Printed books to become limited to up-market gifts?

By Grant Jacobs 13/08/2011 8

Scientists and science writers are readers. We like our books.

An article in local media reminded of a thought I’ve had for a while, that perhaps eventually the only printed books will be up-market gifts.

It’s hard to envisage coffee table books being on small  consumer devices, their being dominated by their large formats and lustrous illustrations.

There’s also the (pop!) psychology of them as gifts. The givers want to offer something physical, not digital, and the size and presentation of the product matters.

By contrast, when it comes down to it, a cheap novel really is in the reading – the raw text. The physical product matters less.

This, of course, depends on us all affording those fancy consumer gadgets… while the individual electronic books might be cheaper, you still have to claw back the cost of the reading device within it’s lifetime. There’s also the fiddly issue of who owns the copy of the electronic book they bought.

What do you think?I personally like reading printed material. Silly as it sounds there is something to holding your own copy of the book. Even so, I can see myself mainly reading on electronic media in time. Currently the only e-books I own are computer programming references. (Aside from that these can easily travel with my computer, you can cut’n’paste code from the books.)

I also like the idea of being away from computers for some things! Electronic communication in it’s myriad forms (e-mail, twitter, blog comments, …) is so distracting. Leisure reading for me is a time when I put all that aside.

Other articles on Code for life:

A Geek Nation reviewed

Science-y reading and open book thread

A forensic scientist tells it like it is

Ancient books (or I’d rather be reading)

Book sales, frumpy readers and mental rotation of book titles

Writing a popular science book; links and writers’ warnings

8 Responses to “Printed books to become limited to up-market gifts?”

  • Doubtless eReaders will come down in price.
    And it is so much more convenient to download a book than go to a bookstore or wait for parcel delivery.

    However, I sort of feel there is a place for print-on-demand. the Esspreso machines are available and I would have ethought they would catch on here.

    In theory the advantage is that if there is a file avaliable anywhere (and one pays for its use) it can be printed off while you have a cup of coffee.

    I wonder though. Many people say they prefer to read a pBook rather than an eBook. Personally I find I read very few pBooks now – eBooks are just so convenient.

    It could be that with time most of us will overcome our feelings for the hard copy?

  • I clean forgot about print-on-demand when I wrote that. I was in part reflecting on a comment made but the owners of Whitcoulls that a large part (the larger part? – can’t remember) of their sales are from gifts and stationary and it occurred to me that the print portion of the book market might eventually be mainly the larger-format gift books.

    Anyway, in a sense I have done print-on-demand for years with scientific publications – download the PDF, print it, then read that. Recently I’ve been writing a book chapter (on computational methods used in exploring the 3-D structure of genomes from conformation conformation capture methods) and have found myself exclusively reading them on the screen.

    I can see myself reading a novel that way, perhaps, but I’d want a device with decent clear fonts, and perhaps a larger screen, etc

  • Gordon Hill,

    Thanks for your comment, but you could make general comments about print-on-demand without being quite so advertorial! The problem for me is that it seems inconsistent to reject marketing spam and accept your comment.

    Some of your remarks are otherwise excellent; when I’ve time later today I may edit it for approval – in the meantime you’re welcome to resubmit it without the stuff about your company’s offerings, branches offices, etc.

    Your comments re ISBNs in NZ and rights issues are interesting.

  • I like reading print books. I also like reading ebooks. The ebooks have it over pbooks in terms of portability – if you’re travelling overseas then you can pretty much take as many ebooks as you like without blowing out your weight limit :-) OTOH, you can’t pass them on to friends to read :-(
    Another nice thing about ebooks – well, with Kindle anyway, don’t know about the other readers – is the ability to look words up straight away. Yes, yes, I know about dictionaries. But you have to put the book down & go off to find the darn thing. Eventually you find it, maybe weighing down one side of a chart or pressing the husband’s new additions to the stamp collection. And by that time the moment’s past & you’re probably sidetracked into something else!

  • Hi Alison,

    The portability while travelling thing has occurred to me too (except that I don’t travel enough right now to justify it!)

    The on-line dictionary thing I can understand too. On Mac OS X (what I use as my desktop application OS), you can control-click any word and bring up the Dictionary application on that word. From there you can move to the thesaurus or wikipedia entries for the word. It can be quite useful at times; I use it mainly in writing rather than reading, though. (There is a dictionary Apple has put up of the terms it uses for Mac OS X features, etc.)

    Is the Kindle dictionary British English?

  • Rather than edit Gordon’s post, here’s an edited copy with the advertorial stuff snipped:


    If you have purchased, or otherwise legally acquired, an e-book, you have the right to print one copy for yourself, […]


    FYI – We suggest that any printable material be copyrighted by providing two copies to the NZ National Library (one of the few that will preserve your literature and provide you with a ISBN for FREE).

    […] I just couldn’t let anyone think that books are expensive and/or unavailable. There are several other NZ companies that print books, but I have no idea what they offer or what their pricing is like, so shop around.

    Gordon Hill

  • Yes, other eReaders have dictionaries. I have the Sony Touch which has a total of 12 dictionaries. Two English, and Dutch, French, Italian, German, Spanish both to and from English.

    The DRM is a pain and I think most owners now remove it. I use Calibre as a library and have plugins which remove DRM when I save the book. This enables me to pass on books if I want to also copy and print extracts – essential for reviewing.
    I have found eBooks so easy to find and download I find I am getting most of my books this way now. I also download web pages and save as ePub files for later reading. Strangely even old books and documents are often more accessible electronically.

    The library Calibre has been really useful for me as a basically untidy person. All my ebooks are now catalogued and have metadata describing each book. This catalogue has been downloaded on to my eReader so I can check what I have, what the book is about, etc, when I am browsing it selecting something to read. This is so useful I might actually include my pBooks and audiobooks in the catalogue.

    Ease of use when traveling us also accompanied by the facts that books are much easier to find and I just would not have the bookshelf space to accomadate all the books I have on the reader.

    My only real complaint is that eReaders are really computers so can crash from time to time. Frustrating when it happens.

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