Printed Books vs. E-Readers: We're Ready to Make a Call
Is he right? We are ready to make a call. Yes. Perhaps not quite so completely, but essentially, yes, electronic texts will replace books, newspapers, and other printed matter. Those who love books may protest. There is nothing like the touch and feel of a printed book. If you grew up with them, you may feel this way. Today's generation harbors no such sentiment. They grew up in an electronic world and see no more point to reading from paper than in riding to the mall on a horse. I'm an avid newspaper reader - read one every morning with my coffee. I'll be one of the remaining subscribers when my morning paper goes out of business in the next few years. My children never read them, unless they have an online edition.
That is not to say that print will totally die, as Bezos predicts. Even as tape has virtually disappeared, and CDs are dying, vinyl records are experiencing a resurgence. People like the tangible feel, the covers and liner notes, things not available with invisible, digital downloads. Vinyl sales are believed to have increased by as much as 50% in the last year. However, we need to put this in perspective. Their numbers went from a smaller fraction of 1% of sales to a larger fraction of 1% of sales. There may be a niche market, but records will never again dominate music sales. We believe the day is rapidly approaching when the same will be said for printed books.
The reason is not only that electronic text is more comfortable to younger readers, it also offers many advantages. It is more portable, less expensive, can contain links to all sorts of related information, can be updated or corrected instantly, can be quickly searched, and so on. The "books" that carry electronic text will soon also play music, provide access to the internet, view videos, send text messages and email, and make telephone calls. You can carry a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica around with you and it will never do any of these. The new technology works better, and therefore it will replace the old.
But, here is the piece de resistance. The New York Times asked Bezos what does he say to people who want to use their Kindle in a bathtub. Bezos replied that he already does. He puts it in a one-gallon Ziploc bag. You can't do this with a printed book because you can't turn the pages, but you can push the buttons which "turn" the pages on a Kindle through the plastic bag. Frankly, we think this is an absurd idea, sticking your e-reader in a plastic bag. This is as low tech as it gets. But, now look - a company called M-Edge will be introducing a waterproof case this spring that allows you to use your Kindle in a bathtub, swimming pool, or anyplace else wet. In 500 years, no one invented one of these for printed books. Older readers may not much care whether they can surf the internet or text message their friends from a book, but reading in a bathtub or swimming pool may be just the feature that wins the older generation over to the new technology.