E-reader vs. iPad vs. Print

Here’s where I go into my “rural but connected” mode:

In a New York Times “Opinion Page” from October 14, 2009, Alan Liu and others weighed in on how our brains are adjusting to e-books and reading onscreen. I still can’t concentrate for long periods reading online–there’s too much to distract me. No such problem on the Kindle e-reader, although I miss being able to jot notes in the margins; and getting a physical/visual sense of the “whole” text by flipping through paper pages seems to facilitate the reading process, physically.

Reading the printed page is relaxing compared to reading on screens, even though the Kindle is fairly easy on the eyes. I’ve decided that e-readers are good for some types of content, and nice to take traveling. But they also make me appreciate the print book.


Via a tweet by Ernesto Priego, I’ve found another article that claims the demise of print books. And here’s a little video essay on why digital will never totally replace print—the big angst of the new year among writers and readers. The author, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, has just begun using an e-reader. I’ve been there and done that, so I can tell you the initial fascination wears off—yet the utility and portability of the e-reader remains.

Still, I think that print books will stick around, while acquiring a different or enhanced value. The well-made print book, along with graphic novels, special editions, and gift books, will rise in our estimation (along with their prices).

Another category will emerge for readers: books that we find interesting or entertaining (e.g. “summer reading”) and educational (although e-reader designers will have to figure out how to make graphics more legible)—that aren’t necessarily keepers. As of this date, it is supposed that Apple’s Tablet (now iPad) device will revolutionize content, and give writers new ways to bring in income. But it will still keep content behind a “screen,” a “wall” for some readers, because it still can’t quite interface comfortably with the print-cozy human eye and brain—and more importantly, the sensorium, that living sum of all your senses that decides how comfortable you’ll feel with any form of media.

In an article in Wired, John C. Abell suggests that Steve Jobs is out to save the publishing industry (while killing the print industry?). He also notes that the new device will have to make readers forget the printed page. If it does, when the the old print reading public dies off, the only alternative for print will be to take on the glow of paper “art objects” that acquire a personal, deeper or aesthetic meaning for the reader.

In one scenario I see print books lumped in with artifacts of the industrial age. Steam punk conventions will be replete with bookseller’s stalls, peddling nostalgia. After all, steam punk is a literary movement, too.

Radio Flyer

Time seems to move more quickly nowadays, no? In the meantime, what will happen to bookstores? Small, independent bookstores (like the Literary Guillotine, pictured above) are already comforting spaces of nostalgia to which print-book aficionados retreat in order to get their fix of the feel, smell, and visual candy of the book. Will big box bookstores then fold, taking with them the big malls? Will anyone care? Perhaps they will go through an awkward period, downsizing, trying to make their environments more homey, more “local,” before falling apart altogether (personally, I’ll be happy to see them go).

There may be continuing squabbles between print vs. electronic camps. But if you think that there is a big difference between electronic vs. print use of natural resources, you might want to think again. And I’ll give Don Carli of the Institute for Sustainable Communications the last e-word:

…this isn’t a time to fight back with underfunded and ill conceived campaigns based on zero-sum arguments. Trying to pick a “pixels vs. paper” fight is a no-win proposition. Business, government and society cannot afford to become dependent upon a digital media mono-culture any more than it can afford to be solely dependent on fossil fuel energy. This is not a time for the print media pot to call the digital media kettle black. The fact is that neither print nor digital media supply chains are sustainable as currently configured. This is a time to call for transparency and truth in advertising. We need media that is greener, not media that just says it’s greener. The whole article is worth reading.

* * *
—My article is revised from an earlier blogpost in http://okir.wordpress.com

A Post-Script:

Pictorial Webster’s: Inspiration to Completion from John Carrera on Vimeo.

Carrera is founder of Quercus Press.

It’s also on youtube, but you have to go to youtube directly to watch it.

This is a pretty amazing video…

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