Home » Ebooks, Tablets/Ereaders » Here’s What the Future of Reading Looks Like

Here’s What the Future of Reading Looks Like

29 June 2014

From New York magazine:

Software is eating the world. It’s also eating the book.

For years, traditional book publishers have hoped that standalone e-readers — Kindles, Nooks, and the like — would be their salvation, replacing paper-and-ink books as the diversion of choice for a new generation of readers. But several new data points suggest that’s not happening. In fact, it seems clearer than ever that the future of reading isn’t on reading devices at all. It’s on your phone.

. . . .

“E-readers are looking like the next iPod,” Mashable writes today, noting that smartphones and tablets with e-reader apps are poised to cannibalize sales of dedicated e-readers in the same way that the iPhone – which had all the capabilities of an iPod, plus calling and texting and tons of other apps – killed its single-feature predecessor.

The death of the standalone e-reader might be good news for consumers, who will have one fewer gadget to buy and lug around. But it’s bad news for the book industry. If you’ve ever tried to read a book on your phone, you’ll know why. Reading on an original Kindle or a Nook is an immersive experience. There are no push notifications from other apps to distract you from your novel, no calendar reminders or texts popping up to demand your immediate attention. And this immersion is partly why people who use dedicated e-readers tend to buy a lot of books. (One survey indicated that e-book readers read about 24 books a year, compared to 15 books a year for paper-and-ink readers.)

E-book sales aren’t necessarily correlated with the popularity of standalone e-book readers, and the publishing industry could still have a successful digital transition if it convinces iPhone and Android users to buy e-books in the same quantities as Kindle and Nook users. But there’s no getting around the fact that smartphones aren’t designed for focused, sustained reading.

Link to the rest at New York and thanks to Patricia for the tip.

Ebooks, Tablets/Ereaders

50 Comments to “Here’s What the Future of Reading Looks Like”

  1. Wow. I am amazed. So many articles about ebooks are so fundamentally wrong that I had thought that we had reached peak ebook stupidity. Clearly, I was wrong. How does this stuff get picked up by a presumably reputable outlet?

    I suppose that the writer could have be transported here from an alternate reality, but what is New York Magazine’s excuse?

    • Fight the stupid, William!

      -Suzan, who’s been reading her e-books on her iPhone because her Kindle’s broken

    • What’s stupid about it?

      For me, I thought the observation (tablets are slowly replacing dedicated e-readers, much as the iPhone has pretty much replaced the iPod Touch) canny, though I think the further conclusions regarding attention span and ZOMG TEH DETH UF TEH BUUK are way less sound.

      I upgraded to the retina iPad Mini the moment it became available, and at first I used it for everything, including reading, but lately I’ve found myself gravitating back toward my Kindle Paperwhite for fiction. I still use the mini for stuff like Zite and magazines, but generally, if I want to read a novel, I use my Paperwhite. I find the screen better (it seems to have better contrast with the light turned all the way up, and something about the front light versus the back light seems to be happening, too — even if the mini screen is likely sharper, at least in terms of PPI). Immersive might be a subjective measure, but I’d agree with the article, there; I find the Kindle experience encourages immersive reading in a way that the mini doesn’t.

      I think more people will be reading on ereaders, whether dedicated devices or tablets. I don’t know what that will mean in terms of reading and publishing and writing, but honestly I think there’s more opportunity than limitation. I’m still waiting for the short story market to explode, for example, and I hope new HTML innovations will ultimately lend to even cooler experiments.

      • Immersive might be a subjective measure,… – Will

        Immersive is a VERY subjective measure, Will. Every time we turn around, somebody is bewailing that their particular favorite method of transmission is not being used by everybody.

        My immersion depends on the writer’s talent and my interest in the subject matter, not on the method of transmission. What does that mean? It means I bounce from transmission device to transmission device, depending on what’s near at hand.

        But it’s also totally ridiculous for me to assume everyone else also bounces between their paper library, phone, e-reader, tablet and PC.

        For years, traditional book publishers have hoped that standalone e-readers — Kindles, Nooks, and the like — would be their salvation,… – Kevin Rose

        This statement goes against every attitude the BPHs have shown for the last seven years. They’ve been fighting e-book adaption tooth and nail. So that’s the second ridiculous statement. What’s the purpose of having a dedicated e-reader if they’re stonewalling the files we read on the device.

        The thing I do agree with both you and Kevin is that tablets and phones are replacing dedicated e-readers. Moneywise, a multi-purpose device is a better deal for the average customer than a single dedicated device.

        But saying the demise of the dedicated e-reader signals the demise of reading is as equally stupid as saying the demise of paper-and-ink books signals the demise of reading.

        • But saying the demise of the dedicated e-reader signals the demise of reading is as equally stupid as saying the demise of paper-and-ink books signals the demise of reading.

          Totally agree. For the record, I’m not saying that one can’t have an immersive experience across devices. I was noting that the Paperwhite is simply my preference for my purposes.

          But I think it’s more complicated; I don’t think, for example, that the iPhone completely replaced iPods. Sales declined, sure, but I know a lot of people love the Nano while exercising. Parents often get their kids iPods when they don’t want to go full cell phone for a six year old. So maybe e-ink digital readers will become as niche. I don’t think Amazon is going to stop selling either the base model Kindle or its Paperwhite any time soon — and if it does, I bet there will be a robust market for used ones on eBay for years to come.

          My immersion depends on the writer’s talent and my interest in the subject matter, not on the method of transmission.

          Mine depends partly on that. But what I do think the article is right about is that something like push notifications can knock a reader out of a story, every bit as much as those things like incorrect word choice and such. Like, I think there’s an argument to be made that suspension of disbelief is always precarious, no matter the story or the reader, but different things can inhibit that suspension for different readers. For me, I find I have trouble suspending my own disbelief if I don’t find a writers’ quality of prose matches their quality of storytelling — obviously, that is untrue for the vast majority of readers (I think for most readers, storytelling trumps all).

          But then, I usually turn on airplane mode if I’m reading on my iPad, because I don’t want to know immediately that someone’s retweeted me if I’m in the middle of a chapter.

          Further thought: don’t most iOS games temporarily suspend notifications? I don’t usually game on my iPhone so I can’t be sure, but does anyone know if a text can interrupt a fast and furious Flappy Birds game? I wonder if that could be an option; the OS can automatically go into the equivalent of Do Not Disturb mode any time iBooks or Kindle or whatever app is opened. I’d turn that function on in heartbeat.

          • Then me writing a novel chapter on my iPhone and texting with my hubby while I’m standing in line at the movie theater would drive you insane, Will. 😆

            To me, suspension of disbelief is a totally different problem than immersion. I’m willing to suspend a lot if the writer can justify why rules work the way they do in their world and do it in a way that’s not obvious and jarring. Immersion is getting involved in the story and caring about the characters. Yes, the two need to work together.

            For me, I find I have trouble suspending my own disbelief if I don’t find a writers’ quality of prose matches their quality of storytelling…

            This is where I think writers of all stripes hurt themselves from knowing too much. It’s not a slam. I’ve caught myself ripping apart the structure of books, TV episodes and movies, instead of sitting back and enjoying them for what they are. Turning that little part of your brain on and off is a difficult trick to learn.

            • Turning that little part of your brain on and off is a difficult trick to learn.

              Oh, for sure. Have you? If so, can you teach me?

              And no, that wouldn’t drive me insane! I envy you that you can, to be candid. I don’t know that I could manage it. Maybe I’ll have to try more often. I know I just started using Google Drive more often because I can sync better across, well, everything.

              • Tap your inner twelve-year-old and go see Transformers. Or Guardians of the Galaxy. Or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Yeah, I know teenage pizza-eating turtle martial artists takes a lot of suspension of disbelief. 😆

                As for the constant interruptions and flipping back and forth between things, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s been a requirement of every job I’ve ever had, including motherhood. 🙂

          • I’m about 99% sure that Apple doesn’t allow apps to turn off notifications from other apps. I don’t know about the situation on Android.

            One workaround would be to go into the Notification Center and turn off everything except badges for the stuff you don’t want to annoy you.

          • I’ve turned most notifications off – only texting and calendar are on. I take weekends as offline time. I think too many of us our tied to technology and treat everything as an emergency.

            That being said. I read during the day on my iPad and/or my Paperwhite but by 9pm I switch to only my Kindle Paperwhite as I’ve found it makes a big difference on my ability to fall asleep. I read a number of studies about how each affects the brain and we decided to add more gadgets to the house to help me sleep.

      • Let’s see:

        The idea that publishers loves ebooks and ereaders – you cannot get any stupider than that. The biggest publishers broke the law to slow the adoption of an eink ereader and to help a tablet that has all the features this guy thinks will ruin reading.

        The idea that the lack of popup notifications is the reason that people who own ereaders read more books than people who read print books is, uh, entertaining. Do your print books have popup notifications? Mine don’t.

        Also, how exactly is a technology dead when it sells 7 million units a year?

        The idea that smartphones and tablets breed short attention spans seems plausible, but only if you don’t know the history of the “breeds short attention spans” canard. When I was younger, it was television (specifically Sesame Street). Before that it was radio. Before that it was cheap pulp novels. Before that it was newspapers. Before that it was printed books. Before that, it was writing (no joke, people argued that with writing there would be no great story tellers like Homer). I suspect that some Neanderthal objected that language would cause short attention spans.

        As for “app-ification”, well I have run out of ways to say dumber than dirt. Nothing in this article is supported by facts and most of it is laughably wrong.

        • My son, my dog and my husband qualify as pop-ups notifiers when I read a paper book.

        • Strictly anecdata, but when I was in grad school, I noticed the younger grad students (21-25) had much more difficulty staying focused long enough to do the class readings (at least 800 pages of non-fiction a week, not counting personal research reading). Those of us 35 y.o.+ fared much better, even with familial and work distractions figured in. I see the same with younger teachers at the school where I sub. I can read a long article or several book chapters while on break, but they get twitchy and “need” to check FB, e-mail, skip to something else and then back to their book. *shrug*

      • Will, I had the exact same experience. I read on an iPad Mini for almost a year before buying a Kindle Paperwhite. I find the e-ink screen easier on the eyes for extended reading periods. A bonus is that the battery lasts infinitely longer on the Paperwhite than the iPad. There’s nothing more annoying than having a Low Battery warning pop up in the middle of a reading session.

        I still use the Mini for some non-fiction and sometimes reading samples. And, since I have a first generation Nook, all by B&N ebooks are safely on the Mini where I can read them if I want to. But my primary reading device is the Paperwhite.

    • I think they got it wrong. The future of reading is not for the millions of presbyopia-award winners to read on phones… the future of reading is on one’s portable postage stamp. Faster, lighter, even more inaccessible.

      Yes I have 15,000 books on my Fingernail Stampini; why one was even the best book I never read.

  2. I have a notion that those who invest in the newest technical toys are not people who read much.

    • I’ve found the opposite; early adopters adopt everything early, including but not limited to tech.

    • But they probably are drawn to the tech toys that meet their needs. I recently saw an incredible display of what a modern, computer controlled sewing machine can do. It’s a marvel of high tech. But I didn’t get it because I don’t sew.

  3. If my Kindle dies and Amazon no longer sells them, it won’t bother me much. I’ll just slit my wrists.

    • Big Traditional Publisher

      If Amazon lives I’ll slit my throat!


      Oh wait, I’m already doing that… never mind.

  4. Can I get a show of hands from all the traditional book publishers who thought that ereaders were going to be their salvation?


  5. Trying to understand why the packaging of the text of the story matters. I sell a story, I really don’t care what device they read it on. What am I missing?

    • I think the argument is that phones don’t have that “old Kindle smell”. 🙂

      I, too, would be disappointed if the eink devices disappeared. You can’t beat them for reading novels, IMO. I’ve got an iPhone, an iPad, and a Kindle Fire, but almost all of my serious reading takes place on an older monochrome Kindle (I’ll probably upgrade to the Paperwhite when and if this one kicks it, but it shows no signs of that yet)

      A phone screen is too small, and the iPad hurts if you fall asleep while reading and it bonks you in the face.

  6. Reading on an original Kindle or a Nook is an immersive experience. There are no push notifications from other apps to distract you from your novel, no calendar reminders or texts popping up to demand your immediate attention. And this immersion is partly why people who use dedicated e-readers tend to buy a lot of books.

    And this is also why we like them, why we buy them, and why they’re not going away. Not to mention that some of us get headaches reading on a screen.

    If you listen to The Kindle Chronicles (an excellent podcast about ebooks, publishing and e-readers), it’s a question the host, Len Edgerly, asks every time he gets an industry expert or Amazon insider on the show: Does the dedicated e-reader have a future? Every time, they give the same answer: people like having a device that’s just for reading, that isn’t going to interrupt them.

    Will dedicated e-reader sales continue to grow rapidly? Probably not, because most heavy readers have one by now (at least in the US). Will they be replaced by phones and tablets? Not any time soon.

  7. As long as people buy eBooks and read them, especially mine, I don’t care on what device they read the eBooks.

  8. Kathleen Rovner

    Umm, this is assuming that people don’t lug around bags. I do. Currently I have a Paperwhite, a Surface, and my IPhone ALWAYS in my purse/diaper bag. When you are used to carrying a lot you don’t care about it and just want the nicest stuff to use. But what do I know? I am in my 30’s and a young mom of two. I have one bag. I see people with a decent size purse and seperate diaper bags all the time. Oh, and my old cracked and beaten up Kindle from the first wave lives in my car so I can listen to audio books on my long commutes. I refuse to get rid of the old cracked thing. It still works. So maybe I like to stroke it and smell it like others like to do with paper books or something 😉 So I use two kindles all the time. Maybe I am just weird though, and I don’t mind varying stuff around.

    • Thank you Kathleen Rovner, I thought I was the only one who carried around so many different devices, but I’m not admitting to how many. I do hate reading on my phone ‘tho and have deleted all the (many) reading apps I have collected from it. I rarely read on my tablet and definitely prefer reading on a dedicated ereader.

    • A requirement for any purse I buy is that it be big enough to carry my ereader and phone and the French purse I prefer to a traditional wallet.

      • I didn’t mention that I literally have bags within my bag to keep organized 🙂

  9. “But there’s no getting around the fact that smartphones aren’t designed for focused, sustained reading.”

    I agree with this 100%, which is why I use them. Unless I’m traveling somewhere by myself, I don’t have the opportunity for focused, sustained reading (having two five-year-olds in the house will cause that to happen). So I read a chapter here and there on my phone.

  10. “If you’ve ever tried to read a book on your phone, you’ll know why.”

    Yes. It’s very convenient. I can use the iPhone to read the same book I was reading on my iPad the night before. Click the book on the iPhone, and it opens up right where I left off on the iPad.

    The same thing happens when I click the book on the Nexus-7 or my Kindle. The book follows me around and answers the call of whatever device I have with me.

  11. Two big problems with his argument:

    1. People like gadgets. Very few are looking for one device to cover everything in their lives. If so, the Surface, which is supposed to replace a laptop and an iPad, would be selling like crazy. Instead, people are willing to own both. And a phone, and an e-reader and an iPod nano. The people who have deposable income to buy books are also likely to buy lots of gadgets just to tinker with them. Moreover, dedicated e-readers still have a lot of room for improvement and prices will continue to drop. As they get better and better, and the prices drop below $50, a lot of them are going to be given as gifts or bought as impulse purchases. So they aren’t going away, even if they aren’t likely to be the main e-reader for most people.

    2. Not everyone is the same. I turn off all notifications on my phone except phone calls. Not everyone is going to allow Facebook to interrupt them every two minutes. Probably not even a majority over 25. If I have time, I absolutely will read on my phone and enjoy the experience and then finish it at home on a larger screen.

    In fact, it is more likely the opposite of what he is saying is true. As phones become better readers (with bigger screens, longer battery life, better storage) it is more likely people will buy more ebooks to read while they stand in line or take a train. Then they will probably buy more e-readers to enjoy at home with all the books they are collecting in a library.

    • The Surface might have had better uptake if Microsoft hadn’t made the operating system so annoying. I have one, but rarely use it, as Windows 8.1 just seems unnecessarily awkward.

  12. Huh? I’ve been reading on my Galaxy S3 for a year now. It’s fantastic. I have an app that turns off notifications with a single press, which is handy for a lot of situations–including reading. And when I was using my Nook Color, there were all the same distractions, at least when I was connected to wifi (which I was, all the time).

    Why the heck do they think Amazon just released a phone? They’re not stupid. They know what’s happening. My phone has a higher resolution than my Nook, a better screen, more memory, and more responsive page turns. There’s literally nothing about the experience of reading on it that is worse than my Nook Color.

  13. In terms of devices, perhaps the future of reading is whatever I want it to be, and I will choose what suits me. Th market offers the opportunity. It might also be that nobody cares what the other guy thinks they should use, or what experience they should have when using the devices.

    Maybe I don’t even care if the phone rings or a text notification chimes.

  14. OMG books are dead. Culture is dying. Think of the kids. If TV, video games, & the Internet didn’t kill my attention span my phone will be the one to do it… OMG people give it a break you don’t have to be the “history repeats itself” – do your due diligence – how many articles in the last 60 years have been doomsday on end of books/literature/people reading & attention spans? Now go find valid statistics over over the same time period – do they back the doomsayers up? Nope? Then your story is DOA don’t be a fool and continue the “kids get off my grass mentality”.

    Now back to reading books/etc. for the Hugos on my iPad, iPhone kindle Paperwhite where they sync and I can pick up where I left off while:
    1. At home
    2. Sitting in waiting room for multiple doctor appts/tests
    3. Standing in lines at stores to check out
    4. share notes with my husband – talking points & things to argue about because technology is way cool 😀

    • Now back to reading books/etc. for the Hugos on my iPad, iPhone kindle Paperwhite

      Except from Hachette, and then excerpts only!

      • I have 2 of the Hatchette/Orbit books as I’m a reviewer on Netgalley 😀 it will be interesting to see if Wheel of Time wins – prior to Hatchette/Orbits decision I didn’t think it had much chance. But between politics with the only fully non-Orbit book and Tor providing the entire WoT series (~3.2 million words) this year should be interesting. Prior to Hatchettes decision I figured Ancillary Justice would win.

        My reading for the Hugos has been cut down nicely by Author attitude or really gross author behavior this year. Only one excerpt in the novels cut down on reading and the novels fell out as expected.

        My advice to authors – going around calling people “savages, not real human beings, fascist” or making it clear you don’t want women or POC in your clubhouse may not be the best PR strategy. Also saying “vote for us to make people unhappy” rather than “vote for us because we wrote great books” is kinda stupid in my opinion. YMMV

  15. I have a Samsung Galaxy SII, and I hate it, but I am old and crotchety. I have a Facebook account, but I hate that too. Ditto the crotchety with ‘boring’ thrown in.

    By contrast, I couldn’t live without my Kindle. Why? Because my eyes are as old as the rest of me and need to have the font size increased. If I read on my smartphone I’d probably end up reading one word per line – neither comfortable nor immersive.

    And there’s a cost factor too – I could buy between 4 – 6 ordinary Kindles for the price of one tablet. That means I won’t be buying a tablet any time soon, and neither will a big chunk of the ebook market.

    Yes tech will keep changing, but convenience and cost will always dictate the direction and speed of that change.

  16. Most people I know who read their books on their phone are only doing so until they can purchase a e-reader. I don’t even like smart phones so I’ve not had this experience. I’m not a fan of most social media (FB, Twitter, etc) so why would I pay extra every month for a data plan? I have a Kindle Fire (comic books), Kindle Paperwhite, my cell phone, and an Ipod and never have any intention of trying to put them all on one device. I will gladly carry all of these devices in my purse because even all of them together weighs less than me having to carry around an actual book with me all the time. And then its only ONE book, not the 600 I can read any time I want with my Kindle.

  17. I have a cell phone. For emergencies on the road. I don’t know how to use it.
    My preference remains with paper books.
    Now, I make more money from my e-books than from my paperbacks. But the paperbacks sell steadily. I’d be doing better if POD paid me better. And if I could lower the price more. Still, my hope is that paper books will continue and that more people will start buying them from Amazon.

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