The Fractured State of Reading and Publishing

The bad news: I dropped my Kindle this morning.

The good news: I caught it before it hit the floor.

The even worse news: In so doing, I slammed it against the corner of my desk, smashing the e-ink screen into a starburst of gray, black, and white-plaid shards:

The newly fractured landscape of my kindle screen.The man pictured in the screen saver offers his disapproval with a withering half-frown, a my-oh-my-what-have-thee done expression as he finds himself trapped forever in this doomed terrain of shattered e-ink.

So, I guess it’s back to paper for me until my new Kindle arrives.

For a long time I never thought I would have any use for a Kindle. After all, who wants to read on a computer? And what about marking up the text, dogearing pages, or having more than one book open on my desk at a time?

Well, those behaviors are mostly my self-fueled obsessions when authoring original works of nonfiction. For recreational reading, the mechanisms for highlighting passages and bookmarking pages on the Kindle are, while somewhat clumsy and indirect, still good enough to get the job done.

And then there’s the instant gratification aspect.

This weekend up I was up at my cabin, at 3000′ elevation and nestled deep in the alpine pinnacles of the Cascade Crest, and I decided that I wanted to read another one of the mystery anthologies edited by Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg because I recently read By Hook or By Crook on the recommendation of Kristine Kathryn Rusch and it was fantastic.

So I just brought up the book in the Kindle store, paged through the related reads, and within sixty seconds of the impulse I was reading Between the Dark and the Daylight.

But now I have to read the bloody thing on my smartphone until my new Kindle arrives.

And while I wait, it occured to me that the fractured Kindle screen pictured above strikes a perfect image of the publishing industry and the entire state of reading these days. The old world has been shattered by feedback loops in technology and ongoing market forces that just keep reinforcing one another. Paper books ain’t going away soon, but I’ll probably live to see the day where they are uncommon for most titles. Bookstores will be relegated to specialty boutique status, like the camera and stationery stores populating the deserted shoals of strip-malls.

And you know what that smells like to me?


The Courier was one example of how these shifts might spawn whole new experiences or categories of devices. The Amazon Tablet might well be another. But whatever the next hot gadget or gizmo is, rest assured, I feel like a technological wolf, scenting a long series of innovations-to-come in the shifting winds, and I’ll be looking to make a killing. 🙂 What of tablets with pen and multi-touch? What of Nicholas Chen’s Multi-Slate Reading System, a federation of cheap slates that you can scatter about your office like the glossy marketing brochures you get in the mail, tossed aside for the day where you may or may not read them? What of flexible, paper-like displays?

We’re still in the stone age here, folks, as far as e-readers are concerned. We’ll look back fondly on the Kindle and its ilk as the quaint auto-buggies that presaged a sleek, sophisticated, and nearly unrecognizable future.

That’s where I want to be, even if I have to cobble it together with clunky prototypes, Frankenstein monsters of acrylic and delrin etched out by the laser cutter of my dreams.

In the meantime, you could do a lot worse than to follow Kristine Kathryn Rusch and her husband, Dean Wesley Smith, as they talk about what this means for readers and writers and the publishing industry writ large.

99 responses to “The Fractured State of Reading and Publishing

  1. Don’t forget improvements in borrowing and lending. The current state of lending in e-readers is a disgrace. You might legally be able to lend or sell a hardcopy book, but if the DRM settings on your e-book allow you to lend it to a given individual only once for a maximum of two weeks you’re pretty handicapped on actually being able to exercise those physical rights in the digital realm. My wife and I have both have Kindles, but while we’ve blended our physical books our e-books are to date strictly firewalled by Amazon.

    I’m also still waiting for libraries to be able to more easily lend e-books. These days most of my recreational reading is either (a) e-books or (b) physical books borrowed from the local library. I’m looking forward to the latter being digital as well.

    • I have a work around for the husband/wife Kindle book sharing. I bought 2 kindles, mary’s kindle and mary’s 2nd kindle. I buy a book and can load it on both kindles. Thus, hubby and I can read the same book at the same time–if we want.

      • Cute, nice work-around. I like it.

        You’d have to turn off the auto-sync capability for that to work properly, though (if you’re both reading at the same time…).

        On the other hand, your husband might not want to know that you’re reading that trashy romance, so I’m sure shared devices have some potential pitfalls to domestic bliss 🙂

  2. Yeah, I’m not a big fan of DRM. It does almost nothing to dissuade pirates (who were not going to pay for the content anyway) and yet it makes legitimate use of your content a hassle.

    On the other hand, I think the content creators should be paid for their efforts.

    Library lending of e-books is rapidly gaining steam, and I can only see that this will accelerate given that it looks like many of the large publishers are headed for serious financial difficulties with the rise of e-books. E-books have not hit the tipping point yet, but we’re getting close. All you’ve got to do these days to convince yourself of that is walk into any Barnes and Noble. Nook, Nook, Nook, Toys, Games, more Nook– it’s almost like you have to go in the curtained-off section in back, marked ADULTS ONLY, to actually find an honest-to-God paper book 🙂

  3. My main objection with Kindles is the library issue. I love libraries. I spend way too much time in them. If everything goes digital, will we need them any more? The libraries in my borough are lovely, even if they’re not what they used to be, and I would be sad to lose my after-school trips.

    • I love libraries too. There are e-book lending services for libraries catching on. I also think that nonfiction will be relatively slow to go the way of fiction. It’s incredibly difficult to take content with a carefully designed format (heavily illustrated books, children’s books, reference books, coffee-table picture books and the like) and electronically publish that in a way that will yield a good reading experience across the wide range of digital devices and form-factors that are out there.

      And I don’t believe that any one form factor will come to dominate. Heck, even I mix my reading across desktop computer, iPad, Kindle, and my Windows Phone 7.

      Plus, I want to have multiple documents open, and I want to write on them and stack them together and do other things that are hard to do in the electronic realm.

      But we’re getting there folks, we’re getting there. There’s ways to support a lot of these behaviors effectively with electronic books– given the appropriate device form-factor, interaction design, and input capabilities– and the rest are probably not as important of behaviors as we think they are.

      Furthermore, the electronic equivalents will imagine new working patterns that we’ve only begun to discover, new capabilities that will make the limitations of paper books stand out more and more.

      That’s the way of the future.

      I even find the phrase “electronic book” itself a curiosity. It’s describing a new thing (an e-book / e-reader) in terms of an old thing (a traditional paper book).

      Kind of like the horseless carriage.

      Or the motion picture.

      Or the wireless network.

      As the new technology evolves and blossoms into its own thing, it morphs and grows to fill its own potential. It becomes a new thing. A different thing. It’s own thing.

      That’s where we’re headed.

    • My husband and I both have several years background working in libraries and we both adore books. To speak to Miriam’s question of what’ll happen to libraries, I think they’ll always be around. We live in a Metropolitan area and libraries are more than a place to get materials, they are a civic center in the community. We have kids coming in for storytime or to do homework, adults looking for new jobs, or to improve their life skills, senior citizens and reader’s groups — heck, some come in just to have a warm body to talk to. There are concerts, film screenings, etc. Not to mention the thousands of people who can’t afford home computers. Or the thousands of people living on the streets who use libraries as cooling/warming shelters. Libraries serve broader functions than just books. So, I’m not worried about Kindles/Nooks/other e-readers. My husband will continue reading 100+ year-old books that haven’t been checked out in 50 years. I will continue downloading stuff on my Kindle. It’s a happy medium.

  4. It is ironic that the Kindle was on that picture when it was, um…….injured.
    Publishers are doing everything they can these days to stay afloat amidst the new technology. And it’s coming faster and faster at them. There will always be the die hard book readers, paper backs will become collectors items and schools will require all children acquire an ereader as part of their school supplies.

    • Yep, some colleges are already requiring students to load up on Kindles or iPads when they show up.

      But, also, caution here at the moment. Search out the tests of Kindles and the Kindle DX at universities and you’ll see not all has gone well. Students miss the ability to thumb through their texts, to have multiple books open at once, to easily highlight with a bright yellow marker and jot notations in the margin.

      All these needs can be met with the right advancements in the design of the devices, supporting both pen and touch input, and with advances in the interaction techniques we use to experience the devices. That’s where I’m investing a lot of my efforts in my day-to-day research in my role here at Microsoft Research as a Principle Researcher.

      It’s my job to discover how to deliver those experiences and make them amazing and maybe in the process unearth some things we never even imagined were possible before.

      • Good points! It’s just not the ability to read a book. It’s more how user friendly can it be? Good luck with your research! I have a feeling ereaders vs. real books will be a subject of good and bad for years to come!

  5. Nice piece….
    As far as reading goes, who’s to say what will ultimately reign as champion…What about “wetwear” and the possibility of downloading material straight to your brain? Sure, right but now it’s sci-fi, but so were satellites when Arthur C Clark wrote about them.

    And speaking of writers, it won’t matter how it’s delivered, those that write will write and if it’s good maybe it will get published however that happens. Hell, if it’s really good, maybe the author will die drunk in the gutter like Edgar Allen Poe. Personally, I like the shotgun method ala Papa Hemingway. Either way, those of that write will always do so, regardless of how it’s ingested.

    • I like books. Nothing against technology but you won’t see the end of ink and paper books until you pry my collection from my cold, dead fingers! I loved this post but it also affirmed my lack of interest in e-readers. I think forcing everyone to buy a product in order to obtain information is absurd especially when these things easily break 😦 It is also easier to manipulate the information and keep track of what people are reading.

      We are not far off from knowledge/book implants directly to the brain… Fiction is usually a precursor to technological advances. Take the handheld communicators in Star Trek (cell phones) and ear buds in Fahrenheit 451 (portable music devices/iPods) as examples 😛

      • Don’t be so quick to dismiss the e-readers. I was at the same viewpoint myself a couple years ago, but ultimately it is all about the long human tradition of storytelling and the desire of readers to have the stories they want when they want them.

        The Kindle delivers extremely well on that. At this point, I actually prefer reading fiction on the Kindle. Light to hold, I can bring it back and forth to work with me or on the airplane, I can slip it in my back pocket to read while I am sitting on the John. Moreover I can have my huge to-be-read pile all there at once, in digital form, so I can have ALL my books with me and read whatever suits my fancy at the moment.

        As far as the speculation on direct brain interfacing… actually, we are VERY VERY FAR from direct info downloads to the brain. There is an active area of research known as Brain-Computer Interaction (BCI), which deals mainly with sensing some very specific attributes of mental processes, typically based on blood flow patterns. But even sensing something as simple as whether you are, for example, thinking about a math problem or thinking about a list of words is INCREDIBLY difficult and error prone.

        Another line of research that is promising is direct electrode implantation in the motor cortex. This has been used to give some patients suffering from “locked-in” syndrome the ability to move a cursor around just by thinking about moving their hand, for example. But it requires direct surgical implantation and a long period of time to learn how to control it– essentially, it leverages the plasticity of the brain and our ability to learn new skills.

        I have note seen anything come across the research wires that suggests were are anywhere close to being able to decode mental images and memories or that we understand how to encode information and transmit it into an individual’s brain. Just based on how the human brain forms memories (which itself I don’t think is all that well understood), I suspect the science fictional meme of memories-as-downloads is likely impossible.

      • That’s also how I thought that I felt about e-readers, until I realized all of the books that are available for free because they’re in the public domain. Couple that with being able to get things like newspapers and magazines, and I’m almost sold–but not SO sold that I would give up my paper books until I absolutely have to . . .

  6. smokeyourcigarbrother

    I’ve never been one to read books. I could handle reading Jeremy Clarkson’s excerpts from his years-old newspaper articles, and that’s only when I have nothing else to do (so basically whenever I’m traveling abroad). I think that reading books is an exercise in inefficiency.

    • Ummm… are you sure you’re commenting on the right blog? Honestly, this is about the dumbest thing I have ever heard.

      Reading is a great way to expand one’s horizons and learn about other people’s experiences, knowledge, and researches that one could never cram into a full lifetime of direct experience.

      As a full time scientific researcher (and sometimes-writer) I know that I am standing on the shoulders of giants when I read widely, build on what has been done before, and find a fresh point of departure from the top of the pyramid of knowledge rather than trying to build a new one from scrath.

      • Hi Ken, basically, I agree with you, however, your reply reminded me of something my father said to my mother years ago, with the intent of belittleing her: “Laura, you don’t read!” (Dad, now age 91, has spent years on the couch reading). But mom was a social person, very out-going, with tons of friends, who enjoyed people and loved her full time job as an elementary school secretary during the day, and full time mom and home maker the rest of her waking hours. Mom didn’t have much down time to read (she read the newspaper and read me books before bedtime), but she was no less intelligent than Dad–and she had a bigger heart. Maybe a bit off the subject here, but we all learn differently. Aside from my little jaunt down memory lane, I personally love to read but hate the thought of not being able to hold a glossy, brightly colored book in my hand, turning each page and holding something real in my hands.

  7. Everyone here makes some good points. I’m a writer myself and the idea of what reading and publishing are going to be like in the future are constantly on my mind. I’ve seen issues like this pop up not only in books, but as a near-constant hallmark of many major releases in video games – one that alienates paying customers, but doesn’t necessarily help their businesses. It’s a trend I hope to see improve in the future.

  8. This is such a timely post, as I’m contemplating the idea of traditional vs. self/e-publish for my book — and I’m totally torn!

    Obviously, the backing of a traditional big publishing house seems implicitly advantageous — that is, if they didn’t count on authors to do most of their own promotion and marketing. So if I’m already doing this, why wouldn’t I go the self/e-route, thus keeping much more $$ in terms of royalties/commission?

    Further case in point: My DAD has a Kindle. The guy who doesn’t do Facebook, hates electronic files (“must have paper”) and refuses to adopt any techie/social media applications. If he’s doing the e-book thing — then EVERYONE will soon be doing it. Guaranteed!

    Thanks for the food for thought. Now back to the internal debate in my spinning head..


    • Mikalee, I’m not so sure. Go and study the blogs by Kristine Rush and Dean Wesley Smith (his series on Killing the Sacred Cows of Pulishing is awesome) and then see what you thing of the traditional publishing houses. There are more horror stories than not, and authors are expected to carry a tremendous load in terms of marketing and publicity.

      So at some point, what can the big publishers do for a writer? The sad truth these days is not much any more. Professional authors are fleeing them in droves. Many midlist writers are no longer even submitting their novels to traditional houses. If you go about electronically publishing yourself the write way, if you write and publish and keep on publishing, that is the way to make a living at writing these days.

      You also need to take a good hard look at the contracts and terms being offered by traditional publishers these days. It is NOT a pretty picture and the contracts circulating out there are pretty nasty. Check out The Passive Voice blog for some more perspective on this.

      And frankly I think self-publishing is the way of the future. But that’s not to say that traditional (and newly formed) publishing houses are going away any time soon. There’s also ventures like Thomas & Mercer at Amazon that are intriguing and are attracting some top-line professionals.

      It will be very, very interesting to see how this shakes out, but really there has probably never been a better time to be someone who makes there living at writing words.

  9. I love my Kindle, but can see it already becoming antiquated by the likes of the iPad. It’s crazy to think what the future might hold.

    • Even the iPad is far in the splintered rearview mirror of my mind. Just flip through some of the papers I have done in my Publications tab (and my Videos tab) above to get some glimpses, at least in rough prototype form, of what is to come.

      The best way to invent the future tomorrow is to live in it today– as well as to mine the past.

      Bill Buxton has a rant that he likes to go on about “The long nose of the future” which basically is his way of saying that the breakthrough new devices, techniques, and experiences of the next 10-20 years are already here, if one knows where to look– they are just not yet uniformly distributed.

      There has been research on electronic reading going on for decades already. Take a look at Vannevar Bush’s classic 1945 article in The Atlantic titled “As We May Think.” It’s basically a vision for electronic reading and document retrieval more than 50 years ahead of its time.

      I wish I could show you and comment here more about some of the things I’ve worked on behind the scenes. It makes the Kindle and iPad look like those blocky pixel-graphics on an old Commodore 64 next to my XBox graphical supercomputer (because that’s what it is). We ain’t seen nothing yet.

  10. The smashed screen looks awesome. I know that sucks though. Awesome blog!

  11. I’m also a writer and as I draw closer to getting published, my concern is how does the writer get his or her due regardless of what method is used to pupblish the work? If the publishers can barely keep up and the writers have to do all or most of their own marketing, who is going to make sure we get our fair share of the pie? Although I personally prefer the “feel” of a hard-bound book, if it means I get published, I’ll acquiesce to having my work written across the sky by a sky-writer plane. 🙂

    • There’s a very simple and beautiful and powerful answer here:

      You are.

      Check out Dean Wesley Smiths posts about Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. And then check out his Think Like a Publisher series. If you can write and tell great stories and keep on writing, it is hard to imagine a better combination of circumstances than the present.

      • Thanks for the info about Dean Wesley Smith! I look forward to reading more about his view on publishing. As I writer, I think the Kindle is a great addition to the possibility of publishing. It’s not only good for the environment, but it makes it much easier for the word to get out to more people faster about one’s latest work. For those like me who prefer all that a book offers, there’s print-on-demand. Now, more than any other time, writers, musicians, and artists have an ability to express themselves AND get their “fair share.”

      • Oh yeah, Dean is awesome, a one man wrecking crew of indie publishing.

        I listen very carefully to anything Dean says about writing and publishing because he’s made a comfortable living as a professional writer for three decades now. The man knows what he is talking about.

        If you really want to up your game, get yourself into one of the workshops that he and Kris run on the Oregon Coast. They’re only for early-to-middling-stage pro writers, though (not beginners — not sure where you are at).

        The discussions (comments) on his blogs are also amazing, often there’s as much info there as in the main posts.

  12. I, too, enjoy my Kindle, but I’m old school and still like books more. There’s something to the art, the cover, the feel of it in my hands, the smell you mentioned when it is mellowed like fine wine. I just don’t want reading to become a soulless thing like texting or emailing. There’s a certain part of books that is so doggone human, and I’d hate to lose that facet of the process.

  13. I have such mixed feelings about the technological aircraft we seem to be riding these days, bolting from place to place with unstopping progress. I’m a true worshiper of the past and all its papers, books, typewriters, newspapers – and yet I cannot deny myself the luxury of TV, iphones, and laptops. In fact I gave my boyfriend a kindle for graduation; he is quite enjoying it, might I add. Hope you get your kindle fixed soon!

  14. On the other hand… I have lots of friends and colleagues that I keep in touch with far more because of texting and emailing and twitter posts and (even though I remain a Facebook curmudgeon) social networking.

    I love paper books too, but on the other hand I increasingly miss them less and less. I have thousands of pages of scientific papers and conference proceedings in my file cabinets at work and in my bookcases.

    But you know what?

    Every time I move offices I’ve ditched about 3/4 of them. Keep fewer and fewer books, except those ones I really need, and that I know are hard to obtain any more.

    Getting scientific papers online has become so quick and convenient that the transaction cost of flipping through my hanging file folders to find the physical copy of the paper– assuming I didn’t misplace it– has become higher than just typing up a search and bang, there’s the pdf right at my fingertips. And I only ever print out papers and documents any more that I really need to go through carefully and mark up with a pen.

    Hmmm, there’s an idea for what’s missing in the Kindle and iPad and almost all the other readers out there on the market today. An honest-to-god pen that’s deeply woven into the experience and makes it incredibly easy and rewarding to mark up, sketch, doodle, annotate, and otherwise create new content.

    And maybe you could do all that and keep multi-touch too.

    Somebody should try out them apples and see how it goes.

    Oh wait, that’s right, I already did it:

    And that’s just the start, a crazy cobbled-together research prototype of some possibilities. Imagine if this was taken to its logical extreme, a carefully crafted experience with a slew of talented designers and software architects and developers. Now that could be something.

  15. I’m not a big fan of E-readers, I’d much rather pick up a book and read it, for me it’s all part of the experience. I’m the same with magazines too and unfortunately can see print based magazines fading out because of advancements in technology. Hopefully it’ll be like vinyl in a worst case scenario – not mainstream but still about.

  16. I literally cringed when I saw the picture of your Kindle. I don’t think I would survive long without mine! I can’t go back to the old ways!! 🙂

  17. I didn’t do anything to my kindle and the screen looked like that. I called kindle because I was still under the limited warranty and they sent me a new kindle for free as long as I sent the other one back within a certain time period. Maybe try that?

  18. Ahh. I nearly cried inside a little when I saw your screen. I have a kindle and thankfully it has yet to be dropped. I saw it kind of hard to use it at first because to a reader feeling a book is necessary and the smell of the pages is just addicting.

    As for books dying, well, what do we take Borders closing to be? I was amazed at how they went away faster than Blockbuster did with Netflix (although now to Netflix increased prices they have lost millions of subscribers). I’m sure that they won’t die as soon, but unfortunately it will come soon.

    Congrats on being freshly pressed.

    • Thanks!

      Borders made a good deal of it’s own mess, but the rising tide of e-books certainly didn’t help.

      I do love bookstores myself and would hate to see them go away.

      On the other hand I don’t much care to spend $27 on a hardcover and actually a great deal of my book purchases lately are from used book stores. I’ve been obsessively tracking down JG Ballard’s back catalog of titles because as far as I am concerned he is the most brilliant writer ever– though I do prefer his short stories to his novels for the most part. And none of them were available as e-books until recently (since his death and publication of The Complete Stories of JG Ballard– an amazing, mesmerizing book– there’s been a tremendous resurgence of interest in his writing, and many of his books are now being re-issued, including a few as e-books).

      • I am a book fanatic. I actually had a major impulse buy when I bought over $100 worth of new books on Amazon when I had yet to finish those in my bookshelf. Right now I’m reading 3 books at a time and I wish I could read more. (:

  19. taureanw, Imsoradical,

    Thanks for the sympathy but I’m all good now. New Kindle has arrived and I’ve transferred all my content over (there were a couple of steps that seemed harder than they should have, like getting my Collections to transfer over. Y’know, those folders you can construct on your Kindle home page to help organize hundreds of books. Had to search and dig around on that to figure out how to do it. It also took some work to get my subscriptions and my piles of past issues (I just know I’ll get to them someday…) transferred over.

    I also thought I was being smart when I plugged my old Kindle into my PC and downloaded all the books off of it, and then plugged in my new Kindle and copied them all back onto there.

    But the DRM prevented me from reading them, and then I had to go in and delete them all again and use the Archived Items… menu to restore them one by one. Seems much more cumbersome than it has to be.

    But it is pretty cool that the device shows up on my doorstep and Amazon has already set it up so it knows it’s me and it’s tethered to my Amazon account too. So why not go that one extra step and transfer all the customer’s content over there too? C’mon Amazon, impress me here 🙂

    I’m only half serious here. In my day job here at Microsoft I have actually gotten to meet a number of folks at Microsoft, including on one occasion the guy that leads the technology team (I forget his name/exact title at the moment). It was funny because I was mentioning one idea/suggestion for something new they could do on the Kindle based on some of the ethnographies of reading behavior that I read, and he just kind of smiled at me and didn’t say anything. So I wasn’t too surprised to see that included as a new feature on the Kindle 3 when it came out a while later 🙂

  20. It’s going to be an interesting time in publishing, remember the Beta format for video tapes, and then VHS, and now DVD’s in various formats. As storage systems become smaller and smaller the changes ahead are almost mind boggling to consider. Although I can’t imagine reading a book on a matchbook sized screen, but who knows?
    Congrats on FP!

    • Thanks, and yes, the combination of DRM with rapidly evolving devices and storage formats is not a good thing.

      I do wonder sometimes if we are now entering the digital dark ages. If I don’t make a point to send batches of my kids’ photos to Costco, there would be nothing but digital memories of them, and I really do wonder if those will still be readable when they grow up, or in 50 years, or in 100 years from now… but I can still find physical postcards from my grandma in my memory box and have that connection to the past.

      Ah, the future can be such a dangerous place to travel…

  21. great post. suppose that’s the downside of kindles..if you have got a paperback and reading late at night you can always chuck it on the desk or seat without getting out of bed not with a kindle! But kindles are great….

    • Thanks. The Kindle is actually remarkably durable. I’d dropped mine and sat on it and chucked it onto my bed from across the rooms many times before the untimely conjunction of the e-ink screen with the sharp corner of my desk.

      So, all in all, no complaints, and I much prefer reading on the Kindle to the iPad (though the iPad is good for many other things).

      To steal a line once again from my friend and colleague Bill Buxton (

      Everything is best for something and worst for something else.

  22. ‘The man pictured in the screen saver offers his disapproval with a withering half-frown, a my-oh-my-what-have-thee done expression as he finds himself trapped forever in this doomed terrain of shattered e-ink.’

    Just love that. Nice write!!

    • Thanks! A big chunk of my day job is writing nonfiction articles, papers, reports, and whatnot– and I enjoy writing fiction as well– so every now and I again I can turn a nice phrase when I need to (grin).

  23. Hi Ken, you’ve got me thinking. Thanks for that. I’m a small business IT consultant. Yes I have a Kindle, an iPad 2 and an iPhone 3GS. I have the kindle app installed on my Laptop and Office PC too.

    What is great about Kindle is that I can continue reading where I left of from whichever device I last used. What is bad about these devices is that I can’t leave these books to anyone when I’m gone. I have a hefty library of actual books and when I read them I write notes in the margins and underline or highlight key points.

    I comment in a book the same as I’m commenting on this post. I don’t think books will vanish but if I buy an electronic book and love it, I’ll go and buy the hard copy too. The author deserves the money for a job well done. I can make notes and keep it for posterity.

    If you don’t write notes in your books your library will likely end up in a second hand book shop or on eBay. Making notes makes those books personal to you and a treasure for those you leave behind.

    Great post.

    • You’ve seen the Courier concept designs, right? If something like that ever came to pass, we might be able to kiss most books goodbye– even reference books and other works of non-fiction– for real some day.

      The Courier was a leaked concept tablet / e-reader device from Microsoft that was never released as a product.But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a good idea.

      Its design included dual screens and both pen and multi-touch input. These are both topics I’ve researched in the past and I still think they’re promising. I don’t want to get into the whole history of the device and the could-have and should-haves, but it’s just one great example of the avenues of future innovation and evolution in the e-reader and tablet categories that we are likely to witness in the coming decades.

      And surely there will be many others.

  24. I have to admit, I’m of two minds on this. There is something very elegant about the journey of discovery as you flip from one page to the next, particularly with the sensory feeling of paper and ink… but at the same time, a friend showed me my blog on his ereader last night, and I was apparently pretty gddy watching the “pages” turn from one post to another. 🙂

    • Yeah, see what I mean? Most people who disparage e-readers haven’t lived with them for a good chunk of time.

      I’ll definitely be keeping my many, many paper books for a good chunk of time yet, and there are still some titles that I seek out in paper.

      But honestly, that is happening less and less often. I find myself getting really annoyed (like with the old JG Ballard novels I’ve been searching out) if I can’t just order them instantly in electronic form and dive right in.

      Electronic publishing is good for both readers and writers in the long term (and us technologists and gadgeteers of the world, as well :-). I mean, what beats having the whole backlist of your favorite author available forever because those must old paper books don’t go out of print any more?

      It’s hard to argue with that.

  25. Love the post!



  26. I don’t have a Kindle or any other reading gadget, I really like the smell of the paper, kinda outdated tho. I looking forward to get and Ipad, but would be really pissed if that ever happened to me. Once, I spilled a Margarita in my macbook, I almost cried, but I was a bit drunk, and laughing was more appropriate. Shit happens.

    Congrats for you Freshly pressed.
    Cheers from Brazil

  27. I love your post….and I lovvvve the library. Just being able to snuggle up in bed with a good book, and my cute book mark reminds me of when my parents would read to me at night. I know some may not like the smell of a library book, but I do…..even the sound of the oldness, or the new book’s pages stretching to open excites me.

  28. Paul Salahuddin Armstrong

    I read voraciously, both traditional books and journals, as well as their digital counterparts. Personally, I still love real books and magazines, but ebooks do come in handy from time to time, especially if it’s just something I’m likely to read once, and do not really want cluttering up the shelves of my bookcases, or collections of reference material I draw upon only rarely, that really would take up far too much room in physical form.

  29. I love my kindle…sorry to hear about yours

  30. You can be as rough as you like with a book. They are virtually indestructible – even when you drop them in the bath by accident. I like the appearance of books – they are real and touch-feely and don’t you love it when you find something like a letter in a second-hand book!

  31. I love when silly instances in life like this sort of make a cool analogy or provide a little bit of symbolism for something of the bigger picture. Nice job pointing that out 🙂

  32. Books I think are going to go the way of vinyl records. Many folks prefer the sound and the “atmosphere” of vinyl, so there will always be a market, but the vast majority is now downloadable and CDs, (which will probably go away eventually as well).

    I don’t own a kindle, but one day I will, or one of its bretheren for every day reading, and I have a feeling most other folks will as well, but of course “A room without books is like a body without a soul” so there will always be a market for paper books.

  33. The intro made me laugh! Like you, I had the same doubts of ever wanting a Kindle, yet now it is as cherished as my iPhone and MacBook. I still miss holding a book in my hands, but the Kindle is the most practical for traveling.

  34. Great post! I looooove my Kindle, which my Dad bought me three years ago. I had always sworn I would NEVER use an e-book!
    In our house, we get around the husband/wife book sharing by my husband using my amazon account to get the books he wants or he reads ones I’ve read on his smart phone through kindle for smart phone. 🙂 He just signs in as me and it asks which device you want to send the book to.

  35. Your article voices many people’s conflicting feelings for the e-readers- that pretty much goes without saying, even though I did anyway. I was a little frightened and threatened by them when they first came out, and declared I’d never get one. There’s nothing like having an actual book in your hand or walking into a book store and sifting through aisles or stacks of books, not sure what you’ll walk away with. Also, I really like the cover art! CAll me petty! I like having all those pictures on my shelf, and knowing a book simply by the color and appearance of it’s binding. Easily found! It also scared me as to the prospect of getting myself published, and the absolute disappearance of bookstores- which has since begun happening. There’s NO bookstores in my area. Chicago. It is frightening.

    Even so, I recently relented, accepting that I may be contributing to the downfall of books, and bought a Kindle. Again, the ease of mobility. I read a 600 page novel and absolutely noone knew, I didn’t have to lug the huge thing around with me, or read only in the few hours between the kids going to bed and me having to go to bed- which would have taken an eternity to get through. Plus, there’s a lot of books that are free, and a lot that is even under $5. You can also read several chapters before actually purchasing, which is awesome. I went for a two day train ride last spring and brought a paperback that turned out to be horrible. If that happens on an e-reader, you can easily choose from thousands more. The other thing that pulled me was the ability to download my own books-in-progress onto it, which has made a huge breakthrough in my editing process!

    But I’m grateful to read a consensus with my other fellow writers. As Leigh Binder above stated “Those of us who write will always do so, regardless of how it’s ingested.” I guess that’s true, and the ability to access so many books on an e-reader makes our work so much easier for more people to access. Physical books may in fact fade, but stories never can.

  36. Can you find a way to incorporate that papery smell into an ereader?

  37. I find your viewpoint very interesting, and well worth comtemplating. I can see e-readers evolving, along with other devices. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but I love the feel of a good book in my hands, and the anticipation of turning a page. What I am interested in is how the publishing industry is going to change, and will writer’s be able to make a living from their craft with the innovation of blogging and on-line publishing. Will anyone pay to read good writing when there’s so much of it available for free? I guess we’ll find out if we live long enough. 🙂

  38. The inability to share an ebook, make notes, reliance on power, control of format and ability to track reading preferences and exploit that for advertising or other more nefarious activities keeps me in bookshops and libraries. A book does not demand me to update software. It never warns me of low power. I drop it and nothing happens. I can still pick it up and read it. There’s a reason the book has been around for 500 years

  39. I’m afraid that I’m still very much in the dark ages. I’ve been trying to format my manuscripts for Kindle for over a week, but I’m still no closer to success than I was at the beginning of the task.

    • Check out Dean Wesley Smith’s Think Like a Publisher series on his blog. He has a step-by-step post that makes it very, very easy. And it is. You might want to start with a short story as a learning experience before tackling a novel (more difficult to get right due to table of contents and such).

    • I saved mine to a pdf first […] Then drag and drop into your kindle folder.

      EDIT BY KEN: lnahay, what you’re describing is a way to side-load documents onto your Kindle reader. That’s not the process needed to format for e-publishing. I’ve edited your comment because I did not want to have incorrect information about e-publishing in the comment thread here.

  40. I only use the Kindle app on my laptop and phone. Why buy another device when the functionality is present on my two main platforms?

    • Buy a Kindle and try it for 30 days and if you come back and still have the same impression of it I’ll eat the shards of my broken screen.

      Said another way: You can’t really fully internalize this stuff unless you’ve experienced the device. Your comment tells me it is very, very unlikely you have ever used a Kindle for actual reading for any period of time.

  41. Totally agree. In the future, we’ll look back at these early Kindles and Nooks and go, “Wow…” before fondly patting our sleek, amazing, beautiful eReaders. While I still have mixed feelings about eReaders, I do love printed books and cannot yet even dream of giving them up. So sorry your Kindle stopped working properly! But congrats on getting Freshly Pressed!

  42. There are very few published authors commenting here…and I’m one, and worried indeed about the trend to e-publishing for even one simple reason…The inability to meet your readers face to face in (gasp) a bookstore, as I did last night and have been doing since my newest book, a memoir of working retail, was traditionally published (ebook and paper) in April. Authors want and need to meet readers, and potential readers, (and vice versa) in the flesh — not just through blogs or Skype or social media. When you go to a bookstore and do a reading (or do a reading anywhere), this happens. Ebooks do not create the same vibe nor hunger to be in the same place with the writer. They, literally, disembody us and reduce us to one more distant and invisible creator of content. Feh!

    The way that books sell is through word of mouth: from readers who love your work, booksellers who “hand-sell” it to their customers, who are often overwhelmed by choice and hungry for smart guidance, and spinoffs from media coverage and reviews…only one of which, right now, happens with e-books or self-published work. If I were a random reader trying to sift through my 50+ amazon reviews (deeply divided and often nothing more than personal attacks, not thoughtful critiques of the work itself), I might not buy my book…but if a human being recommended it, I would.

    I don’t have an issue with doing my own marketing and promotion; I feel I get good value from my publisher (gorgeous cover, excellent editing, international distribution, initial media exposure, paid space on Barnes & Noble’s front tables, etc.) No author who understands this business should complain about traditional publishing; you don’t like them, don’t use them!

    • Glad to hear from a published author on this thread. And it sounds like you are one of the rare few to get good support and cover design and marketing push from your publisher. That is increasingly rare these days if your name is not Patterson or Koontz or King or Nora Roberts.

      The thing that really gives me pause is the reports I’m hearing from the front lines of traditional publishing about the plunging advances and the really, really nasty contract clauses and rights grabs that seek to lock up authors or effectivley prevent them from making a living by publishing other books and stories while their novel is under contract… or sometimes much longer.

      Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith and the Passive Voice Blog all go into this in a lot more detail.

      But I still do believe that if you are a savvy business person and very, very careful about what you sign then it is still possible to successfully navigate the world of traditional publishing, particularly if you are able to do that in combination with indie publishing your backlist, short stories, manuscripts that never sold, and the like.

      As far as bookstores as a place for meeting readers and the hand-selling of books… honestly, I remain skeptical of how useful those activities are to a writer’s career.

      For example: I have never met Lawrence Block and he’s never visited a bookstore near me (why would he?) yet I can now subscribe to his blog and follow him on twitter and there I am having a conversation with the grand-master of mystery. Now that’s pretty freaking amazing.

      Same with Dean Wesley Smith. Pop by his blog and make intelligent comments or ask good questions and by golly he’ll answer them. You can get direct advice and insights from a guy whose covered the whole terrain of writing and publishing and has something like a 100 novels to his name. Not too shabby.

      So I see your point but for me I’ll take the online forums 🙂

      Or take this very blog for instance. I have given hundreds of talks at conferences, universities, technical summits, road shows, industrial research labs, and special interest group meetings, but never once has such a lively debate and stream of commentary sprung up. Having my thought and ideas and research available here online opens up so many lines of communication with a whole new audience, and ways to connect with new people that I never would have met otherwise!

  43. I used to love reading those choose your own adventure books. I think those were made before their time. The e-reader can totally capitalize on that, in a big way. Even letting new writers submit their own side adventures.

  44. Maybe, but for the most part the opportunities afforded by new technology have been overshadowed by the difficulties of making money off publishing in the digital era.

  45. That stinks. At least Amazon is great about replacing the Kindles are no cost. I love me Kindle and wouldn’t go anywhere without it. Thanks for the humorous and yet sad post!

  46. Anyone remember when we used to have our music on those great big vinyl discs? I do remember the first time someone mentioned an I-Pod and it sounded like something out of Star Wars so I guess book publishing is going the same way as music has. I don’t think (or want) paper books to disappear but we’ll be left behind if we don’t at least try and embrace the new technology. The Kindle’s actually okay to read on and it has its advatages as well as its disadvantages. As a writer though I’m currently in the process of creating digital files of my books as like it or not, it’s an opportunity not to be missed.

  47. One more reason why printed books will stay around a long time:

  48. I believe you underestimate things. New paper books will vanish well before you do. Unless you are 85 or so, of course.

  49. First, congrats on Freshly Pressed! I have yet to venture down the path of the e-reader but actively pay attention to its popularity and that of its kin. I am about to embark on my first novel and already am thinking about the options available to writers these days as far as publishing goes. I think the dream of feeling a hardback in your hands with your name on the cover is still a possibility, but one day I suppose it won’t be the end all be all of writing.

  50. I love the idea of a kindle, but I just can’t give up books. Something about the smell of the pages and leaving an open book strewn on the bed just so appeals to me. Great post, really thought provoking. I wonder what will happen next..

  51. I recently bought an Sony reader and worked with it for a while. I’ve gone back to books though. The reader is good for the gym, but at home I prefer to read the paper book. A book doesn’t run out of juice before I’m finished reading it and I never have to remember to plug it in!

  52. For all the convenience that comes from having an e-reader…it is equally as frustrating, (not being able to lend any of my e-books). Downloading from the nook site allows “lending” but that only works on my ipad…I have never tried it on a kindle before.

  53. I have finally and somewhat grudgingly stepped into the Kindle realm, as I desperately (almost desperately, anyway) wanted to read Sam Harris’s “Lying” and could only find it in electronic form. Thankfully, the free Kindle reader for PCs is available on Amazon. I understand where technology is going with the book thing, but I so love the feel of a paper book, magazine, etc., in my hands when reading. Thank you for the nice read. I tried to highlight some of the things you wrote above, but couldn’t find a way to do so since it was on my computer screen. 🙂 Take care.

  54. The physicality of a book and its environment (you could say, its phenomonology) has not yet been replicated by e-readers. The sensory experience of the book, bookshop, library. The weight and size of a book and all that means. The e-reader cannot provide the communities that surround books. The books on people’s shelves are statements of who they are. I have a Kindle and like it, but its use is limited. Art books are available only in black and white. The Kindle can make me feel claustrophobic, whereas a real book adds space to the landscape of my life.

    The day will come when I will be able to choose to experience reading a book on an e-reader along with the musty smell of a secondhand book shop, maybe even have a murmur of conversation in the background, or the murmur of silence that is found in bookshops, but it will never replace the real life experience of being in these spaces, if only because of the possibility of the serendipitous encounter.

  55. Thanks for the entertaining post!

    All right, everybody–why does it have to be either/or? Why either paper books or ereaders? I didn’t stop reading paper books when the talkies came to town: sometimes I enjoy experiencing the same basic story when it’s been tailored for both media.

    As for electronic delivery of stories: Some of the best stories I’ve experienced in the past several years could only be had from my Playstation and Xbox, courtesy of Square Enix and Bioware.

    By the same token, I don’t see why I have to choose between indie publishing or traditional publishing. Or for that matter, written and visual storytelling.

    A second, third, and fourth “hear, hear” on the Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith blogs.

    Thanks for the post, Ken.

    • Hi Carolyn — thanks for stopping by.

      I love your perspective on paper books versus e-readers. For some reason our brains are trained these days to think of everything categorically, rather than having a more nuanced view. We see this in interaction design (my neck of the woods), we see this in political debates, we see this in reading (paper or ebook?) and in writing (traditional or indie publish).

      Just remember the cardinal rule: Everything is best for something and worst for something else.

      Understanding why, and in what context, in a nuanced way– that should be everyone’s goal. Not arguing dogmatically for one side of the fence or another.

      Your comment also reminds me of another rant that I should just work up into a new post: it hints at what I call The Third Stage of Fiction.

      This is a concept that I got from Randy Pausch (who was my Ph.D. advisor, and then became famous a couple years back for “The Last Lecture”). He had a talk that he would often do about understanding new media (or new technologies), and how every new technology goes through three significant stages:

      The first stage is where people look at the technology in terms of what they already know– often literally, even in terms of the language they use to describe it: the horseless carriage. The wireless network. The electronic book.

      Stage 2 is where people start to experiment, the medium starts to evolve into a new thing with its own unique properties and attributes that start to separate it from the past.

      And Stage 3 is when all hell breaks loose– when those completely new, completely unanticipated innovations rise up and show clearly that the new medium is something completely new.

      So video games and enhanced e-books and even iPad games are hinting at this new direction, new ways for storytelling and writing, and we ain’t seen nothing yet.

      By the way, folks, Carolyn is one of the adventurers on this new frontier of reading and writing. She has a fun e-book available that mixes an entertaining story with a unique voice and her amazing fractal art– check it out here:

  56. Ha! I just posted on paper books vs. ebooks, though not having an e-reader, I definitely lean towards paper books. But your post is a nice balance to the other side of my argument/thoughts: Thanks for sharing!

  57. I would be….distraught if something happened to my iPad; I carry an entire bloody library on the thing. Easy enough to sync to a new machine, I suppose. But I can’t imagine carting around one book at a time again.

    That being said, I’ve hoarded all of my paper books against the day when a dog eared copy of Misery will net me enough of a return to retire to Panama. 😀

  58. I absolutely love my Kindle, but I still buy physical books all the time. A real fan of books will appreciate both I think. Plus the endless pages of free books you can download and read on the Kindle are really worth the price. And it’s a big help on long trips. Normally I’d take a book pack full of books, magazines, newspapers, etc. Now I can just load up my Kindle and be done with it.

  59. Opportunity – yes! This is a great opportunity for both new and established writers who can both use the medium to great effect albeit in different ways. Publishers are scrabbling to retrieve copyright from midlist writers they ditched only a year or so ago but find they can’t compete with the pecentages on offer via Kindle. New writers on the cusp of publication but whose agents are unable to sell their work no longer face an impasse. It’s liberating and empowering for the writers among us – stone age it may be, clearly we are only at the frontiers but it’s definitely a new spring!

  60. I will admit I use my kindle on my mac for quick reads but I can’t purchase a kindle. I get it for busy travelers who want to read several books but not have to carry them with. I totally get that and that is my rational thinking as well. However I love the smell of an old book. The feel of the pages between my fingers. It’s an addiction that I am ok never treating.
    I will say I am sorry you damaged you kindle and had to replace it.

  61. I must agree with Haight68Ashbury.

    The nostalgia of sitting in your favorite chair, sipping on some freshly brewed tea or coffee, having the right amount of light to illuminate a book pressed in the late 70’s and possibly even listening to the rain keep to its own metronome might be the greatest experience against heroin. Then again traveling light is a plus. But for me, there is no replacing the real thing. But who am I to talk, I use a typewriter when I write, so…

  62. realanonymousgirl2011

    I have yet to switch to the dark side. I have Kindle and other ebook apps on my iPad but I still have a loving relationship with paperback books. Theres just something with holding a book and flipping the pages. I’m sure one day I’ll convert especially when I can’t find a book at the bookstore or even order it. I had the same problem with skinny jeans and yet here I am wearing them!

  63. Pingback: couldn’t think for two days and libraries « where i put my stuff

  64. I must admit to being a staunch book lover and not a great fan of Kindle. I hope I never live to see a world in which books are either extinct or relegated to dingy, backstreet emporiums, visited occasionally by little old ladies and ramblers looking for the nature trail. I did enjoy your blog though. Perhaps a new, shock-proof Kindle is required.

  65. Rocket Dog (Ergo Proxy)

    I hate e-readers. Period.

  66. Rocket Dog (Ergo Proxy)

    When we trust electronics too much they will soon malfunction and we’ll be blabbering “What do I do?”

    That’s when we’ll get back to physical books.
    But I do agree the Kindle does make reading easier for trips, but I still hate it. It takes the Real out of Reading.

  67. I haven’t bought a book in a few years. A large book chain here in Australia has gone broke. Its a sign of the times. I couldn’t live without my Iphone and Ipad. Book, muic and video in a single package. Imagine if I had to cart my entire cd collection around as well as 100 books and 30 movies. It just doesn’t bear thinking about does it. It’s a sign of the times. evetually books, newspapers and paper letters will be nothing but distant memories. Am I sad about it? yes and no. the last book I bought is the last Dan Brown book and it remains read only a few pages in. What’s that say?

  68. Pingback: Come on baby, light my fire! « dodging commas

  69. Reblogged this on viewsthennnow and commented:
    This is how e-book evolves. Wow, great technology.

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