The Paperback – Anything But Dead

Reporter Tatton Jacob’s thoughts after a day talking to people about what and how they are reading.

Despite a clear push to advertise and manufacture new tablets and e-readers, people simply seem unable to find a reason to give up traditional books. Benefits such as portability and quick access to content online seem dulled by a sense of passion that permeates from proponents of traditional books.

While developing rapidly, the digital ecosystem is somewhat segmented, which can be confusing to consumers. A proprietary system with passwords and protection is a cold contrast to the hometown appeal of a secondhand bookshop, book swaps and tangible, tactile engagements.

Interviewed subjects showed confusion even discussing the subject of e-reading. Several mentioned computers and tablets from a number of different makers with different screens and sizes. They referenced purchases from different libraries, and mentioned the difficulty of losing an e-reader.

One subject claimed research indicates less physical strain on the eyes when using traditional books, though some scientists disagree. He admitted e-ink screens may be exempt from that, but pointed out their inability to be read without illumination. Oddly, in this category, people seem to expect illumination.

Another subject owned a Kindle but hadn’t yet bothered to open it. Device registration and accounting details can introduce tediousness where tediousness did not used to be. Passwords are a minor source of terror for some over the age of 40.

Many subjects were not happy with note taking capabilities on digital devices. Cross-referencing or otherwise reading multiple books at the same time seems to be easier with physical copies as well.

Additions such as Amazon’s lending library, book-sharing and the adoption of e-borrowing through public libraries have addressed many early complaints, but because digital concepts are flexible, the digital system will continue to adapt and will ultimately reign supreme.

Clear early adopters of the digital system have been medical and research institutions. With such a high volume of constantly changing content to deal with, the digital benefits of a compact library hold more weight. Open formats such as .pdfs have proven easy to distribute and are significantly changing said industries.

Small, individual and low-cost publishers see opportunities provided through e-reading. This has allowed them a foothold for freedom from the constraints of big-book publishing.

To an individual, the ambiguity of a digital screen can be troublesome. Aesthetically, a book presents itself in a rather obvious way, while an iPad can be seen as a portal to any number of digital venues.

Interestingly, the environmental implications of traditional book publishing were not mentioned by anyone I interviewed.

The simplicity of a book is hard to interrupt. It is a gift that can be given again and again. To improve this is a lofty goal.

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About Clark

Clark Covington is the Founding Editor and Publisher of Mr. Covington founded several startups in the book, media, and marketing space. Google