January 7, 2006


A library of best sellers at your fingertips (David Derbyshire, 07/01/2006, Daily Telegraph)

The printed page is facing its biggest threat with the launch of the first electronic book that people can read for hours without straining their eyes.

Sony's Reader is the size of a slim paperback but can store hundreds of books at a time. When the cover is lifted, books are displayed on a sheet of electronic "paper", one page at a time.

Although electronic books, or e-books, have been around for several years, previous versions, using LCD screens, have never caught on. The biggest complaint is that readers' eyes quickly become tired from the glare and flicker of the conventional computer screen.

However, the Reader displays its text on a page of high resolution electronic paper which is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. Electronic paper also needs relatively little power, so the life of a battery should not be a problem.

When he wrote Megatrends, almost twenty years ago, John Naisbitt predicted that books & newspapers wouldn't disappear because we like the tactile sensations and rituals associated with them. Which makes one suspect that the answer to this question is, no, Are Newspapers Doomed? (Joseph Epstein, January 2006, Commentary)
“Clearly,” said Adam to Eve as they departed the Garden of Eden, “we’re living in an age of transition.” A joke, of course—but also not quite a joke, because when has the history of the world been anything other than one damned transition after another? Yet sometimes, in certain realms, transitions seem to stand out with utter distinctiveness, and this seems to be the case with the fortune of printed newspapers at the present moment. As a medium and as an institution, the newspaper is going through an age of transition in excelsis, and nobody can confidently say how it will end or what will come next.

To begin with familiar facts, statistics on readership have been pointing downward, significantly downward, for some time now. Four-fifths of Americans once read newspapers; today, apparently fewer than half do. Among adults, in the decade 1990-2000, daily readership fell from 52.6 percent to 37.5 percent. Among the young, things are much worse: in one study, only 19 percent of those between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four reported consulting a daily paper, and only 9 percent trusted the information purveyed there; a mere 8 percent found newspapers helpful, while 4 percent thought them entertaining.

From 1999 to 2004, according to the Newspaper Association of America, general circulation dropped by another 1.3 million. Reflecting both that fact and the ferocious competition for classified ads from free online bulletin boards like craigslist.org, advertising revenue has been stagnant at best, while printing and productions costs have gone remorselessly upward. As a result, the New York Times Company has cut some 700 jobs from its various papers. The Baltimore Sun, owned by the Chicago Tribune, is closing down its five international bureaus. Second papers in many cities have locked their doors.

We'll just download our print nespapers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 7, 2006 12:02 AM

I hate the newsprint that comes off on you and the paper that piles up. Since the Web, I haven't bought a single paper.

Posted by: pj at January 7, 2006 8:44 AM

It's hard to line a cat box with a 19' LCD flatscreen monitor.

Posted by: Bryan at January 7, 2006 10:05 AM

With all the problems I've had with Sony customer service and repair orders over the years (I actually went to N.Y. corporae headquarters one time when the repair people lost my VCR), I wouldn't count out paper yet, unless that reader is virtually unbreakable out in the real world.

Posted by: John at January 7, 2006 10:14 AM

Five years ago I never thought I could get use to reading from a computer screen for any length of time. Now that I am hooked on blogs, I have adapted and don't mind at all. We cancelled the LA Times in 2000 after one too many biased articles about the Intifada. We missed the morning paper at first, but we got over it.

Posted by: Kay in CA at January 7, 2006 10:26 AM


How do you know where the local Book Sales are and H.S. sports scores & stuff?

Posted by: oj at January 7, 2006 10:51 AM

This is what I want for Christmas. Santa, are you listening?

oj. Put your name on the mailing lists at your local bookstores and they'll inform you of their sales. High school scores must be online somewhere, local online newspapers, school email newsletters, PTA websites.

After fifty years of subscribing to local and national newspapers, we've made the decision not to renew when this last one runs out.

Posted by: erp at January 7, 2006 11:18 AM

Not bookstores, local churches, schools, libraries, etc.

Posted by: oj at January 7, 2006 11:22 AM

classified ads are the bread and butter of newspaper revenue, and craig's list is gutting them on that score. most towns have a web site where the information oj is concerned about can be posted. newspapaers and magazines are dead meat. good thing too since most of them are leftist propaganda tools. maybe all those journalists can get work cleaning up around the local dnc offices.

Posted by: toe at January 7, 2006 11:38 AM

Around here, the weekly Pennysaver is ubiquitous. It's available free in newspaper distribution boxes outside stores and dropped on everyone's driveway like it or not. As more people stop taking the local newspaper, it will probably pick up some of the slack.

Also if there is a perceived need, somebody will start a free weekly to fill it. There are frustrated newspaper people in every community just itching to start publishing.

Posted by: erp at January 7, 2006 11:48 AM

I need newspapers to start a fire in the wood burning stove each morning. I read every page of the weekly local newspaper serving about 5,000 people, and once in a while I buy the St. Paul Dispatch (MN), and read only the obituaries. I'm addicted to blogs.

Posted by: AllenS at January 7, 2006 12:02 PM


So a newspaper will replace the newspaper?

Posted by: oj at January 7, 2006 12:48 PM

But how do I highlite passages and make marginal notes on my eBook?

Posted by: jd watson [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 7, 2006 12:48 PM

OJ: Try Book Sale Finder.

Nearly all my book needs are handled by local thrift stores. I read some and sell or trade the rest at local used book stores. And it's fun to find rare and valuable books and just interesting oddball stuff, like a 1940 tome on building bomb shelters, including an appendix detailing the characteristics of every poison gas used in World War I.

Posted by: PapayaSF at January 7, 2006 1:56 PM

oj. I didn't say a newspaper would be replaced by a newspaper or by anything else. I said we plan to make a fundamental change to our daily routine by no longer subscribing to one.

Posted by: erp at January 7, 2006 5:19 PM

Local bookstore: online.
Local church: online.
Local school: online.
Local restaurants: online.
Local movie theaters: online.
Local newspaper: online.

What was the question again?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 7, 2006 5:19 PM

Maybe where you city folk live, but not here in America.

Posted by: oj at January 7, 2006 5:25 PM

I am a librarian (albeit a law librarian) and I've read for years about the demise of print books. The printed page will continue to be the medium of choice; however, you will see more and more electronic materials but it will never overtake. Electronic is the best way to get news (especially when it is free). I also like the ability to read a paper from West Palm Beach or Portland via the internet. Researching in an electronic book is more difficult because you can do a keyword search but keyword searching is harder when you are doing a concept search.

Posted by: pchuck at January 7, 2006 5:28 PM


when all books are available online (and google is doing this right now) then what service will a human librarian provide ?

Posted by: toe at January 7, 2006 5:54 PM

One more thing in the way of ebooks: draconian and inconvenient copy-protection. Just Google "ebook DRM" (no quotes) for various horror stories.

Posted by: PapayaSF at January 7, 2006 5:57 PM

Mr. Judd;

I live in the farmlands of the Midwestern United States. My backyard opens up on corn fields. That's not America, especially compared to the latte swilling Euro-wannabes of the North East?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 7, 2006 11:44 PM

Around here, the weekly Pennysaver is ubiquitous. It's available free in newspaper distribution boxes outside stores and dropped on everyone's driveway like it or not. As more people stop taking the local newspaper, it will probably pick up some of the slack.

So a newspaper will replace the newspaper?

I can assure you that the the local daily retail paper makes a distinction between itself and a free weekly "push" rag - and they are correct to do so.

The differences are far greater than the similarities.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at January 8, 2006 12:13 AM

newspapers can't even get me to take their product for free -- and they have tried more than once. newspapers are to online news source, as telegrams are to the telephone -- obsolete an archaic. books are another matter, in the sense they can have high levels of quality and craftsmanship. first editions will alyways have value, the morning edition never will.

oj lives in acirema, so he often gets things turned around :P

Posted by: toestradomus at January 8, 2006 1:10 AM


It's just a suburb of Chicago.

Posted by: oj at January 8, 2006 9:12 AM

Newspapers, goodbye, but dear G-d, please, save us our books. How could you possibly read (and doze)online lying in bed or sunk in an easy chair?

Uh oh. Why do I have this sudden overwhelming fear a cheery Michael Herdegen is about to tell us exactly how they are going to solve that problem?

Posted by: Peter B at January 8, 2006 9:13 AM


Blogs are just parasites on the hindquarters of newspapers.

Posted by: oj at January 8, 2006 9:16 AM


What do you think you read here but newspapers?

Posted by: oj at January 8, 2006 9:34 AM

Michael, I was referring to the Pennysaver taking up the slack in reporting high school sports scores that oj. looks for in his local paper, but you're right that the Pennysaver can't be compared to a retail newspaper because, for one thing, there's no politically biased reporting.

Posted by: erp at January 8, 2006 11:51 AM

who had the best tsunami footage ? tourists on the spot. how worthwhile was the katrina coverage in the news papers ? who had the best coverage of the iraq war ? michael yon, whom no paper saw fit to hire.

and as you point out, i am reading news here, not in the source papers. i rarely read more than the part posted here because newspapers have very little useful information in them. here is where i get my useful information:

Belmont Club
The Dignified Rant
Power Line
Hugh Hewitt
Strategy Page

your site is a fun place to debate ideas and share information; the articles serve more to stimulate conversations than to inform. you can argue all you want, but all major newspapers are losing subscribers steadily.

Posted by: toe at January 8, 2006 12:30 PM

Toe, don't hold your breath. Google isn't going to digitize all books. For one thing, there are lots of books to digitize. Second, not everyone (publishers & authors) is going to agree to have their books digitized. Finally, it isn't cost-effective to digitize every book.

I have access to both LexisNexis and Westlaw. These subscription based services contain legal and non-legal materials which includes primary authority and secondary authority. Annually, many titles are taken off and added to each service because of licensing issues between the publishers and Westlaw/LexisNexis. My point is that publishers and authors really care about availability to their materials and they want money for access.

I laugh when I hear people say I can find all legal materials on the Internet. It is based upon ignorance. West publishing has been publishing legal materials for over 120 years. They reprint the law (cases, rules and regulations, and statutes) but they also add value to the materials (assinging Topic & Key Numbers to headnotes in cases, annotating statutory codes, etc..) and this value-added stuff isn't available on Google and won't be. Around 30 years ago, they created Westlaw. Not everything that West has published is available on Westlaw (and it isn't like those materials are old and obsolete). The Internet is a great resource but it isn't the only resource. That is true now and it will be true in the future. It is also true for non-legal materials.

I am not a Luddite and I don't fear the Internet. In addition, I have no fears about my job. You'd be surprised how inefficient and inept people are in doing legal research regardless of Internet or electronic availability. It also applies to other types of research.

Librarians are also still going to catalog and classify things, regardless of the medium availability. You are aware that Google doesn't contain everything on the Internet. In addition, the future of the Internet will be based much more on subscription access. Those materials need some type of organization. Librarians will also provide reference help, they always have and always will.

Posted by: pchuck at January 8, 2006 12:40 PM

whistling past the graveyard. replace "book" with "album" and the hollowness of your argument becomes obvious. sure, not all librarian jobs will go away, just 99% of them. the top 1% who actually impart some value will set up their own services and piggyback ontop of google's content repository. maybe the others can get some work sweeping up at the local "Workers of the World" offices.

Posted by: toe at January 8, 2006 2:06 PM


And they're gaining readers.

Posted by: oj at January 8, 2006 4:34 PM

Toe, what your time frame for total digitization?

Print materials aren't going away soon. Google or anyone else isn't going to digitize every book. It is a big job locating everything and doing it. My very small academic library contains 300,000 volumes. The bulk isn't digitized and won't be. Project Gutenberg is over a decade and a half old and it has 17,000 book digitized. 17K is nothing. They are now shooting for digitization of 500 books per month.

Expanding on your album analogy, are all known recordings available on CD? Why not? Too many to make it cost-inefficient? Some just not worthy of being digitized? Those older recordings still exist.

Another issue that is currently being grappled with is what standardized format will these digitized books be put in? Will the technology be obsolete in 10 years or 100 years or 500 years? In 2106, will we have the capacity to read something digitized in 1998? Will anyone know what pdf or ascii will be in 2001? Print materials from 1906 or 1806 or 1606 are still readable.

I hear what you are saying; however, there is a reason print materials have survived so long. In addition, there is a reason the printer industry exists and makes a lot of money. Finally, I suspect in 50 or 150 years there will be more materials exclusively in electronic format but print mateials will still exist and be viable for new and older materials. I also suspect that Librarians will still exist and still have a job to do.

Posted by: pchuck at January 8, 2006 5:25 PM

Peter B:


It's an easy fix, and will be common in a few decades, but I'll spare you the details.

Suffice it to say that if you dislike cell phones, you're gonna HATE the future.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at January 8, 2006 7:08 PM

pchuck is absolutely right - even if (or especially if) all content is digitized and instantly available, there will always be a demand for an information sherpa.

Librarians do much more than reshelve books.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at January 8, 2006 7:13 PM

I couldn't resist: here is the view from my home office window in which you can see the Chicago suburban sprawl.

On the other hand, toe's music album vs. book analogy breaks down with current technology because reading electronic is a very different experience than reading a book. However, with music, there wasn't any difference, except CDs were somewhat more convenient to start up. That makes the transition much smoother.

Furthermore, even before digital music, playing music required a lot of ancillary equipment, so that the actual reader (turntable, CD reader) was frequently a small part of the entire set up, particularly for the audio-philes. In contrast, a book is sufficient in itself for the reading experience. That makes portability and ubiquitiousness new features for digital music but not for books. Again, a much higher hurdle.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 8, 2006 9:54 PM

The future will be different but it is difficult to predict. I am still waiting for my personal jet pack that was predicted 70 years ago.

Posted by: pchuck at January 8, 2006 11:40 PM