Will e-books reduce newspapers and paper books?

By | September 24, 2010

We have been talking on the Print CEO about the impact of e-books on books and newspapers. But there are rumors flying around fast and furious about a possible Apple announcement that will bring electronic newspaper subscriptions to the iPad – which some sources are saying may be the salvation of magazines and newspapers.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that the plan would be announced soon, and quoted Roger Fidler, head of digital publishing at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute in Columbia, MO, as saying that Apple probably will take a 30 percent cut of all subscriptions sold through the company’s online App Store, and as much as 40 percent of the advertising revenue from publications’ apps.

While there are newspapers available for Kindle users, Apple has never offered a newspaper subscription before even though a number of newspapers have already formatted their content for the Apple tablet, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. But the content has shown some formatting problems, and the papers haven’t necessarily included their most value-added stories in the iPad edition.

In addition, there are other reports that e-books are being tested to replace text books and course packs. The School of Medicine at Stanford University has adopted Apple’s iPad, providing the device to all incoming first year medical students and Master of Medicine students. And UC Irvine School of Medicine’s incoming class of 2014 will find an iPad pre-loaded with everything necessary for the first year of course work in their coat pocket.

Stanford cited four reasons behind the new program, including student readiness, noting that iPad “creates opportunities for efficient, mobile, and innovative learning.” And last week I was talking to people from East Lansing about a study at Michigan State University surveying student’s preference for paper textbooks or e-books.

Will e-books replace newspapers and books and for who?

On one side are those preferring e-books who site less weight and lower costs. When I taught in college and when I managed a quick copy shop and sold course packs, I heard students complain that text books and course packs were breaking their backpacks and backs.

But if you look at the reports about the MSU study and talk to students, you learn that there are many who prefer to read books on paper. Many people talk about the feel of the book, as well as the importance of highlighting, scribbling notes and all the other complaints we heard when PDF was introduced.

I am not sure if there is a clear preference today or if there will ever be a clear dominant form of the book. But I am starting to see a clear separation of paper book and e-book lovers. And I am not sure it has anything to do with age.

For example, looking at me and seeing some grey in my hair you might predict that I prefer paper newspapers, but you would be wrong. Because I travel on planes all the time I much prefer to read the newspaper on my Kindle. My girlfriend, who is my age, is a book lover who is constantly reading 2 or 3 books a week and she loves the Kindle because she can carry it everywhere.

I meet paper book and e-book lovers on airplanes all the time and each can make a passionate case for their preference. Some are younger and others are older but I do not see a connection between age and preference. Which do you prefer paper or pixels? And are you seeing a clear preference of one type of book over another or a connection between age and preference?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

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4 thoughts on “Will e-books reduce newspapers and paper books?

  1. Damon Lincourt

    Your point is well made–age is not necessarily the “break point” between paper or e-reader preferences. Nor even self interest.

    Though I make my living from the manufacture of books, at the right price point I’d be very inclined to embrace some type of e-reader device. Especially for magazines and newspapers–the convenience of geographic freedom would be tremendous benefit. I could subscribe to the Washington Post from the midwest without needing mail delivery. And whatever magazines I subscribe to are available at my convenience–whenever I happen to have reading time–rather than requiring planning ahead.

    But books are my business. And even there, I can foresee the impact on the tangible product. Certainly the “frequent” reader–regardless of age–will see a benefit. And it’s a natural fit in the education market. Perhaps still a couple of years before we see an adoption rate that impacts the industry’s numbers significantly. And the issue of what will be the “right” delivery format is still to be standardized. But with a market of users as immense as the book market, the incentives to overcome differences and drive adoption are sufficient to make that happen.

  2. Howie Fenton


    Great points and I agree. I am sure that there will always be people who want to read paper-based versions of newspapers and books. As someone who works in printing that is somewhat comforting. But I think it would be naïve not to acknowledge that we are going to see a gradual transition from paper to pixels.

    Different people will have different reasons and some demographics may hold onto to paper longer or adopt pixels sooner but the advantages of cost, convenience, weight, and searchablility, are compelling. Since we are seeing this already across all ages and demographics I think this migration is inevitable.

    I know this is tough for all of us who make our livings supporting print, but I try to take some comfort in the fact that it may help the publishing industry endure. So unlike those who say that newspapers and books are going to die, maybe the paper versions will decline while the electronic counterparts grow. It’s not the best solution but its better then having both disappear.


  3. Werner Rebsamen Prof. Em. RIT

    Hi Howie,
    Congratulation to a great, in-depth article! The electronic media is fascinating and will take a certain percentage of the business. But it does also offer opportunities. Never ever have people published so much. With POD, we are printing and binding more books than ever before – in small quantities. Printing is these days made so easy, it is almost like operating a printer off your computer. Finishing, that is putting the printed items into a marketable form is another matter. The German Forbes magazine had an article of the 100 most promising jobs of the future. That of a Print-Finishing expert (Bookbinder) made the list, the printer did not. I always did share that factor with my students and colleagues, but nobody did believe me. Well, 1978, Frank Romano and myself predicted that one day, we will produce one book at a time. Just imagine the reactions we got from such futuristic statements. As you can see, the e-versions offer great new opportunities. We now have electronic book but other segments in our industry are not only growing, they are exploding – printing books on demand and binding photo books etc..
    Best, Werner Rebsamen Professor Emeritus RIT Technical Director HBI

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