Kindle eBook Pricing
Andy Grove on Big Companies vs. Startups

Print Is Dead, by Jeff Gomez

Print_is_deadGiven Amazon's recent release of the Kindle ebook reader, the timing of Jeff Gomez's Print Is Dead couldn't be better.  Regardless of your beliefs about print vs. e-content, you need to read this book, especially if you're in the publishing business.  You might not agree with Jeff's opinions but I guarantee you he'll make you think about the industry in ways that you've never thought about it before.  Even if you're just a fan of reading in general you owe it to yourself to read this excellent book.

The way I test the value of a book is by looking back and seeing how many times I've folded over a page or highlighted a passage that got my attention.  My copy of Print Is Dead has so many folds and highlighter marks that it looks like it's been read by 10 different people.  Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

Many of those in publishing see themselves as guardians of a grand and noble tradition, so much so that they sometimes suffer delusions of grandeur.

...pretty much anyone under the age of thirty qualifies for being accustomed to a 'constant stream of digital stimulation.'  And so to expect future generations to be satisfied with printed books is like expecting the Blackberry users of today to start communicating by writing letters, stuffing envelopes and licking stamps.

Today's kids are not going to want to pick up a big book and spend hours in a corner silently, passively reading.  Why in the world would they do that?  It's not interactive.  They can't share the experience with their friends.  There's no way to change the book to suit their own tastes.

The publishing industry needs to realize this, and it needs to also find a way to get to these kids by making content available in a way that will first reach them (i.e., digitally) and then will give them the tools to interact with it and share it (post excerpts on their MySpace pages, email chapters to friends, IM paragraphs across class, etc.)  If not, there are dozens of ways this generation will choose to spend their time, and none of them will involve books.

Of course there are many who contend that books are works of art and shouldn't be reworked or touched at all.  The latter is of course a silly view since readers 'rework' these books all of the time by skipping whole sections as they read, the same way that people rarely ever listen to the entirety of "The White Album."

The ability to alter, and then share, text to this degree would mean that you could edit a book to your own liking and then send an amazing chapter or even a couple of sentences to someone, via email or a webpage, along with a message that says, 'Take a look at this; I think it's amazing.'  Imagine all of the sharing of literary material that would occur if the reigns were loosened just a little.

Most of the early ebook formats and devices tried to faithfully mimic the ink-on-paper experience, and they failed not because they didn't look like real books, but because they looked too much like traditional books.

In the same way that Jimmy Buffett has created a multimillion dollar business around the success of his 1977 song 'Margaritaville,' so too will future authors create online communities and brands built around their works that have the potential to be even more popular than the works the communities were built to support.

Writers who are unskilled in the ways of the Internet, or just don't want to play any part in the online discussion and want to write their books and be left alone, will be like movie actors at the end of the silent era who were forced to have elocution lessons when talking pictures were suddenly the brand new thing.

If publishing can't find a way to tap into this need for discussion, then it's going to find itself and its product increasingly left out of the conversation.

...one day (perhaps soon) a printed book in a digital world will seem as quaint and as antiquated as a watch or a fountain pen feels today.

It's simply not possible that the Internet is going to have an effect on every area of our lives except reading books.

If I had to rank the 12-15 books I've read this year this would be #1 by far.  It's extremely insightful, well written and is one of those gems that makes you stop and think.  I've only hit some of the highlights in this post.  You need to read the entire book to appreciate the vision Gomez has for print and e-content.  Highly, highly recommended!

Comments

Susan Helene Gottfried

As a parent, I can tell you that the claim that kids not being satisfied with going into a corner and reading a book is pure garbage. Our school has Silent Uninterrupted Reading Time (somehow, they get the acronym SQUIRT out of that), with a Big SQUIRT the day before holidays and whatnot. The kids bring pillows and blankets and whatnot. It's a huge thing.

Reading books is also a comedown from all the noise and whatnot they (we?) are bombarded with from our screens. It's a quiet activity that still transports the reader to a new world.

Yeah, the reading experience will change in the future. No argument there. But to predict that our kids will ONLY want the technical bombardment is just wrong.

robyn andrews

i also disagree with the notion that a child, or adult for that matter, will never be seen hunkered down in a corner with a book. reading is a pleasure, but one that needs to be nurtured in children. the scientific benefits of reading have already been established, but reading for pleasure is a forgotten art and i'm glad to see elementary schools encouraging it. however, the costs of electronic distribution could lead to a bigger chasm between the "haves" and "have-nots." i can't afford a kindle. and as for the comparison to a watch or fountain pen, check your local jewelry store or wal-mart and you still find both. instead of thinking of books as buggy whips, think of them like shoes. almost everyone wears them, but not the same kind. if we make it important, kids will make it important. why not apply these technological marvels where they are needed . . . TEXTBOOKS!! the price is outrageous and school districts, libraries and college students could certainly afford $400. stop trying to convince the average joe that they don't need books and make the technology valuable where it's needed.

Gary Mintchell

Many of the arguments are valid, but he falters on one point, especially. That is, reading is a passive activity only for those who don't want to read. Reading is tremendously more active for the brain than is watching TV (for example). I've been an electronic early adopter for more than 20 years. I think that electronic will replace print for some things. I use both, and I think many other people will use both, too.

Morgan Ramsay

When I was in preschool, they called "SQUIRT" simply DEAR Time. DEAR is an acronym for "Drop Everything And Read." We also had the option of sleeping.

When I was in elementary school, I was a reader. In fact, I read so much that the principal called my parents into her office to complain that I was reading too much and not socializing enough with other children. Imagine that! An educator complaining that a student was learning to an excess.

I'll probably buy an e-book reader when the price drops to a reasonable level. Until then, I'll use a laptop.

Kapil

Hi Joe,

Am an avid reader of your blog and always look forward to your views as I find them really interesting and logical.

I read your posts on Kindle and Amazon's pricing strategy and then this one. I think that reading as a hobby for those who love it will always be with books that they can see, touch, smell and showcase in their personal libraries. For many, creating such libraries is like collecting the best of life and they find pride in showing it to world too. In my opinion the notion that reading will be more through e-books or on kindle etc. would apply to the non-serious sorts. Those who read not as a hobby but just to keep themselves updated. Even for them buying an expensive device like Kindle will not be a very attractive option.

I agree with many comments here that point at various ways in which reading as a habit is being promoted in children at school and at home. And thus I am not entirely with the theory that Print is dead.

Kapil
http://kapilsood.blogspot.com/

Troll King

Um, but Jeff Gomez tells us all this in a book ...

I'm just saying.

PS: Nonetheless, I bought the book.

Marty

After staring at a lighted screen all day at work, reading the printed page is restful on the eyes.

Hunkering down in a corner with a book is just as good a form of escapism as plugging in the iPod and closing your eyes. Kids need this form of inidvidual recreation as much as they need more social forms. It's not an either-or proposition: it's both.

Also, gotta love this contradiction in your quotes:
"There's no way to change the book to suit their own tastes."
vs
"a silly view since readers 'rework' these books all of the time by skipping whole sections as they read, the same way that people rarely ever listen to the entirety of "The White Album.""

A silly view indeed.

Magazines and newspapers may die off, but I'll finally have that flying car they've been promising me for decades, before books become obsolete.

Harry Helms

No, print books are never going to become obsolete. But an ever-increasing chunk of the "information pie," especially in the scientific, technical, professional, and reference areas, will belong to electronic media. Anyone who doesn't understand that is going to miss the next great wave in publishing.

Jacqueline T Lynch

One wonders how graphic novels will transfer to ebook readers, or "coffee table" type books on art or photography.

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