reading the future

by joey marchy
Will the days of cracking open a book be a thing of the past? I doubt it, but the way we read is changing from the printed page to 1s and 0s. Digital technology is affecting the book, magazine and newspaper industry from purchasing to delivery.
Let’s start with the current game changer, Amazon’s Kindle. As thin as a pencil, the Kindle is an electronic book reader that allows you to download books from the Kindle store. You can do this wirelessly, day or night, and you don’t even have to be connected to the Internet. 300,000 available books plus newspapers and magazines means no more waiting for the bookstore to open.
The thought of reading books on a digital screen doesn’t sound appealing until you hold the Kindle in your hand. My brother brought his over so I test drove it for a while. A little top heavy, it’s about as thin and light as a Newsweek. At those dimensions, it’s amazing to think you can store 1,500 books on a single Kindle. A few will say “I look at a computer all day, why would I want to look at another one when I am relaxing with a book”. The screen is engineered for reading so it’s easy on your eyes. You can even change the size of the text.
From a book seller’s standpoint, you can’t compare the economies of selling digital books to paper books. Consider for a moment the cost of printing, storing, transporting and displaying 10,000 copies of a best-seller. A lot. Now consider the digital equivalent. A computer hard drive can store a single book and distribute 10,000 copies for basically nothing. Every time a person downloads a book there is a small transfer cost, but that’s pretty much it.
The Kindle is a luxury item at $400-500 a piece, but competition will soon drive hardware costs down to a price most people can afford ($99 iPhone anyone?). The Kindle will do to the publishing industry what iTunes did to the music industry. Turn it on its head., the leader in digital audiobooks, is another player in the future of reading. Demands on personal time are more intense than ever. Many people multitask, choosing to “read” in the car, jogging or waiting at the dentist. Time savings aren’t the only advantage of audiobooks. They allow people to experience reading in an entirely different dimension. Imagine listening to Malcolm Gladwell read his latest book or Sherlock Holmes being read in a British accent.
Similar to e-books you load on a Kindle, you can store more audiobooks on your iPod than you can pack in a suitcase. Technology isn’t just reducing the amount of space required to warehouse books and stock shelves, it’s reducing home and personal storage requirements too.
Let’s look further into the future of reading. I point you to a Wired Magazine article by Clive Thompson referencing people who are creating a HTML-like markup language for books: “Imagine a world where there’s a URL for every chapter and paragraph in a book-every sentence, even.” Thompson envisions a world where people link to favorite passages of books in a Facebook status update or a text message. While this is far off, technology will enable us to have every word ever written online, searchable and linkable. The possibilities of sharing are endless.
More people are reading the news and blogs on mobile devices than ever and that number is set to increase over the coming years. Thanks to the iPhone and PalmPre we can access any news, anywhere. Reading with your mobile device allows you to “email this to a friend, bookmark this, share this on Facebook or Twitter this.” Soon we’ll come to expect and demand this of the books we read.
Imagine a world without printed books, newspapers or magazines. No more dog-earing pages to mark your spot. No more loaning a favorite book to a good friend. No more highlighting an important paragraph. Is this what we have to look forward to in the future, no printed books? Not a chance. Printed books won’t go away anytime soon. There’s something comforting about curling up with a good a book, and you sure won’t be taking your $400 Kindle on the pool float with you this summer.