28 08 2007

Ken Rutkowski, editor of the amazing Ken Radio “World Tech Round Up” series of podcasts (his RSS feed is here), has a video on his Facebook page (which, I’m sure, he has put up on www.kenradio.com by now) about the future of books.

Ken comes down on the side of paper, versus e-books.

Books have a feel all of their own. With the images they paint in the minds of the reader. What will be lost by reading a book on an eBook Reader. Will the feel and sound of a page turning be missed or will readers rather have their eBook Reader filled with 80 novels to take on the go?Do books need to be re-ivented and are eBook Readers the way to go?

I have a slightly different take on this.

Here’s an analogy from the world of film. As a film editor, when we were beginning the transition to digital Non-Linear Editors, you heard how some people “missed the feel of film.” I heard lots of talk about how nothing could replace yanking the film out, from hand to hand, and “feeling its pace.”

That was then, and this is now (as they say). No one talks about that anymore. What has happened is that the “feel of film” has been replaced by other types of feel and sensory shortcuts. No one yanks film out of a little roll anymore and says “Hmm, that feels like the right amount of time.” But they do tap keys in rhythms and say “Ah ha, that feels like the right amount of time.”

One set of inputs has been replaced by another because the positives of the switch to NLEs have far outweighed the loss of the “feel of film.”
I have no doubt that something similar will happen to books. Will they ever go away completely? Probably. After a long long amount of time. But what will replace the feel that Ken laments losing? Other feels. Images will still be engendered in our minds. They may or may not be the same as what a paper book would set off in us, but it will tickle us nonetheless.

What will finally create the tipping point towards eBooks will be when the ease of use and the convenience of bookmarking and carrying around multiple books (and the coolness of note taking in an ebook) outweighs the convenience of paper. Some of us will notice, most of us won’t care.

I’ve been saying for years that, once the finances of digital distribution of features are settled, then the only thing that will hold back the mass adoption of it will be the audience perception of the image. Once 90% of the audience can’t distinguish between film and digital projection (or prefer digital) then the labs and everyone else will have to kiss film projection goodbye. In an earlier post, I talked about the effect this will have on labs but, for the discussion set off by Ken’s comment about eBooks, I’d say that the adoption of ebooks is pretty much dependent on consumers reaching somewhere near that 90% figure. That is, when a large majority of the book buying public decides that the advantages of reading books in the ebook format is no worse than reading them in paper format, then killing trees for reading will become a thing of the past.

By the way, I’d look for newspapers and magazine to clear the way for this before books.

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