Reading The Future – Paper or Plastic?

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Many people fear that print is dying. The statistics don’t help the situation and the new technology looks promising.

Did you happen to see the issue of Esquire Magazine featuring electronic ink? It looked more like a tiny led display, than electronic ink, and while it came off as impressive on YouTube demos, in person you could feel where they were packing the technology on the page and the whole thing just seemed a little "too much, too soon." We’ve seen this with technology before: the idea is solid, the public is ready for it, but the technology just isn’t ready for prime time. Cost, production and execution are still in their primitive form.

When it comes to reading books, things have moved along quite nicely this past year. There’s still hype over the Sony Reader Digital Book, and who wouldn’t want to get their grubby little hands on the Amazon Kindle? Both look great and could well give reading new legs.

At Demo 2008, a company called, Plastic Logic, demoed their latest digital reader that is specifically geared for business reading. If you thought you were confused over going Kindle or Sony, watch this video:

The power of technology is its ability to inspire. That video demo is inspiring. Whether or not Plastic Logic comes out on top of the digital reading pile remains to be seen, but you can rest assured that a demo like that will inspire many other companies to look at new ways to use this kind of technology. 

Do you love going into bookstores and browsing as much as I do? The sad thing is, I used to feel the same way about music stores. Now, I could not be bothered to go into those. Let’s be hopeful that the addition of digital readers will be a "with" not "instead of" model in the future of publishing and bookstores.

In the meantime, what do you think?… how are you going to read in the future?

(hat tip: Andy Nulman – Pow! Right Between The Eyes).


  1. I’m looking forward to the advances in digital readers – but only if the environmental impact is less than that of traditional printing.
    I’ll be sad to see the old bookstores go. Of course the argument could be made that actual paper books could be the next great collector’s item.
    The thing that bothers me about reading in the future is the wide acceptance of TXTMSG writing. Can you imagine reading classical work written in that form? “2B R nt 2B. Tht S da kwes10.” Scary. LOL (oops).

  2. I’ve been thinking about this recently. Bookstores need to evolve into experiences that go beyond simply selling us books (and household trinkets). For the past several years, I go to bookstores to see what’s new, read the dustjackets, and take note of what I’d like to order – and buy only what I absolutely cannot wait 2 days to receive. In all fairness, I do order online from that same bookstore – however the online price is generally significantly less and of course shipping is free with just a few books purchased. But their emails I get that try to introduce me to what’s new or on sale cannot even compare to the act of exploring a bookstore – I skim those emails at best. Rarely if ever will they inspire me to purchase a book I haven’t seen in person, unless it’s an author I know I want whatever book they next write.
    We hang out in coffee shops even though we can easily make our own coffee. We go to concerts even though our music is entirely portable. I buy no newspapers, fewer magazines – but I still buy (and borrow) books, for now. Until plastic can entirely mimic paper, there will always be a place for books – although maybe not in stores devoted to them. Perhaps the stores house the community and the community will simply move to a virtual venue. I think the convenience of digital readers will be most useful, in the near future, for reading that is task-oriented, not interest-oriented.

  3. I love bookstores also but times change. We don’t have buggy whip makers anymore. So where do I sign up for this little gem? ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’d love to replace my programming books with this.

  4. ive played with the sony e-reader and its pretty nifty. there’s a place for both digital and physical books, big coffee table picture books for example are not going anywhere (its a social object!). As an aside its interesting to note sales of vinyl LP’s and 7inch singles continue to go through the roof (up 300% yoy last 3 years according to my mole in music retail) so there you go.

  5. Looks like an interesting gadget, but personally even if I am technologically inclined, I do like paper books.
    I would be willing to try it for business purposes to carry documents around, as it’s light, but honestly for art books, novels and magazines, I’ll stick to paper.

  6. I love this! Exactly for the audience/market Plastic Logic has intended – business. As for personal reading I love looking, holding and page turning a book (and magazine). I guess, as with any technology, we need to evaluate our personal needs/preferences and make necessary choices.

  7. I own the Sony eReader and have spent considerable time on the Kindle. I am a fan of both, from a standpoint of reading pleasure, but have always felt there was a large gap in the business document arena. And I would love to be able to load word, pdf docs, RRS feeds, excel spreadsheets, and my favorite mags into a single reader – but more importantly for me than the ability to go paperless is my desire to capture the elements I consume through print/screen into data I would use later.
    In other words, the “bookmark-ability” of the current readers leaves much room for future companies to develop the perfect read and capture device. I welcome a business-minded reader, but prefer one with the ability to report out the salient tidbits I read.

  8. This is fascinating…VERY environmentally friendly.
    There IS something to be said for the ‘tactile’ experience of curling-up with a good book, however. Tho, for work purposes: when carting-around documents, scripts, or manuals – much easier on the shoulder and no more lost/wasted sheets!
    I DO wonder if it will display a ‘coffee-cup’ ring if used as a coaster, however!

  9. I saw a demo of the Sony eReader at this past weekend’s Word on the Street Toronto Book & Magazine Festival. The Sony tent was just as packed with people as the publishers exhibits and authors reading tents. The Sony eReader was very cool . . . from a portability, storage, and green perspective — it’s great. I’ll probaby get one as soon as I can save up my pennies.
    While I would not disagree that digital reading devices have their place, I have to say that I hope the physical book never goes away. We who work in the online communications industry talk incessantly about the “user experience.” All book lovers will agree that part of the book reader’s user experience is smelling the pages of a brand new or very old book, hearing the distinctive sound of pages turning in an otherwise silent room of a reader totally caught up in the story, feeling the weight of the tome in your lap or propping the book on your belly when reading in bed. This is the kind of user experience that’s difficult to duplicate with an antiseptic bit of screen and plastic.

  10. Wow! That was somewhat disappointing on so many levels. I’ll explain…
    (1) business reading vs leisure reading
    I think I can make a good argument why both are different but why? Most of my “leisure” reading consists of business docs, text, pdf, blogs, etc. So why would I need something different for reading those things? IMHO readers are readers, leisure, business, or otherwise and I will have to agree with Mary, I don’t think my summers will be the same if I have to jump on the hammock and pull up a good business read with what on the surface, looks like a modified laptop player, read-only version. reminds me of the imac without the big-honkin cpu on the floor next to it.
    (2) why would I go to this when I can pull up my business docs via iphone/ipod touch? larger screen perhaps? but it won’t fit in my pants pocket and I’ll still have to carry that blasted black leather bag
    (3) the technology is almost there but not quite…please don’t take me back to black and white….please. the kids love color and so do I.
    (4) was it me or did the presentation seem to fumble along? it seemed as if he was almost anticipating it not to work. I didn’t get the finger movement commands.
    Here’s a thought, and I believe the technology is out there…
    give me a pair glasses in which the lens turns into a mini plasma display (much like the etrade commercial) where the glass frame is the cpu/hardrive and has an earpiece with bluetooth capabilites and wifi/cellphone direct access to the web, and make sure it’s in color then you’ve taken the technology lightyears ahead and btw different (purple cow) until then kindle/sony reader/plastic logic reader are going to be added to the every mounting pile of somewhat useless/more of the same technologies. Thanks for confusing…err educating me Mitch!

  11. Reading 2.0!!!!
    Vaporware, agreed. Less trees=good. More plastic?
    Paper is renewable after all.
    And yeah, if the bag remains, what, carry an e-reader, iPhone, and laptop?
    Don’t think so. Too much kool-aid overhype. I think it’s the spillover effect.
    Web 2.0 Sucks (kinda)

  12. Man, I want a plastic Logic so bad. I’ve been using Mobireader off of my phone for a while now. It works ok once you get used to the screen size. I imagine Plastic Logic, the Sony Reader and Kindle are easier on the eyes.

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