[LMB] why we still need paper books

Ed Burkhead ed at edburkhead.com
Tue Sep 20 13:52:24 BST 2011

This discussion is very valuable.  It brings up thoughts I've not had while advocating e-books over the last few years.

Here are some thoughts:

The market _will_ provide what people want.  Costs will vary and adjust to technologies available, market demand and product availability.

E-books area a great way to read and I do think they'll take over the majority of the market within the next decade.  E-book reader prices have dropped precipitously over the last few years, as have computers.  (Young people would laugh at what I sold for $1,800 28 years ago.)  I'd expect basic e-book *reader* prices to drop to near hardbound book prices well within five years.

It's the money of those who buy *new* books that drive the publishing market.  Those who buy used or get most of their books from the library have nearly zero influence on the publishing business as far as I know (corrections welcome).

A few years ago, an acquaintance who owns a used bookstore was approached by a company offering a print-on-demand machine.  They said he could offer an enormous number of *different* books. He declined as that's not his business.  He expects, though, that eventually, many (most?) books would be bought from vending machines at gas stations or outside grocery stores (Redbox, anyone?).  These paper books may continue to fuel the used/poor-people's low-cost needs.  [And, won't those vending machine boxes also have a connector for e-book download at an even lower price?]

Libraries have or will have e-book loan programs, in the library and online.  Mine does.  I'd expect that within five years, ten maximum, anyone within reach of a cell phone tower or a Lightspeed Internet node will be able to download library books to their e-book reader.  (How many paper books will libraries continue to have?)  

(I strongly support libraries because there ARE people who can't afford books and/or need affordable introductions to new authors.  However, I don't patronize our library significantly because I/we can currently afford to buy books.  By buying books, I support the authors whose work pleases me making more good stuff available.  I budget books ahead of food [and looking down at my waistline, you would agree that's appropriate for me.]  If a new depression and/or personal poverty ever really bites, I'd like libraries to be available for me, too.)

Many high schools and some lower level schools are moving toward requiring or providing laptop or tablet computers to ALL students.  Barring economic collapse and depression, this trend will continue as school-effective computers become cheaper and cheaper.  Will affluent nations someday consider a tablet computer as a minimum civil right and pass them out?  (An equivalent has been done as early as 1982 in France: Google "minitel" - Shades of Beta Colony!)  

Thus, almost everyone will have access to e-books.  On the other hand, DRM stands in the way.

Yes, paper infant/toddler books have tactile learning merit.  What's important, though, is positive interaction between the parents/adults and the small child.  We read books to our daughter with enthusiasm, joy and interaction starting well before six months and kept the infection/addiction going - the resulting school grades have certainly been aided by this, I think.

In summary, I'd expect that the desires of those with money will drive the market as it always has.  Yet, I'd expect fall-through to poor people to stay as good as it is, now, or improve with the changeover to e-books.

Your thoughts?


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