I just finished reading a fascinating article by John Siracusa called "The Once and Future E-book: On Reading in the Digital Age." Following this paragraph is a snippet from the article that I thought was particularly thought provoking, but I recommend reading the whole article because Siracusa discusses everything from Digital Rights Management to Apple Computer's failure to jump on the e-book bandwagon because of Steve Job's observation that, "It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U. S. read one book or less last year." That made me think that perhaps even Siracusa doesn't go far enough. Maybe the future is in audio content--or video--or something else entirely. I know. I don't like that idea either. But I'll be dead soon. -mh
"The inevitable e-book
The straightforward application of logic and reasoning to the actions of large groups of people is a futile exercise. All of the previous arguments about screen quality and medium/content separation crumble to dust in the face of these inconvenient truths: broadly speaking, people aren't buying e-books; people don't want e-books; people do not want to read book-length texts off of a screen. Or, to paraphrase a long-forgotten but nevertheless surprisingly applicable movie from the 90s, people love their books.
But the truth is, these things always turn out the same way. And I have some bad news for the bibliophiles. The beloved, less technically sophisticated information conveyance with the pedigreed history doesn't win.
Time and again this happens, and it can happen without changing a single person's mind. To put it bluntly, people die. Indeed, death is arguably the single most important driver for all human progress. Even in a community as reason-based as science, it's often necessary to wait for one generation of scientists to die off before a new theory gains mainstream acceptance. It's a bit much to hold consumers' text-based media preferences to a higher standard.
So, death and the passage of time—hardly romantic. It doesn't have to be that way, of course. Plenty of new technologies gain widespread adoption without the aid of a generational turnover. But so far, books have held their ground. The message here is simply that, on the long graph, the result will be the same.
The next generation, though influenced by the prejudices of their parents, are nevertheless more likely to judge new technologies on their merits, and so on for each new generation. And in the case of e-books, the merits are there, as plain as day. In fact, they're some of the same merits that have driven other successful media transitions.
Convenience: One thousand songs in your pocket? One million books in your pocket. Carry your entire reading list with you at all times. No loose bookmarks. No dog-eared pages. No rips, tears, or smudges. No shelf space required. No trip to the store. Purchase and start reading in seconds. Read anywhere, any time, using only one hand. Stop reading at a moment's notice without fear of losing your place.
Power: Search the text instantly. Look up the definition of any word with a single tap or click. Add and remove highlighting an infinite number of times without degrading the text. Annotate without being constrained by the size of the margins. Create multiple bookmarks and links from one part of the text to another.
Potential: Consume, share, and remix all of the above with anyone, an unlimited number of times."