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Why E-Reader Adoption Will Be Slower Than People Think

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Jack McKeown co-founded and was CEO of Perseus Books Group. He is now director of business development for Verso Digital, a vertical ad network for book publishers, and president of Conemarra Partners, a media consultancy.

As the world

36 Responses to “Why E-Reader Adoption Will Be Slower Than People Think”

  1. Julie Atkins

    I also work in publishing and I have trialled about 3 of these e-readers. As a consumer I wouldn't waste my money. Who on earth wants to spend all their time connected to technology? It's bad enough we spend all day looking at computers for work, then checking out facebook and personal things at home – why, when we get some free time to read, would we then want to spend more time staring at a screen?

    No matter the screens are billed as non-reflective – they just don't work on the beach and the sun does affect them (I've tried). You can't drop them on the sand, you can't put them on your face to shield the sun, or under table legs to stop them wobbling. And where is the real reading experience? There is nothing like a brand new book, with it's crisp pages to turn, or an old favourite with thumb prints all down it that you lend to a friend. You can't go into a library, be sociable, and browse the shelves for an eBook. It's just another way to make our world even more anti-social.

    So I for one will be championing print. I was at the Frankfurt Book Fair too, and I really don't think I am in a minority either – no matter how much these eBooks and eReaders are promoted, I don't believe they will ever become mainstream. And for the record, I am under 30.

  2. Danny bloom

    Novelist Hamish MacDonald in the UK tells me today re the HOGWASH STATEMENT, above:

    "Danny, you make a very good point there. Like so many technological advances, we've added this one to our lives just because we can. But with this, medical research, and other sciences, we do these things without having an over-riding ethics about them, without consciously making a decision about whether or not we really do want these things to form such a big part of our lives.

    There's a good show airing on the BBC just now called Electric Dreams, in which an English family's home is re-made to look and operate like a home from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s (with each day advancing them forward technologically by a year). Watching the family from the outside, I can't help but feel that, for all the convenience it adds, the technology takes away a great deal of the family's shared life. In other words, it doesn't do them any good."

  3. Danny bloom

    Great post and great heads up. Thanks for chiming in here! It IS a fascinating discussion, and more to come. As for NAMES and LANGUAGE, yes, we cannot afford to be fish out of water anymore!

    Here's my HOGWASH STATEMENT on all this:

    The Hogwash Statement:
    "composed" on a piece of screen by Danny Bloom
    Webpasted: October 31, 3009

    The point of all this is not so much to coin a new word — God knows
    there are enough neologisms already, the reading field surely doesn't
    need a new word for "reading" if "reading" is fine for "reading on a
    computer screen" — and for all that I care, the new word could be
    "hogwash", as in "I'm hogwashing 'Moby Dick' on my Kindle tonight" —
    so the real point of my public crusade/campaign to search for a new
    word (if needed, and if useful!) is to point out the need for scholars
    and scientists to study the very real differences between reading on
    paper and reading on screens, and not just with learned opinions and
    surveys, but with hard science — that is to
    say, MRI brain scan studies in laboratory settings and hospital rooms
    to study — firsthand! up close and personal! — white matter and grey
    matter neural pathways and try to ascertain if reading on paper
    surfaces lights up different parts of the brain compared to reading on
    a screen.

    That is all this campaign is about. I don't care to coin a
    new name for reading on screens. I am not a name coiner. I have no
    interest in coining a new word for screen-reading. If a new word or term
    does come to us, great. If not, that's okay, too. All I want to do
    is to egg scientists and
    neuro-scientists on to study these issues with MRI scan tissues. Then we will
    really know what the differences between paper reading and screen
    reading really mean.

    Question: Why am I so concerned and seemingly obsessed about this? I
    worry about the future of human civilization! If screen-reading turns
    out to be a bit inferior to paper reading — in terms of which parts
    of the brain light up for things like processing info, retention,
    analysis, critical thinking, empathy, digesting, internalizing,
    understanding, etc — then we need to know this.

    That's my hunch. That's all I want to know. Let the brain scans begin!

  4. Simon de Haast

    Danny, your comments about calling for a new verb for consuming 'stuff' via a screen are very telling.

    "I'm not sure who discovered water, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't a fish." This is my favourite Marshall McLuhan probe, and my takeaway from this is around the invisibility of language and metaphors – we use them so automatically they become invisible, the water. But by re-examining the words and metaphors we use, allows us to re-examine and rethink the ways we describe, and ultimately design.

    I'm involved in the development of digital magazines – the interface metaphors, tools (Adobe AIR currently), what this media is an extension of, content design – and the digimags themselves are appropriately enough, featuring nature and sustainability issues. So this posting and commentary has been one of the most insightful and fascinating I've read. (Happy to forward anyone the digimag link offline-don't want to plug product in this fascinating discussion.)

    A few months ago I was involved in a film production project that used a RED ONE digital cinema camera, and I came across this blog (by the DoP for the Apple 1984 ad) around topic of remediaton – of film to digital cinema quality shooting, which I think is very relevant for this topic – hope you enjoy the links.

    "…I’ve been watching the development of digital innovations, from interactive telematic spaces to 3D printers and it seems to me that the paradigm change from web 2 to web 3 has already happened. In fact it’s bigger than that. The concept of numbering developments on the web is almost Victorian in its obsessive compulsive indexing and cataloguing of change. The 17th century Enlightenment project has had its day. Now we need different tools for a different terrain and it is called the Digital Domain.

    We take stabs at understanding it and **come up short because we’re using a language designed for something else** to try to name it and it resists being named because it is substantially and qualitatively different from prior technologies…"

    Simon ([at]

  5. danny bloom

    You know, in all this talk about gadget this and gadget that, we need to take a good hard look at how our culture is killing this planet and how real climate chaos looms in the distance, around 500 years frorm now, as if anyone cares about the year 2500.

    See this:

    ET tells me: Chris Hedges has an interesting article in called, "A Reality Check from the Brink of Extinction." He interviews environmental activist Derrick Jensen,

    "“If we all wait for the great, glorious revolution there won’t be anything left,” author and environmental activist Derrick Jensen told me when I interviewed him in a phone call to his home in California. “If all we do is reform work, this culture will grind away. This work is necessary, but not sufficient. We need to use whatever means are necessary to stop this culture from killing the planet. We need to target and take down the industrial infrastructure that is systematically dismembering the planet. Industrial civilization is functionally incompatible with life on the planet, and is murdering the planet. We need to do whatever is necessary to stop this.”

    Does this have anything to do with early adoters? Everything! Everything! We need to stop and reverse our wasteful slash burn consume culture, or there won't be a future to look back upon this past!

  6. danny bloom

    RE: above Tricia said:

    "The only people I see a Kindle making sense to is someone who just wants to have the latest device just to have it or a someone who works in publishing that needs access to multiple books at a time."


    So much of this modern world is made up of companies that want to push their latest product, whether needed or not, upon those who just want to have the latest gadgethead device, whether they need it or not, and it's not about supply and demand, as Jack says in his good post above, it's just supply supply supply, in this wasteful slash! burn! consume! culture we have created (and enjoy, well, those of rich enough to have extra cash around to join in on the "fun" that is).

    In fact, we never needed and DO NOT need these e-readers. So why are they here? Because some technogods came up with an idea and a concept and some E-ink and they said: "Hey, another way to make money and spin the culture for ride again."

    So here we are. Of course, one could also say we didn't need motion pictures, Victorian novels were good enough, and we never needed radio, Emily Dickinson's poems were good enough, and we never needed cars or trucks or trains or ships, because village life was good enough, and we never needed condoms or birth control pills because there were other ways to not get preggers, and of course, we didn't NEED penicillin or glucophage for diabetes Type II patients or insulin or heart surgery for bypass surgery, and we didn't even need BBQ grills, did we?

    So where is all this headed?

    I will tell you. I had a brainstorm last night. I am calling the new word for reading on screens as "hogwash", with ING verb being "hogwashing" and it means "to read on a screen."

    So one can now say "I am hogwashing Moby Dick on my Kindle (or NOOK!) right now.."

    And maybe "hogwashing" is better than my earlier ideas of screening or screading or diging or scanning or whatever. Friends, and foes, we are now all hogwashing on our screens as we get ready to go our get a little Nookie! (er, get a new NOOK from Barn and Nobel)…..

  7. danny bloom

    Turtle, you make a lot of sense here:

    "I think this is yet another (r)evolution along those lines. Some content will be perfect for e-readers. Other content (glossy pretty magazines) won’t be, until the technology catches up. Still other content works on a cellphone because you don’t need to really consume it, you just need to nibble. "

    Can you contact me offline at danbloom AT gmail DOT com, and let's nibble some noshes and chat. I like your thinking and want to hear more!

  8. Tricia Riley Hale

    As an avid reader, I do not see a supposed "death of print" anytime soon, if at all, in regards to books. When it comes to MP3s, magazines and newspapers, the convenience of the Internet is a no brainer. Why seek out something that holds my attention for bursts of times when I can just click my mouse to find it. Reading a book, on the other hand, is an experience. Committing to reading an entire book on a Kindle would be like watching a 3D movie on an iPhone.

    Why would I pay the equivalent of an MP3 player for a e-reading device, PLUS the cost of the e-book when I can pick up a book for $7 or for free at the public library.

    People can access the Internet with their iPhone and read articles all day for free, why would they want a extra device to lug around or pay money to read a book on their tiny iPhone.

    The only people I see a Kindle making sense to is someone who just wants to have the latest device just to have it or a someone who works in publishing that needs access to multiple books at a time.

    I am typically reading 3 books at a time and it seems more convenient to me to carry a light paper book than lug around an extra device that I have to take care not to lose it, have it stolen or broken. Not to mention, why would I need to carry my library of books around?

    And most to read like to show off their books like a badge of honor on display on their shelves. They can't brag about how much they've read if it's all stored in a computer device. People who read want something tangible. Just like someone who wants to ride a roller coaster would rather go to the local amusement park than experience it in a video game.

    Comparing audio books to e-devices is a moot point. People who listen to audio books do it because they can either listen to it in their car or on their headphones while at work or on a plane. The point is, they either do not have time to read it or they're lazy. With an e-device you are getting the exact same product as a book, but with a higher price tag.

    Not to mention, I like to lay down and read and holding a Kindle in my hand would be awkward and would cause strain in my hand. A book is constructed to fit in both hands and you can sit or lie down for hours at a time and read. An e-reader sounds cumbersome and I've only heard bad reviews from people who have used them.

    Also, most of us work at a computer all day and the last thing I want to do when reading is look at another one. I want to hold paper. I don't want a device emitting light on me or looking at digital fonts. I want a book. Any and all script or book materials I receive on my computer I print. Any attempts to read from my laptop, I tend to tire of it quickly.

    Sales being down in publishing have little to do with a book being antiquated. It's because there are too many other distractions and choices of things to do. Coming up with an expensive device to compete with this almost seems like an oxy-moron. Remember the movie "Big?" Tom Hanks tried to promote the idea of a digital comic book and they shot it down because no kid want to pay $7 for a comic book they can read for $1.

    E-readers are only practical to a limited amount of people. They will die like Beta. There will still be an app available for cheap, that those few that really need one can use.

  9. I think that the Kindle walks the line of experiencing and reading. If I download a book or text-based magazine to a Kindle.. I will 'read' it. If I start browsing through blogs or other content that was never meant for print in the first place, I think it is more of an experience. Ask me how much of a book I remember and it will be "a lot". Ask me what blogs I read on the train and I am going to have to think about it. Read vs. Experience. Eat vs. Nibble.

    I'm making most of this up as I go along, though I will tell you that I work for a firm that is very closely watching this emergence and we discuss it frequently at the water cooler.

    When the web was born, it didnt take long to realize that regular-old-content wasn't always going to cut it, and it had to often be "web-ified" to please the browsing audience. "No one wants to scroll!" I think this is yet another (r)evolution along those lines. Some content will be perfect for e-readers. Other content (glossy pretty magazines) won't be, until the technology catches up. Still other content works on a cellphone because you don't need to really consume it, you just need to nibble.

  10. Danny Bloom

    Turtle, you make a VERY good point. I have never heard it phrased that way before, and I like it. I agree, we don't READ on a cellphone, even though we use that term because it's the only one have have right now, but it's true, it's much more like we "experience" content on the screen, very well put and a great visualization. How did you come to that idea? Dish more!

    Richard Curtis on his blog says we "watch" content on an e-reader, not read it per se. Many people get this. Many people are wondering what to call all this? Next Saturday, Curtis is going to have more to say on all this, too, on his blog. Stay tuned.

    Turtle, question for you. Okay, when people take in a book on their Kindle, are they reading it on the Kindle or "experiencing" it on the Kindle? What would you say? I am curious.

    I love your idea.

  11. I dont think anyone really "reads" on a cellphone, to agree with some of the above sentiment. They might "experience" content, but I dont think they are reading the way one reads a novel, magazine article, or newspaper.

  12. dan e. bloom

    Stu et al,

    Last point for "today" wherever today is for you…

    :Stu wrote, above:

    "But, Danny, you live in Tokyo, it seems, so you should know: The “kids today” write and read on their cell phones, not on pads of paper. "

    Yeh, and that is why they are so stupid. They never read anymore. They don't even know Japan's real wartime history. They don't even know about "comfort women" or Pearl Harbor or the Nanjing Rape Massacre. They don't even know they live in a semi-police state that pretends to be a democracy but is really run by a coterie of 100 rich families who pass on power from son to son (forget the girls).

    Is that the vision of the future we want for the world? A Japan that swims in trendy gadgets but does not even know the truth of history of its own country because they do not read? No thanks.

    That how Japan keeps its young ones trapped in consumerism and mindlessness. You know that!

    I prefer Luddite country to sleek trendiness of Japanese gadgethead Utopia. Those cellphone novels are pure hype and nonsense. A passing fad. Those "kids" just wanna be cool. And cool they are.

    But they don't know nothing about life. They don't even know their own history! They live in a cocoon of gadgetheads.

    That's the wrong vision for the future, IMHO, although it's cool for a Bladerunner remake. SMILE

  13. dan e. bloom

    Stu Levy signed out:

    "(OK, I’m on a deadline – I’ve got to go write, er, type). "

    Good comments above, Stu, and will be in touch. Am living now just a bit south of Tokyo, as the crow flies.

    You know, I asked David Pogue at the NYTimes about my campaign/crusade/quixotic search to try to find or identify a "new word or term" reading on screens — an idea which David vehemently disagrees with, by the way, but in his usual good-natured and humorous way — and he said to be: Hey, if you think we need a new word for reading on screens, such as screening or screading or diging or whatever, why don't you think we also need a new word for "writing" on screens, as an analog to your search for a new word for screen-reading? He had a good point.

    But I am only concerned with reading on paper and how it impacts our childhood and the teenage years (when our brains and hearts grow bold), so I am not looking for an analog word for writing on screens, although his point is well taken.

    Ever notice that the COMMAND on most email windows is "COMPOSE" for "write a message" and not WRITE? COMPOSE. I wonder why the email mavens chose COMPOSE instead of WRITE. Because it is writing we do on email screens, although a new kind of screen-writing, but I still call it writing, and i don't think we need a new word for that. No need.

    But reading on screens. I realy really feel there is a deep deep NEED and USEFULNESS for a new word for "reading on screens", whatever that word will turn out to be, and who knows? I don't. Who knew google would become a verb, or xerox or kindle. Yeh, Kindle users now say "I am Kindling on my new Kindle…."

    Go figure.

    Otomo wa Tsuwai-yo!

  14. Stu Levy

    Danny, it sounds like we should meet for a drink in Tokyo. I'm back and forth constantly. Should be fun!

    (email me at sugoizo [atmark] <– doing it this way to avoid spam).


  15. dan e. bloom


    A few more points:

    RE: This is definitely a fun discussion. *YES!

    Of course, it doesn’t really matter what any of us says because at the end of the day digital wins. Period. Nothing survives against digital. * CHOTTO MATTE, PARDNER! You envision that, and that's your vision, and you get to have the vision you want, that's what visionaries are all about, But chotto matte, sire! DIGITAL will not win, NOT if we are vigilante and keep up our guard.

    2. Print will become unnecessary. Period. *** SAD DAY FOR HUMAN CIV WHEN THAT HAPPENS…NO?

    3. The technology is such that at some point it won’t even be considered a “screen.” *GOOD OINT HERE!

    4. Have you guys seen O-LED’s? Or true flexible screens (like the prototype Phillips has)? No one will even remember “analog” paper.
    STU, WAIT until Bill Powers book based on his Hamlet's BlackBerry essay for the Shorenstein Center come s out from HarperCollins midsummer 2010, you will take back what you just said!

    5. It’s not about how many books you carry around at once. It’s around convenience. **OMIGOD! CONVENIENCE? We are going to build a civilization around "convenience"? Stu, think of what you just said!

    Stu, you might be right. You might be wrong. Let's see where Mr Paper stands in 2025. And let's see what Mrs. Screen has done to our society then, too. Let's revisit this chat in 20 years. Yes, it's fun.

    But Stu, you learned to WRITE and THINK because of MR PAPER. Without paper, we are sunk as a humanity of people. Think about that, too. Okay, convenience and sleek gadgets and multitasking hyperorgasms are cool, but is that what you WANT for the future of humankind? Where's your humanity, man? (smiling)

  16. Stu Levy

    Danny, just so you understand, I'm not taking sides here. Perhaps it is better for our civilization to have everyone continue reading books on paper. Maybe it would even be better if we all revert to cave drawings for communication. Who's to say?

    But you live in Tokyo it seems, so you should know. The "kids today" write and read on their cell phones, not on pads of paper. And that's not even taking into consideration the later-generation technology I'm talking about.

    Perhaps you're not familiar with it? Imagine having a small book, or a notepad. It's basically the same feeling you get now with paper (or at least very close to it). It looks, feels, maybe even smells and tastes like paper (ok, not smells or tastes). But it's 100% digital. That means you can, at the touch of a button, change the contents.

    Does this not count anymore for your Top 10 list of advantages we get by "paper reading"? Is it truly a screen at that point? Does it have to be dead trees and no additional functionality to count as being "superior"?

    Visualize out a bit. What you assume to be the choices will become very different alternatives by the time you blink. Evolution or devolution, the world is changing fast.



    (OK, I'm on a deadline – I've got to go write, er, type).

  17. danny bloom

    Stu Levy,

    Talk to my points of the need for a new word for reading on screens, pro or con, agree or disagree, and the need to study the two reading modes via MRI scans to find out just how SUPERIOR paper reading is to screen-imposed reading, in terms of
    1. retention
    2. analysis
    3. processing
    4. critical thinking skills
    5. vocabulary building
    6. learning writing skills (we learn to write, Stu, from reading on paper, don't forget; nobody will ever learn to be a good writer if they grow up just with screen readers in their pockets)
    7. empathizing
    8. emotionally connecting
    9. understanding
    10. internalizing

    For emails and blogposts and blog comments, these screens are cool. I love them. But this is NOT reading, Stu Levy.

    Danny Bloom, from Tokyo
    Daily Yomiuri (1991-1996)

    read my blog if you do not believe me, at:

    THIS is not about preference or who prefers books over ereaders. It's about the future of our civilization, Stu Levy. Not about maximizing profits and producing more gadgets for gadget heads who love convenience over substance. What, you can't carry a few books around you in your book bag? How lazy have humans become! Ugh.

    Or as we say in nihongo: Chimpoon Kampoon

    This is definitely a fun discussion. Of course, it doesn't really matter
    what any of us says because at the end of the day digital wins. Period.
    Nothing survives against digital.

  18. Stu Levy

    This is definitely a fun discussion. Of course, it doesn't really matter what any of us says because at the end of the day digital wins. Period. Nothing survives against digital.

    I remember when high-end fashion photographers were insisting to me they would NEVER use digital cameras because they can't get the color and contrast needed for fashion magazines. Now they ALL use digital cameras.

    In the film side of things, there are DPs now who insist film will always be relevant. I asked the opinion of the DP on my current film in production (who has shot top movies ranging from Forrest Gump to Castaway to Spiderman) and he told me it's just a matter of time. Write the obituary on film.

    It's just the way of the world.

    Sure, a few CDs still sell. I doubt anyone under 20 is buying them. Eventually the same will happen with DVDs (even Blu-Ray).

    Print will become unnecessary. Period. The technology is such that at some point it won't even be considered a "screen." Have you guys seen O-LED's? Or true flexible screens (like the prototype Phillips has)? No one will even remember "analog" paper.

    It's not about how many books you carry around at once. It's around convenience. Magazines, newspapers, novels, non-fiction, graphic novels (of course TOKYOPOP too!), textbooks – every kind of reading material can be accessed whenever you want.

    Convenience, guys. It always wins.

    Forget the Kindle. Forget whatever you can imagine right now. In 3/5/10 years (pick your number) you won't even remember we had this discussion. It will have become irrelevant.

    PS Jim – I agree with you that the "medium" is relevant in the context you use it. An audio-visual experience is very different than text-only, or static images etc. When I said "medium" I meant that a text-only (or static image) story doesn't change whether it's "printed" on paper or on a fifth-generation "digital paper" reader. People don't enjoy a text-only (or static image) experience because they want to touch paper. It's because they want to kick back and imagine themselves the story that is being narrated to them by the author (as opposed to have the visualization processed for them by the director). That experience itself will be essentially the same whether the paper is analog (i.e print) or digital.

    BTW, as I mentioned I don't have an e-reader yet either. I'm more than happy to do a lot of reading on my iPhone but I don't think the e-readers are quite developed enough yet for me personally.

  19. I think Stu's argument is a bit fallacious… who would ever NEED to carry around more than a few books? I commute every day to the big apple… and I am an avid reader. I tend to read just one book at a time, though.

    I have no need to carry around 10-20 books. Why would I? Does anyone parallel read that many books at once?

    I've tried the Kindle. The user interface sucks, but that will improve. I think it has great legs for the education market. For the average reader, the pricepoint is still too high. When I can stop into my local library and get lost in a world of books just waiting for me to read, I'm in no rush to get an e-reader.

  20. Dan E. Bloom

    One issue that nobody is addressing yet in this wide-ranging debate is whether or not reading on an e-reader or any screen for that matter — computer screen or iPhone screen or patio screen (JOKING!) — is really "reading". IMVHO, it is not reading, screen-reading is NOT reading at all, it is an entirely new kind of animal and we need a new word for this.

    Some say "screening" might be a good verb for this new kind of screen reading, others have suggested "screading" to me. Richard Perez-Pena of the New York Times told me he likes the word, which he coined, "diging" — for digital reading, and pronounced "dih-jeeng". Kevin Kelly the Wired maverick told me: "I'd be happy to see 'screening" used a verb for reading on screens."

    Skimming, scanning, browsing, grazing, there are many words and terms being suggested. The word that best fits this new kind of reading phenomenon will make it to the top of the list, and it will happen organically and naturally, kind of like "if you build it, they will come". It won't be because any one person coined a new word for screen reading. It might happen because some newspaper headline uses the word in a new way, or because some company invents a new device like the Kindle and people start using the device's name like a verb, as many people today already call their reading habits with the Kindle as "kindling" as a verb, posting comments here and there such as "Sorry, can't call you back now, am busy Kindling a new book this afternoon."

    But Kindling only works for Kindles, as it is a copyrighted word. Ask the founders of Google, Xerox and Kleenex.

    Okay, so why does a man who nobody's heard about and who lives in cave in Taiwan think there's a need for a new word for reading on screens? Or maybe not so much a NEED, as a usefulness? Why? Because:

    I believe a new word or term for reading on screens MIGHT be USEFUL so that scholars and scientsits can continue stuyding the comparative DIFFERENCES betweem reading on paper and reading in screens. We know that reading on paper is "reading." But we still do not know if reading on screens is really "reading". That is my point here. Let's find out. Let's do some PHD-sponsored MRI scan studies with brain scans of people who read on paper VS people who read on screens and see if different parts of the brain light up for things like processing of info, retention of info, analysis of info, use of critical thinking skills, etc.

    My hunch is that YES, there is a huge difference in the two reading modes. Oh, some people like their paper books and some people prefer their Kindles and SONYs and whatever, and that is fine. Preferences are cool.

    But is reading on a screen really "reading." I say it is NOT reading. I say we need to look near and far and try to find a new word or term for this. I say the culture needs to start talking about this search for a new word. I say the New York Times should write an article aboout this search in its print edition and in its Room for Debate blog, by interviewing such people as Maryanne Wolf, Jack McKeown, Edward Tenner, Bill Powers, Charles Bigelow, Kevin Kelly, Paul Saffo, Bill Hill, Anne Mangen, Gary Small, Mike Males, Serge Goldstein, Alan Liu, Gloria Mark, Michael Kinsley, Alex Beam and many others who are right now looking into this issue.

    The NEW WORD will not come today or tomorrow. Maybe in 10-15 years. Maybe sooner. Who knows. But a new word is coming, I know it, and it is important to at least acknowledge this and discuss it, pro and con.

    E-reading is NOT reading. Sure, one a few levels, it is reading. But on some very important major levels of brain chemisty, it is NOT "reading". We do not process, retain, understand, critically think about or analyze the words we read on a screen in quite the same way we do when we read the same info or text on a paper surface.

    Ask Cory Doctorow. Ask Richard Curtis. Ask me.

    Better yet, read my blog at on this:

    I might be wrong about all this. I might be right.
    Anne Mangen in Norway has told me to keep asking these important questions, and I will!

  21. Jim Pascoe

    The adoption factor for MP3 players that most articles on ebooks seem to miss is that with MP3 players that was/is a way to convert an existing library of media to the new format. Even taking Napster and illegal downloads out of the question — which is of course not fair to do — a person buying an ipod in 2005 and/or in 2009 can fill it up without additional investment.

    I'm hesitant to jump into the ebook world because I'm not going to buy even a $200 device to read a single $10 book. And I'm not going to buy buy buy to fill it up if I'm not going to read all that content.

    I like to think that I read a lot, but even at 10 books a year, it seems to be way to long-term investment in an ever-growing market.

    Stu, I know you're a visionary, but you reach too far in calling the medium irrelevant. On some level — the level of pure story — this may be true, but that's like saying a movie and the book it's based on are the same thing. While they may be the same in that an author's story is consumed either way, they are not the same in how that story is consumed.

    Also, while I believe e-readers will increase rapidly, print will die a very, very slow death. E-readers will further marginalize the mid-list, will create a high-end niche market for low-demand books, but top sellers will continue to also be in print.

    As long as Stephen King is alive and writing his books will be in print. Period.

  22. Stu Levy

    This is definitely a topic I've been passionate about for years now and I love seeing it finally bubble up to the "mainstream."

    10 years is a very long time in the digital world. For the older generation, passion about paper certainly exists and perhaps I am overly-aggressive in my time-frame particularly in regard to this generation.

    But for all others (meaning 40's and younger), paper will disappear, except for the odd, decorative art book.

    No one, whether they are aware of this or not, reads a book for the physical properties it possesses. They have simply become used to a comfortable way to digest the content itself: words on a page that elicit meaning (via imagination or knowledge). The medium via which those words are communicated is irrelevant, which is why audio books exist.

    Audio books never replaced print books simply because of visual vs. aural preferences for ingesting words. However, if there is a superior medium for ingesting words visually, print will become obsolete.

    Jack, you're correct – we're in the early-adapter phase. However, we will quickly move beyond. I don't personally own a Kindle yet because I don't like it – bulky, black-and-white, etc. I read on my iPhone and on paper. But when full e-ink, flexible-screen readers come out that truly look and feel as light-weight and convenient as paper, I guarantee paper will die. With the possible exception of art book collectors and the "silver" generation.

    The digital avalanche leaves no one standing in its path.

  23. Jack McKeown

    My piece is not intended to lobby for a particular position regarding e-readers vs. paper books, but to raise a number of reasonable ( I hope!) questions that relate to the anticipated pace of e-reader sales. I hope that most readers will interpret it in that light. No offsense was intended against Kindle owners, or anyone else for that matter.

    With regard to who is buying e-readers, the same Bowker Pub Track data that are quoted in my piece point to 32% of Kindle sales coming from Americans aged 50 years and older, not surprising when you consider that they represent 67% of book sales generally and 50+% of the population. Nowhere in my piece do I attempt to characterize e-reader buyers except to note that we probably are still in the early-adopter phase of this technology's lifecycle. Early adopters tend to be more experimental and gadget-friendly than early majority buyers, most studies show.

    As to living in an alternative universe, I will admit to composing this in my 18th Century house, in a leafy pocket of Long Island, with my tri-cornered hat set at a jaunty angle. We do have WiFi, however. It is bouncing off the bookshelves now.

  24. Aaron Pressman

    Jack McKeown is living in an alternate universe where e-readers are over-hyped. In fact, since the moment Amazon introduced the Kindle, e-readers have been over-critiqued and underestimated. Forrester famously said back in November 2007 that only 50,000 Kindles would be sold. And article after article after tiresome article (including this one) make the same various points about why ereaders won't catch on even as they do.

    Just to put in context a few of McKeown's more egregious misperceptions…the "value" of owning an ereader is compared to buying paperback books and ignores the $5 to $10 per book you save if you are a buyer of new hardcovers, free Internet connections on the Kindle and new Sony's and the unique ability to buy new books almost anywhere, anytime. Ebooks also can be reformatted to larger fonts instantaneously – a big draw for older readers. Ebooks are also lighter and more portable than the typical new hardcover book. And the price of ereaders is falling fast having already hit $199.

    If you click through to the NYT piece he mentions, despite the headline, you'll see that most of the research that's been done and the bulk of the criticisms refer to reading on computer screens, particularly web content, not reading ebooks on dedicated ereader devices (Liu: "networked digital media," Aamodt: "on most people's computer screens," Wolf: "distracting information, sidebars, and now, perhaps, videos," Mark: "reading online").

    Next McKeown notes that most print books are bought by older folks and asserts ereaders are bought by younger folks. Wrong. Kindle and Sony Reader owners skew older. See for example

    Finally we get the usual stew of objections, such as DRMs stink, new products are coming, it's all so confusing for consumers etc. The same could be said of most nascent technology markets, such as digital music before Apple's iPod and iTunes store arrived or the VCR/Betamax battle or the early PC market and so on. These types of issues get solved – some are on the way to getting solved already – and are overblown. Ereaders are a substantial and growing market and I feel sorry for publishers that get convinced otherwise.

    p.s. who is obfuscating about ereader sales? Amazon says they're not releasing any numbers out of competitive concerns and so they haven't. Don't you think Apple wishes the record labels and movie studios didn't know how many iPods were sold and how much profit Apple made on them? Sony meanwhile said last December it had sold 300,000 readers. Pretty direct answer, I'd say.

  25. Jack McKeown

    I believe that for any media business to navigate these waters between digital and print, questions about the timing and degree of e-reader penetration are critical. Each business will need to make its own judgments in this regard, but the core business of print will need to be maintained aggressively even as publishers ramp up their investment on the digital side. Therein lies the rub.

    Case in point; the NYT piece on screen-vs-print reading's effects on the brain has generated over 400 comments as of this morning, almost equally divided between early-adopters, passionate about their Kindles, and devoted print-on-paper readers, equally impassioned in their belief that eletronic reading devices do not convey the same reading experience, and never will. I don't believe there was very much debate regarding the core listening experience of MP3 vs CD, or viewing experience between DVD and video casette. The analogy breaks down between books and these other media at this fundamental user-experience/cultural level.

    I think it will remain an important consideration, and well beyond a 2-10 year time frame.

  26. OK, I can't resist commenting here. I run a medium-sized publishing company so I have opinions. At the same time, I've been a digital guy for years.

    So, at the end of the day, while the 3 factors stated here are legit, ultimately the biggest – and most compelling factor – is simple (and even more compelling than the parallel in music): convenience. It's simply a PAIN to carry around more than 2-3 books. 10-20? forget it. Hundreds? Impossible. At least with CDs you could throw 20-30 of them in a small case and survive.

    That simple advantage is all one needs. The price points are still too high. The technology isn't quite there. But within a few years, we'll see true flexible screens, easy-on-the-eye text, and full color. And the price will come down to those of MP3 players.

    And, yes, Apple will dive in, as will the usual suspects.

    Suffice it to say that paper is going away. Will it happen in 2 years? 10 years? No one knows, but I would never bet against sooner rather than later.

  27. Just leave it to Apple to figure out the e-reader issue. I think most casual users don't want a limited device.

    I have the Stanza app on my iPod touch, and that's a great reader. There are 35+ million potential e-readers already in the marketplace using an iPhone or iPod touch.

    And if the mytical Apple Tablet ever comes out…