Reading and writing

by Russ Roberts on April 23, 2010

in Technology

In the latest New Yorker, Ken Auletta has a superb piece on the economics of the publishing industry and the competition between the Kindle and the iPad. At one point he quotes Steve Jobs saying that he had been uninterested in eBooks because people don’t read anymore. This is a common lament and I’ve made it myself. But it’s not true. People read a ton. They just don’t read books as much as they used to. They read blogs and web pages. And because they (and I) read blogs and web pages all the time and because those are free and often fascinating and almost always diverting, they are less inclined to read a “real” book. We have become accustomed to distraction and exploration. This is good and bad. But I think it’s true.

At another point in the article, someone mentions the superiority of the iPad over the Kindle because the Kindle is ” just black and white.” But that’s what books are. Black ink on white paper. And for some of us, that is still great. But for others—most of us—we want color but we want what comes with color–video and photos and wow.

The significance of the iPad isn’t that it’s going to make a better reading experience. It’s that it’s going to create a better WRITING experience, something akin to the way we blog and read blogs or follow YouTube–with other paths to explore while preserving the opportunity to come home, back to the main narrative. That is what is coming.

Traditional books whether printed or digital wll have a niche the way plays have a niche or opera. But the new stuff, the movies and the musicals have a lot more wow when they’re unconstrained the way the old stuff was.

The Kindle (and I love mine and use it often) is a bit like a movie that is a film of a play. It can be good but to our modern eye it looks weird and fake. I suspect the books of tomorrow will make the old books, the old stories, the old narratives look the same way.

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