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Thursday 9 June 2011

5 Reasons Why Print Books Don't Cut the Mustard

(With apologies to Wired.)

No-one can dispute that print books have been pretty popular over the last several centuries. But really they are fundamentally flawed. Unless they can precisely duplicate the experience provided by an e-reader they're doomed, because all people want the exact same reading experience and never compromise on some criteria in order to fulfill others.

Let's skip a page of boring context and cut to the bulletpoints that are the only things anyone cares about anyway.

1. An unfinished print book isn’t a constant reminder to finish reading it.

You know the drill. You pick up a print book, start reading it, get distracted and leave it next to the sofa. Next day, when your eye's caught by another print book on the wooden bookshelf and you open its cover, the print book doesn't display the page of the print book you were reading yesterday to remind you where you were at. Two weeks later you've got a dozen half-read print books in a dozen obscure locations of your house (some of them with scraps of paper marking the point you left off - that's right, even if you pick up the same print book you were reading yesterday, it won't automatically remember your page number). Eventually you realise you're never going to finish any of them and in a tidying frenzy you dump them all back on your wooden bookshelf.

2. You can’t keep your print books all in one place.

Print books on the wooden bookcase, beside your bed, in your handbag, at work, in the car, at the physical library - it's impossible to keep track of them all. And if you finish reading a print book at the start of a commute, you can't just open it again to choose and start reading a new print book, because all the other print books are at home, on the wooden bookshelf.

Worse yet, you can't keep your print books all in two places. There's no app for syncing a print collection between two locations. If your print books are on the wooden bookshelf at home, they can't be in your handbag at the same time.

To add credibility and pathos to my opinions, I shall here mention a friend who lost access to her house post-earthquake and with it her entire collection of print books. When she got the occasional half hour to retrieve items she had to rapidly choose which to spend her time rescuing. If they'd been electronic they'd have been in her iPhone all along -- and if she'd lost that, she could have retrieved her computer on which they'd have all been synced.

3. Notes on paper margins are pointless

You spend hours reading a print book and making ink notes in its paper margins and what have you got at the end of it? All that useful information is still stuck inside the print book. You can't click and drag it into your word processor where you actually need it. You could cut and paste it and make a nice collage, but even librarians who appreciate marginalia are likely to look askance at that.

4. Print books are priced as disposable, but aren’t marketed that way.

I talked with someone today who had some print items he no longer wanted and wanted to donate them to the library. The library didn't want them and I couldn't think of any library or used bookstore that would. The best thing to do would be to throw them in the recycling bin. But he hesitated, and I found even I hesitated to make this suggestion in so many words. Because we've developed this utterly idiotic idea that the print book, each with runs of thousands or millions, is nevertheless a priceless artefact whose destruction is a kind of sacrilege.

5. Print books can't be used as a clock.

Look at the bottom of your print book and you won't see the time - only a page number. You can't go back to the title page and open up a game of sudoku. Storing too many polaroids in it makes the pages bulge. If you want to check a definition, you have to fetch an entirely different print book. The only thing a print book does is let you read that one novel.

Well, not quite the only thing. It does make nice kindling.