Ebooks and the persistence of print

I found this link on today’s Shelf Awareness–it’s from the tech-forward people at O’Reilly, but offers the most concise summary I’ve read on the persistent virtues of print, and why ebook/ereader uptake is so different from what’s happening with music and video. I’ve been trying to make similar points with everyone I speak to over the past few years, and it’s gratifying to see them expressed so cogently, and in full-on buzzy tech-speak yet.

Lessons from music and movies need to be tempered by the nature of the media. Vinyl, VCR tapes, CDs, and DVDs do nothing but carry information and require a player. While some may wax nostalgic for the media of their youth (yes, the pun is intentional; note the resurgence in vinyl records sales), the media of yore are awkward and limiting, particular when compared to playing devices with enough built-in storage and connectivity to access everything users may ever want to hear or watch.

Print books and magazines –black print on white paper — create a uniquely effective reading platform that integrates both storage and a player in a convenient package. Reading material is consumed differently than music and movies. Books generally take longer to read and aren’t continually or frequently re-read, making the low storage density of books less of an issue than with music and movies. Ebooks and ebook readers are still maturing and may not be “good enough” yet to effectively replace the print book experience.

In books we may see a complementary relationship between print and electronic forms based on context, content, distribution and consumer usage. For example, students needing portable access to multiple textbooks may find the storage density of print a significant issue that pushes the adoption of ebooks (there’s a funny New Yorker cover showing a young girl with a backpack leading a mule, laden with books and school supplies).

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