As a child, I would thumb through the pages of The Giver with a dim book-light and my bed sheets over my head. My small fingers would dance across the paper pages, feeling the grain of the once alive tree, as my adventures into a fantasy world were pursued. I would fight dragons, challenge society, cast magical spells and travel around the globe; there was no feeling as rewarding as getting lost far away in the depths of a book.
Today, the overall experience has not changed as I tap through my copy of Stephen King’s The Stand. My mind still gets lost in a world of delight (and horror), but the medium to do so has changed. Did you notice I said “tap?” My reading these days takes place on a tablet – a Kindle Fire HD.
Today it is a normal occurrence to see someone reading from a tablet or ebook reader, but it hasn’t always been this way.
Let’s start by jumping into a time machine and heading back to the 1990’s, when it all began. The original creator of the ebook reader is disputed, but it is agreed upon that this decade showcased the birth of portable digital reading. One of the first ebook devices to hit the market and gain attention was the Sony Data Discman. This device read information off small compact discs to a small grayscale LCD. The Data Discman experienced low sales outside of Japan and was a quickly failed product, but not a failed idea. The world had its first taste of what a digital book might be like.
Fast forward fifteen years and one of the largest consumer giants, Amazon, took the first step into both the electronics and ebook markets with Kindle, an ebook reader named after the feeling of reading and the idea of intellectual excitement. The Kindle marked the first major footstep into the digital book world, selling out in only five and a half hours. At a price tag of $399, this was no easy accomplishment. The Amazon Kindle remained out of stock for five months and was aimed as a serious competitor to the physical paper book market.
Kindle featured a technology many people had never seen or heard of before, electronic paper. The absence of a backlight removed strain from a reader’s eyes and made it easier to read a book for a longer periods of time without eye strain. Electronic paper works by positively and negatively charging microcapsules containing black and white pigments; these capsules display the black or white pigment depending on how each is charged.
Amazon announced that in late 2010, its ebook sales had surpassed sales of paperback books for the first time in history. In addition, Amazon had stated that at the end of 2011 its ebook sales were up three times what it was the year before, and the sales of Kindle devices were selling at a rate of “well over” one million per week – ebooks had gone mainstream.
Now that ebooks are so common, many readers are discovering the positive features of going digital. I myself made the switch to digital book media early 2009, when Amazon released the second generation Kindle for $369 (I know, what a steal!).
For almost four years, I haven’t picked up a paper book and I don’t plan on going back anytime soon. Paper, my once closest friend, has become a distant stranger.
It is an odd feeling to distance yourself from a medium others still use. While people still talk about and read paper books, they seem as old to me as a VHS tape might seem to most other people.
Last week, I walked into a public library for the first time in almost half a decade. I strolled over to the “New Fiction” shelf and plucked a book off the shelf to read. The existential feeling of picking up a paper book after so many years was fascinating. The weight of the book shifted left and right as pages turned, the paper felt dark and rough, and many of the features I cherished in ebooks (such as quick dictionary lookup, page saving, and more) were gone.
I can’t help, but wonder if my strong separation from paper books will be felt by the entirety of readers in the next ten years. Will paper books remain in the majority of our minds, or (like myself) will paper books become a long lost friend?
What do you think – what is the future of paper books?