There’s another post from someone on FutureBook wondering, based on their personal experience, whether the e-book is going to “kill” the printed book. There’s nothing particularly special about this post—indeed, it’s only four paragraphs long, and most of what it says has been said before: e-publishing probably won’t end printed books, but might end cheap, mass-produced word containers in favor of printed-to-last objects d’art.

But what interests me about this is just how many of these particular posts we’ve been seeing over the last few months. They’ve always been with us, even from the days when the preferred e-book device (among those few who read e-books) was the Palm Pilot, But we’ve been seeing so many of them lately (and everyone posting them seems to think he’s stumbled upon some new and original insight) that it seems almost as if the e-book has finally become popular enough that paper-book-lovers are starting to go into denial. “E-books won’t kill printed books! They’ll make them better.”

Of course, it’s certainly possible e-books will lead to publishers concentrating on printed books as artifacts rather than just word containers. But it’s funny to see so many readers seemingly all grasping at exactly the same straw at once.


  1. And what straw is that? Paper books outsell screen books ten to one. And screen books promote print books; it’s a two-way bridge.

    But all that is irrelevant. What is missed is the complementary relation of print and screen. Books are mechanisms of culture transmission and there are many others. Books feature various formats including embodied, self-authenticating print formats and disembodied, self-indexing screen formats. Any scenario or commercial agenda that would diminish the capacity of book transmission, by favoring only print or screen functionality, is counter productive and probably silly.

    Oh, and watch the trends going forward. Look for a sustainable balance in the near future, a level sales of print and a possible 1000% growth for screen books over the next ten years. Remember, as your installed base expands the % growth slows.

  2. It’s a rainy weekend afternoon in Tokyo and American expat Craig Mod
    is sitting in a sleek coffeeshop reading a book
    on his newly-purchased iPad, test-driving it. But distractions abound.
    Not in the crowded coffeeshop or out on
    the colorful Tokyo streets, but right there on his iPad.

    He muses: “Distractions
    [come to my attention trying to read on this iPad, such as]: sloppy
    typography, misspelt words, confusing page breaks,
    widows, orphans, broken tables. These and more pull me from the
    narrative spell. In that moment I realize, although I’ve had this
    substantial object of glass and metal for a few weeks, I haven’t
    managed more than ten pages of anything.”

    Mod, a writer, designer and publisher in his mid-30s, wonders what the
    problem is.

    “It’s not the screen — I’ve happily read several novels on my
    iPhone,” he thinks. “It’s not the weight — it feels fine when resting
    on a table or my knee.”

    So, what then?

    “The problem is much simpler,” Mod says, making some mental notes.
    “iBooks and are incompetent
    e-readers. They get in the way of the reading experience and treat
    digital books like poorly typeset PDFs. We can do better.”

    He goes one step further and says: “We have to do better!”

    Mod likes to think hard — and deep — about these kinds of questions:
    What’s wrong with current e-readers and how do we rebuild them?
    What meta-data do we create when engaging digital text, how can
    e-readers embrace it and how does that change readers’ relationships with

    Of course, who cares how great the e-bookstores are if it’s painful to
    read the e-books?

    Mod again: “I barely prefer over iBooks — it’s simply
    the less horrible of two bads. Both of these applications treat
    e-books little better than cheap PDFs made from scanned physical
    books. If we want an e-reader capable of fully embracing the digital
    advantages of our e-books, we need to start rebuilding.”

    According to Mod, printed books and e-books are both text at their
    cores. “Book designers long ago established rigorous rules for laying
    out text blocks so they disappear to the reader,” he muses. “They took pride in
    turning the physicality of a book into a tool for efficiently and
    elegantly getting information into the mind of the reader. As any good
    typographer knows: the best typography goes unnoticed.”

    “Our e-readers [today] seem to have forgotten this heritage. They’ve forgotten
    that their core purpose is simply to present text as comfortably as
    possible; to gently pull the reader into the story. Every other aspect
    of experiencing a book is predicated on this notion.

    Mod wants to see e-readers improve on these core issues:

    Hypenation: Why is hyphenation proving to be so elusive? “Eucalyptus
    on the iPhone does a fine job with it. If they can, then so should
    Apple and Amazon,” he says, adding: “Hyphenation isn’t as big a deal
    for longer line lengths. But if one
    advantage of digital books is large font-sizes for the visually
    impaired, then hyphenation must be implemented. The impact hyphenation
    has on readability multiplies as the point size increases.”

    Ragged-right text: “There’s
    something sociopathic about major e-readers not including this option,” he says.

    Smarter margins: “Line length and margins are intrinsically tied to
    the type and size of
    font being used, and the shape of the page (or screen). Like
    Instapaper, you could give readers a choice of leading, margins and
    font size. But readers aren’t typographers. They shouldn’t have to
    choose. These are page design fundamentals, based on rational
    proportions. Our e-reader layout algorithms should be competent in
    balancing these variables.”

    Copy and paste: ”That we can’t copy and paste is an insult. The
    rationale behind this
    restriction is obvious: publishers don’t want readers to easily
    extract entire books. It’s a form of DRM through obnoxiousness.”

    Typesetting: Mod says that currently, printed book typesetting is far
    more nuanced and elegant
    than any Kindle or iBooks edition, adding: “Add to the equation that
    many digital books are OCR scans with broken
    tables and sloppy page breaks, and you have to wonder just how anyone
    thinks they can charge a near equivalent price for an inferior reading
    experience. A reading experience made inferior not because of the
    device, but because of a lack of consideration in the presentation. A
    reading experience that can be made better with a stronger focus on

    Mod’s mantra: let’s focus on the fundamentals. Improve e-reader typography
    and page balance. Integrate well-considered networked

    Last words: “Respect the rights of the reader and then — only then — will
    we be in a position to further explore our new canvas.”

  3. Both sides are in denial. Paper has some big advantages; 1. you can share a book after you’re finished reading. 2. You don’t need an expensive device to read it. 3. You can easily get books at the library. 4. You have a physical item to browse at a bookstore to see if the quality is worth your money. 5. No worry of a computer crash and losing your books. 6. You have the written book for an autograph.

    Ebooks have advantages too; 1. You can share and read a book at the same time if the book isn’t saddled with DRM. 2. The right device gives you the ability to copy text for further research. 3. A properly formatted ebook has hyperlinks to footnotes. 4. You can read in the dark without disturbing your partner. 5. You can create your own bookmarks. 6. You can search for keywords.

    So to me, this “us versus them” tone is not helpful for discussions. Each format has its merit.

  4. There is no opposition between printed books and eBooks. It is the same people consuming (more-or-less) the same content on different platforms. If the ePlatforms increase total reading hours per person then great. If books become more covetable, giftable objects then great.

    My father is no less a fan of John Grisham whether he reads the new hardcover, the old paperback, a Kindle version via his Android app or an app version via his iPad.

    The us vs them debate is akin to saying bookshops will all go out of business because libraries exist and everyone can just read books for free. It totally ignores that people like to read and own published content in different ways.

    In my experience as a bookseller, publishers are producing content via a few platforms, but there has been a move toward more deluxe book objects… so Vanity Fair is available in various e-forms, mass paperback, academic paperback, collectable series hardback, art publisher made 50s-retro hardback with newly commissioned illustrations, endpapers and twin ribbons, and a super-deluxe limited edition signed £150 collectors edition. Problem? No.

  5. “There is no opposition between printed books and eBooks. It is the same people consuming (more-or-less) the same content on different platforms”

    I believe this is only part of the story. From my experience, with my ipad and iPhone reading and several colleagues at work and friends I drink with, many of them now read a crazy number of books compared with before eBooks. They have told me that they were down to one book a year but are now buying eBooks from amazon et al at the rate of one or two a month, more if they are travelling.

    So I am convinced that eBooks will expand the market as well as migrate readers from paper to eDevices.

  6. Uh, guess what? A US writer shows now that Amazon’s Kindle best seller list is easily manipulated by those wishing to push their books.

    Thomas Hertog said he came up with a cunning plan when he was trying to flog his financial advice book called Wealth Hazards.

    Over five months all he had to do was buy and download his book to his Kindle 173 times. He has also written 42 customer reviews that he voted on one hundred and eight times to raise the ranking on Amazon’s bestseller list and recommendation lists.

    At various times, Wealth Hazards was ranked number bestseller in personal finance higher than Dave Ramsey, Suze Orman, Andrew Tobias or Donald Trump,” he said.

    Hertog was so amazed at how easy it was to get to the top of the Kindle best seller list that he dashed out another book The Day the Kindle Died about his technique.

    The book reveals how Amazon publishes inaccurate sales rankings and bestseller lists, allows fake customer reviews to be posted and utilises all of this misleading information to make recommendations to customers. The proof is Hertog himself.

    “Amazon pays me royalties each month and apparently has never bothered to read The Day the Kindle Died because as of today it is ranked a Top 20 consumer guide on Amazon. Wealth Hazards still ranks in the Top 10 for personal finance after five months of daily purchases and inflated reviews,” he said.

    This is not the first time that we have suspected something like this. A while ago, a US journalist smelt a rat when a controversial self-published eBook titled “A Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure” was released, triggering a ground swell of protest on social media networks from Twitter to Facebook. The vanity press title suddenly found itself being ”propelled” to the top 100 rankings among paid Kindle titles on Amazon.

    He suspected those ranking stats did not mean people were buying the book, or even ordering it, but merely that thousands of curious internet surfers from London to Louisana were clicking on the book’s Amazon link just to see what the fuss was all about. And to catch a glimpse of the cover. Much ado about nada.

    Whether or not Amazon can be gamed in this way, Hertog managed to boost his results – twice.

  7. What annoys me is the attitude some people have that people who read ebooks are giving up on books somehow. We have a snooty girl at work who jumped in when another co-worker and I were discussing our ebook readers and she said pretty much said “well, *I* love books and uncoils never give them up!” Um, I love books too. And I have not “given them up” by any stretch. I bet I read more books than she does! That I read them on a Kindle instead of in paper doesn’t change that I am reading books, buying books and supporting authors. You could even argue I am doing “more” than she is because I am not limited by how much physical space I have. I can have a million books if I want to.

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