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Old 11-18-2008, 05:47 AM   #1
andyafro
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Are Papers Days Numbered?

SOURCE - BBC NEWS ONLINE - Bill Thompson

Is the writing on the wall for paper?

Sony Reader, PA
The Sony Reader got its UK launch in early September

The future of paper is starting to look a little less certain, says Bill Thompson

The UK launch of the Sony Reader has sparked another round of frenzied speculation over the future of the printed book in a world of screens, networks and digital data.

Like the iLiad or the US-only Kindle, the Reader is a paperback-sized electronic book with a high-resolution display that uses "electronic ink" and looks and acts more like paper than a screen.

They have been available for a while in other nations, and I almost succumbed to the temptation to buy one on my last visit to the US.

The quality and ease of use of the new generation of readers means that they appeal to the general population rather than those who like to live at the leading edge of technological innovation, but although sales have been good they are far from spectacular.

Flood gates

Part of the problem, of course, is that they remain "ebook readers". They are not, in themselves, electronic books but devices that can be used to store and display text. A book remains a physical object, ink on paper with a cover and a presence in the world, while an ebook is just another bag of bits.

But we could find that the particular qualities which we value in the printed book, especially the way it encourages immersive engagement, are just as possible with screen-based media too.

Sometimes, of course, bags of bits are just what you need.

I don't have an ebook reader - yet - but I do have an iPod Touch with a screen that may be small but has excellent resolution and works just as well for text as it does for video or photos.

And thanks to the FileMagnet application I can copy documents from my desktop computer to read on the move, even when I don't have an internet connection.

This came into its own over the weekend, when I spent far too long on overcrowded trains as what should have been an easy journey to and from Newcastle was turned into an ordeal by the heavy rain and consequent flooding in the North East.

With no space to get out my laptop or a newspaper, and insufficient elbow room even to manage to turn the pages of a book, I spent most of the return journey reading from the Touch, which was small enough to hold in front of me and didn't require any complicated page-turning, a triumph of the electronic over the physical.

Paper power

But I used the time to read an excellent and stimulating essay on the future of print that left me more convinced than ever that the books and perhaps even newspapers still have a lot to offer us, at least for a while.

Hamlet's Blackberry: Why Paper is Eternal was written in 2006 by William Powers, a media journalist, when he was a Sorenstein Fellow at Harvard University and had space to think about the future of his industry.

The essay is a hymn in praise of paper. Paper is tangible, he says, so we have a sense of where we are in a book or essay; documents can be shuffled, pages marked and annotated, and books piled up according to their significance; and paper documents do not change when we are not looking.

What we often see as the limitations of a printed document are not limitations but capabilities. They allow printed documents to occupy a special psychological space, so that we can become immersed in books in a way we are rarely immersed in text on screens, experiencing what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls "flow", the sense of absorption where the world simply slips away.

He ends by arguing that the special properties of paper mean that it will always be with us, that ebooks will only work when they are themselves indistinguishable from paper ones.

Powers may be right, but of course the current generation of ebooks are limited in so many ways that it is unfair to expect them to challenge print in any significant way.

Screen tests

Apart from the irritating way the screen flashes black when you change page, there are many different ebook formats out there, some locked using one of the proprietary DRM schemes, and so not every reader can be used to read every book, rather as if you got a new paperback home and were told that your particular type of lightbulb could not be used to illuminate its pages.

Only Amazon has realised that having to tether your ebook reader to your computer with a cable or plug in memory cards creates a serious obstacle for many users. The Kindle comes with "Whispernet", a data connection over the mobile phone network, so that you can buy a book from Amazon.com and have it seamlessly delivered to your reader.

I am less sure about the longevity of paper than Powers. I have been using computers daily for over 25 years now, and I now read far more words on screen than I do in print, but I know that all of my reading practice was shaped by paper and that the screen will always remain less efficient and effective for me. I am convinced by Powers' argument, at least for my generation.

But we could find that the particular qualities which we value in the printed book, especially the way it encourages immersive engagement, are just as possible with screen-based media too.

We are used to the passive immersion in the narrative encouraged by films and TV, but what of the active engagement we see in gaming? My 15 year old son may well find that the navigational and problem-solving skills he has picked up from hours playing Halo 3 enable him to work with on-screen texts just as efficiently as I work with printed ones.

So despite what Powers says we may, after all, be living out the last decades of the printed text a decline that will be hastened by the latest generation of screen-based "books".

Last edited by andyafro; 11-18-2008 at 05:55 AM.
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Old 11-18-2008, 12:37 PM   #2
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Its easy, I think, to say that the days of paper books are numbered, but I think in practice, paper books, like CDs in music, will be with us for some time.

Paper books have more qualities than simply the stories, ideas and arguments that they contain. For many book lovers, they are also a way to project to the outside world, who we are. You can often tell a lot about a book lover by looking at their book shelves; what ideas inspire them, what authors excite them, or who are regarded as old friends (The latter being indicated by books that have obviously been read over and over again). Likewise, the book you are carrying invites conversation from others who might be interested in similar books.

That being said, I personally believe that certain formats of paper book could indeed be threatened by the e-book. The hardback I think is safe; it is often used as much for decoration as for reading material; there is also a weight to it that no ebook reader is likely to emulate. In contrast, the mass market paperback is, I believe, ultimately are doomed. Many of these books never survived more than a few readings and often were filled with the guilty (or not so guilty depending pleasures of their readers. Romance, Science Fiction, Mystery, other genres that depend on paperback for the bulk of their sales will likely lead the way.

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Old 11-18-2008, 01:10 PM   #3
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I never would have guessed how quickly digital photography came on and how quickly film died. I also would have bet (And in a way did, as far as my certifications and credentials) good money that wireless networking would not catch on in the business sector. So I'm done with trying to predict how the public will go on things...

I like books and I like ebooks. I hope they are both here for along time to come.

-MJ
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Old 11-18-2008, 02:02 PM   #4
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My question is.

If paper's days are numbered. What are the numbers printed on?

BOb
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Old 11-18-2008, 02:05 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by pilotbob View Post
My question is.

If paper's days are numbered. What are the numbers printed on?

BOb
Vellum.

-MJ
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Old 11-18-2008, 02:08 PM   #6
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Vellum.

-MJ
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Old 11-18-2008, 03:42 PM   #7
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I think paper's days are numered. But I think the number is very big.
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Old 11-18-2008, 05:01 PM   #8
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In the matter of books on a shelf, you can allways have an electronic shelf or why not SD-cards with nice covers. If booksellers are quicker to adapt than the music industry they might sell e-books on SD-cards in stores. It is allways nice to go to a store and get some help to find what you are looking for. Sure, for me the internet is all the help I need but other people might not be as good researchers as I am.

But I agree with a lot of points that the paper has over teh ebook. Like shelf space and the touch.

The real question is what will happen when we can use our ereaders to other stuff than just text, like movies. 10 inch ultra thin movie player would really appeal to a quite large market. Then you suddenly have alot of ereaders out to people who wouldnt buy it just for reading. Would they buy the few books that they read every year to thier favorite device or in paper?

Just some thoughts
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Old 11-18-2008, 05:15 PM   #9
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There are some books that I just wouldn't want as an ebook for practical reasons, and I suspect I'm not alone. Any book that will be used in an environment where it is likely to get damaged isn't, in my opinion anyway, a good candidate for an ebook. For me that would include at least some cookery books (some I use solely as inspiration and never actually refer to during cooking) and metalworking books.

On top of that, I have a lot of photography and realted books that wouldn't work on a small black and white screen (seeing the effect of a polariser filter on a blue sky works better in colour, as does a book of the photos of Joe Cornish). So I suspect paper books will be around for quite a while.
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Old 11-18-2008, 08:42 PM   #10
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I love my ebook for straight reading but when I want to jump back/forth to reference another section, I find it inconvenience. While I understand the textbook market is being pursued, my preference is paper for textbooks and technical manuals.

But then again, I belong to a diminishing breed that still likes reading the newspaper in the morning (as opposed to getting news on a computer or via the Kindle..although I do use both for mid-day updates).
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Old 11-18-2008, 09:58 PM   #11
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I do not think that paper books' days are numbered. Far from it. There are so many books out on paper which are not out in eBook format. This is true for out-of-print books, in-print books, and even recently published books. Unless publishers commit to a complete catalogue of eBooks, paper books will be with us for a long time yet. Right now, I do not see that kind of commitment from publishers.

Last edited by Seabound; 11-19-2008 at 03:21 AM.
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Old 11-19-2008, 01:26 AM   #12
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I'll say that Paper's day as the Exclusive or primary Format are numbered.

Paper is going to be with us for along time, and even once reading devices are cheap enough that the occasional reader ( The vast majority of readers) can and will buy one, its still going to have niche appeal (LP's anyone?), not to mention the large existing stock.

What I think is going to happen is that Publishers are going to start treating eBooks the sam way they treat different editions of Paper books, such as Hardbacks, Paperbacks, etc and they will become part of the standard release, slowly taking over from paperbacks in the long run .

They may also realise and start appreciating the Long tale of being able to keep a mid line authors older book's in print, and available to buy as opposed to the current system where finding older books by non best-selling authors can be an exercise in futility (despite Amazon, etc., its still not that easy).
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Old 11-19-2008, 01:55 AM   #13
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there are still more books i want to read that aren't available in ebook formats than that are. lots of them are from the 30's through the 70's, and no one is rushing to get them ready for the digital age, and i suspect that will be the case for a looong time.

also i still love having my favorites as physical books, and i know i'm far from alone there.
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Old 11-19-2008, 04:46 AM   #14
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Old 11-19-2008, 07:17 AM   #15
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Paper Books are not dead

I read almost a book a day in the ebook format - be it on the iphone, or my ebookwise, or just on my laptop.

But its that special something which is missing. Maybe its just the fact that I can see my bookshelf overloaded with the books I love. Maybe its just the fact that as a teenager, I had to watch what I bought and carefully read through opinions on the net before I bought a book. Maybe its just that a brand new book (or a well kept old one at that) has a smell I miss in an ebook.

I still end up going to my local bookstore and buying books which I love, even if I own their ebook versions.
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