:40 am

These are exciting times with a lot of surprises ahead. I’m lovin’ it.
Cyd Madsen’s last blog post ..Final Words Before NaNoWriMo – Trust Yourself

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Arun Kishor November 12, 2012 at 9:36 am

Piracy will plague books also, something they couldn’t get to till date because of the physical existence of what we call book. Piracy is ported to books now. No eye strain, cheap cost – eBook readers will destroy upcoming writers (like myself). The point is, all of these electronic hobnobbing could never compete with the feel of holding a weighty yellowed dog eared spine bend 10 year old book in hand. as someone said “greed is destroying the market, not piracy”
Arun Kishor’s last blog post ..Top Ten Best Goodbye Breakup Songs – The Authorative Love Ballad list

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Ali November 12, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Arun, I agree that piracy is a concern, but I don’t believe at all that ebook readers are destroying upcoming writers. If anything, they’re opening up the publishing world to indie (self-publishing) authors, and allowing writers to have their voices heard. It’s much cheaper to put an ebook out there than a print book, after all — to a global market place as well.

Piracy is certainly easier in a digital world, but it’s always been a problem for writers — print books can be photocopied, scanned, retyped, etc. Personally, as a writer, I think obscurity is more of a danger to me than piracy!

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John November 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm

The vast majority of purchases these days for me are kindle or epub (as I have both types of readers). The only exceptions: books not available in either format. Recently my wife and I went on a vacation. Placed 10 possible reads into the Kindle (which I did read). Was certainly a lot easier than carrying 10 hard copies with me.

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Ali November 21, 2012 at 5:29 pm

I think ereaders really come into their own for travelling … it’s nice not to have to choose between clothes and books!

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stephen thorn November 21, 2012 at 3:09 pm

I don’t own an e-reader and really don’t want one. I’ve read books on a PC screen and find it distracting and less emotionally satisfying than a paper book. Additionally, I often read on the bus during my commute and if my book gets sat-on it’s only bent, whereas an e-reader would undoubtedly break. And if I forget my book on the bus I’m out a few dollars, rather than the cost of the e-reader PLUS any books I paid for stored on it. I tend to think of an actual paper book like an old and trusted friend, but an e-reader is more like a recent acquaintance. I also wonder about the obsolesence factor — will a future e-reader’s software still read my purchased books or will I have to re-purchase them? Photos and text I saved on 5″ floppy disks 20 years ago are now a problem to access but text and pictures printed in books more than 100 years ago are still completely accessible so long as my eyes work; will we see a similar issue with e-readers in a few years?

Will e-readers replace books? Perhaps someday, just like the flash drive has replaced the floppy disk, the CD has replaced the LP, the car has replaced the horse and carriage — but not yet, and not until an upcoming generation has abandoned the convenience, thrift, and durability of paper.

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Ali November 21, 2012 at 5:31 pm

Ereaders are a lot nicer to read on than PC screens, and the Kindle is pretty sturdy (probably still best not to sit on it, though!) I do agree that the obsolescence factor is a worry — particularly with Amazon’s proprietary format.

I’m sure e-readers won’t ever totally replace print books, but there’s definitely a growing ebook/ereader market — it’ll be interesting to see where we are in 20 years time!

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Bill Polm November 21, 2012 at 9:24 pm

To answer the question directly, NO!
Kindle and ePubs, etc., are the engine of publishing that’s building a fire, that’s kindling hope , that’s turning the world into a writers’ club.
It’s all a call to re-kindle (pun intended) reading as a mentally healthy alternative to the “boob tube,” maybe even to overindulgence in the internet. People are reading in train stations, bus stations, airports and regular ports.
Hey, it’s a good thing.
And it’s high time tradition publishing houses got some stimulating competition to their long-held monopoly, to earn perhaps some well-needed humilikty. :)
Bill Polm’s last blog post ..Don’t Miss Mary Jaksch’s Essential Post on Guest Post Pitching

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Ali November 24, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Bill, I absolutely agree with you that e-publishing has huge benefits for us writers — it’s really opened up new options (not to mention a world of great, easy-to-access books for us to devour)! I’m looking forward to seeing where e-publishing takes us in the next 10 or 20 years …

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Archan Mehta January 28, 2013 at 4:45 am

Ali,

Thanks for this post. I really enjoyed reading the stimulating discussion, but I am afraid I am still old-fashioned. I am not much of a technology guy and I am not familiar with kindle or some of the other toys that are out there. I still prefer to read books the old-fashioned way, the paper-based model. Nothing to beat the feel of reading a book relaxed in the palms of your hands. It is a great experience. Cheers.

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rohan golwalkar February 14, 2013 at 8:53 am

1) if ebooks are attractive,handy,portable and a single reader can have thousands of books at one place – i see no harm in using it(currently i read only books though very few but still books)
2) Yes smell of paper,ink is a factor for book reader – but think about it – what is the focus – reading or the smell ? :)
3) paper books will be published but we must embrace tech and save paper – we did move out of using cassettes/Cd’s/dvd’s now we are directly downloading the songs.
4) If the writers get good money out of it – why not – i think its good for writers too isnt’t it?

Point i am trying to make is – ebooks market will grow – paper books will be there – but we must encourage it rather than shooting it down – (you will find people saying ebook does not give me the high or reading – its still Tolstoy’s/Hemignway’s words).

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