Death of Paper Part 3: E-Books vs. Paper Books

Books and Kindle

Click here to read Death of Paper Part 1 and Part 2

Paper versus “E” (or virtual reading).

So. This discussion is all about Generations.


Think of it this way. We are currently in a transitional generation.

Going back to the number of years I stated in part 2 (the 35 to 50 thing). It’s a generational thing. GenXers are book buyers. Millenials are book readers and at the forefront of internet readership <and E-readers>. GenYers are shifting the balance toward “e” reading. It will be what I call the Global Generation that I believe will drive the e industry and flip the entire printed literature world on its head. And heads up Kindle people cause cellular is rockin’ around the corner. (what that means is while I believe Kindle, etc. are user options, I believe the cellular industry team will get their act together and become ‘the’ access point)

“Paper to digital”

Paper disintegrates and books crumble. Within the next decade Google alone will have digitized over 15,000,000 works of literature. France has already started moving forward on digitizing their Nationale Biblioteque.

Conservatively it has been suggested at least 95% of serious scholarly inquiries begin on Google.

But. Think of “the source.” It is going to be generations before the origin of literature will be on digital. The origin remains in printed material (at least for the foreseeable future).
Now, global knowledge is mostly captured in the unrestricted and unregulated world of cyberspace. Anyone with access to a computer (or, increasingly, other devices) can tap in. This world comprises digital forms of all types of content — web sites, papers, articles, audio files, video files — all in formats that are easier to search and access than books.
Eventually the content odd man out is books. By and large the content in books remains trapped in books with little access in cyberspace (although that is being solved). Beyond Google, Yahoo and MSN have signed onto a competing open source venture. Because of technical and legal obstacles, both ventures are at least a decade away from offering comprehensive results.
Digitizing books is gonna happen. Doesn’t mean books will go away though. My last thought?

I don’t care.

Make it all available. Digital, paper, papyrus, stone tablets. I don’t care.

“What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.”
George Bernard Shaw

The argument, or concerns, shouldn’t be paper versus ‘e’, it should be how we can make the words of truth, knowledge, available so we can fulfill children in pursuit of knowledge.

“In the best interest of the child”

In the next several sections of my ‘prognostication’ there will be some references to types of countries and the delivery system. Everything I am writing has one central thought “in the best interest of the child.” Sure. I know that isn’t realistic (because the bookselling business is a huge industry and cares about how to sell “stuff” but this is my post and I am setting the rules. And, frankly, if we don’t use this thought as the foundation for innovation and “where we go” in futurizing books and libraries and such we would be kind of silly. Classic literature (or let’s call it classic content and ideas) will never get old. Best sellers will always be best sellers. And knowledge will always be knowledge. All content is relevant. And all content should be available for future generations (Oh. That’s right. That’s kind of why we set up a library system in the first place. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.)

“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.”

Sir Winston Churchill

Developing countries versus developed countries

Ok. You may be surprised I am bringing this up here. But. We need to get out of our little American mindsets and think globally. Because in the near future there are gonna be a whole bunch ‘o people hungry for knowledge. The Development Gateway’s Special Report on the Information Society states that soon, there will be more internet users in the developing world than the developed.

In 2005, the number of Internet users in developing countries crossed the 500 million mark, surpassing developed nations for the first time. By some estimates, more than 75 percent of the world’s population now lives within range of a mobile network. The Economist in the report on the expansion of cell phone technology in developing countries expresses confidence cell phones will become the easy access computer technology available everywhere. Get ready book world, your world is going to be exploding in the near future.

The 10 inch screen versus the one inch screen

The word reader took on new meaning in devices such as the iPhone, Sony E-Reader, Kindle and Nook, not to be confused with the Vook, a one-screen blend of book and video. So. I use 10 inch loosely to make a point. Computer screen to E-reader screen to cell phone screen. That is the relationship.

As to my point earlier, cell phones will become easy access points to the internet. Libraries and “knowledge owners” have to stop and think about this. Having a Kindle is pretty sweet but having a cell phone is almost a mandatory to life these days – everywhere. One inch books. Oh my. Get ready. It’s here.

Context versus capturing a moment.

The weakness of computers and the one inch screen is the difficulty in gaining context at a glance. But I believe the power of the one inch screen is its ability to capture, isolate and highlight the literature “power of the moment”. That is what literature is all about. Ebb and flow, peaks and valleys. Shakespeare isn’t Shakespeare until you grab that moment where he captures the essence of the thought in a paragraph, a stanza or even just a line. Heck. Even James Patterson or a Tom Clancy does it (not calling them Shakespearean but making a point).

But. Here’s the deal. While I question how children can gain context off a screen, I need to get over that pretty quickly (as I did some research for this I read some fabulously written, deep heartfelt documents on the relationship between a reader and a book … I threw them all away). I love books. I love the smell and the feel and the way I can imagine things. Well. So what?

Today’s generation responds to multi-dimensional, spatial decision-making better than I (or my generation) could ever do at our age. I cannot envision what the next generation will have the capacity to do. The one inch screen will be no problem for them. The problem lies in the small mindedness of people like me who loves books and what we know. Toss it out the window. These kids will grasp context better than we can ever imagine. We should stop worrying and just do.


On a computer, any article longer than maybe 3000 words, I genuinely find hard to read and prefer to print. If I do have to read it onscreen, I will invariably halt at some point and surf somewhere else, and then return to it. That is the way I engage
with content on a computer.

BUT. I am not the Global Generation (or a GenYer). And that is my point.

For some people, books hold personal histories and the bookshelves are the record of our lives. And that will remain the same. It may be instead of bookshelves it may be a bookshelf. And kids will still cherish books. It just may be a book on their shelf and not ‘books.’

The physical act of opening a pristine novel is a sensory and uniquely human experience. We carry books to show who we are. And those things won’t change. It just may not be a printed book but rather “my bookmark list” on my cell phone that my girlfriend scans while I am jet packing to the restroom at the virtual coffeehouse.

A last thought.

“I cannot live without books.” – Thomas Jefferson.

If he were alive today I believe he would simply say “I cannot live without knowledge.”

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Written by Bruce