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Publetariat Dispatch: E-Ink Devices – The Fastest Invention In History To Become Old-Fashioned

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!
In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author and publisher Alan Baxter muses on the disruptive speed of technological advances in books and publishing.

I’ve been noticing that more and more people are reading e-books from  tablets and fewer people are buying e-ink devices like the original  Kindle. When I straw-polled this perception on Twitter, it seemed that I  was right. While we are seeing more Kindles and Kobos than ever, the  number of iPads and other tablet devices seem to far outstrip the e-ink  growth.

Further chatting and some links supplied by friendly  tweeters backed this up. When I tweeted: “I predict that e-ink devices  could be the fastest invention in history to become old-fashioned”,  futurist Mark Pesce replied:

@mpesce: They’re already charmingly quaint.

From  a shiny new technology to obsolete and replaced in very short order.  Already, the Kindle is “charmingly quaint”, like a gramophone player or a  phone with a cord and dial. I’m a bit disappointed about this, because I  love my Kindle. The thing I like most, apart from the very easy on the  eyes e-ink screen, is that it’s a dedicated reading device. No  distractions. It holds books and other documents that I need to read and  that’s all. There are enough interruptions everywhere else – I don’t  need them in a book too. Plus, the battery lasts literally weeks.

But  I do have a slight issue in that I love my comics. I’ve read comic  books forever and still buy several titles a month. I’d be happy to move  to reading those digitally, but for the colour and graphic delivery I’d  need a tablet like an iPad. I’ve yet to be able to justify the expense  of an iPad purely for reading comics. But if it was for all my  e-reading… And that doesn’t even begin to address the multi-media  reading experience, with linked footnotes, video content and so much  more that tablets make so easy.

But here’s where another problem  presents itself. Reading novels (or other straight, unadorned text) from  a tablet is problematic at the moment. It’s hard to see outside in the  sunshine. The tablet has a terrible battery life, compared to the weeks  and weeks I get from my Kindle. The backlit display is more tiring for  the eyes. And herein lies the reason tablets are taking over – all those  things are being addressed and improved at a furious rate. The tablet  is starting to achieve all the positives of a dedicated e-ink reader,  along with all the other things it does, making the strengths of e-ink  irrelevant.

It’ll be a while before the tablet screen, ink, battery life and so on are as good as, say, a Kindle, but not that long a while. It will happen.

What  this boils down to is actually something bigger. The device itself is  becoming irrelevant. The beauty of the tablet is that it is a convergent  device. You carry one thing and it does everything you need – reading,  writing, web surfing, social networking, etc. This leads to a paradigm  shift in content creation and delivery. As Eoin Purcell said on Twitter during last night’s conversation:

Things will be sold, but selling will take different forms. Subscriptions, memberships, ads, events, readings etc.


His  point being that the content will be in the cloud, the creators and  publishers will earn through the things he mentions in the quote above  and that content will be consumed on a variety of devices. The device  itself becomes irrelevant – all it needs is access to the cloud and a  comfortable reading experience. That’s the tablet with the battery life,  screen resolution and daylight clarity I talked about above. The  implication here is that not only does the device itself become  irrelevant – as long as you have one, any one will do – but the concept  of an ebook is also irrelevant. You don’t buy a book. You subscribe to a  publisher and access their content, whenever, wherever. I’m not  entirely sure how I feel about this…

So the dedicated e-reader,  like the Kindle or Kobo, is already dead. It just hasn’t stopped kicking  yet. Amazon know this, so they’ve released the Fire, which is a tablet  device. Others are following suit. For those of us who prefer a  dedicated e-ink device, we should make the most of it now. Before long  we’ll be the hipsters of the digital reading world, congregating like  those people in record stores who still buy vinyl and talk about what  stylus they prefer. I wonder if half the people reading this even know  what a stylus is.

(For further reading, I’d recommend this article on the subject by Eoin Purcell. Interestingly, this article is already more than two years old.)


This is a cross-posting from Alan Baxter’s The Word.