My Continuing Transition from Paper Reading to Ereading and its Greater Meaning to Human Behavioural Changes

I’m an early technology adopter so it’s no surprise that I have so easily transitioned and adopted ereading. I’ll also point out that I’m 47 and that it’s around this age that some people become less inclined to learn new technologies. That will never be the case for me.

Three years ago I wrote about my transition from buying traditional paper based technical books to ebooks by subscribing to O’Reilly Safari Books Online service. Then about two years ago I bought a Sony Reader and the transition continued. About a year ago I bought an iPad and the transition continued. At Christmas I bought my wife a Kobo reader as the Sony Reader was slowly dying.
What started three years ago as an experiment by first only buying technical ebooks has transitioned to where I get 95% of my reading material in digital format.

Today I still subscribe to O’Reilly Safari Books Online service but on top of that I read newspapers online, all my fiction reading is in digital format as is most of my my non-fiction. There are exceptions however. My life long passion for space exploration has resulted in a nice collection of printed books many written by friends or colleagues. And when I come across a book I know I’ll want for a long time, I buy the print version. As well there are some technical books which I just prefer in printed format. But other than those two areas the rest of my reading is digital.

Another form of printed material I used to get a lot of is magazines. Today I still have four printed magazine subscriptions but I’m going to switch those to digital as soon as I can.

This last switch from printed to digital magazines was facilitated by the long overdue tablet, and in my case, the purchase of an iPad. As a side note the iPad is just one device in the tablet market for those of you who think it is the market. Hence why I use the word tablet to describe the iPad.

The purchase of a tablet has completed my change from the printed word to the digital word. And here’s an interesting fact, I now subscribe to and read more magazines because they are available for my tablet. So publishers take heart. In fact of the seven magazines I read on my tablet five are new from the past year and of those I pay for five of them, the other two are free.

So what digital magazines am I reading on my tablet? In no particular order; The Economist, Space News, Journal of the ACM, BSD Magazine (free), Frontline Defence (free), Hacker Monthly and the IEEE Spectrum. Paid digital newspaper subscriptions I have include The Hill Times, Embassy and the Wall Street Journal.

Why did I make the switch from paper to digital reading?

Other than being an early technology adopter I did because it’s convenient, cheaper and takes up less space. Let’ look at my reasons in a little more detail as I think it reflects on greater ongoing human behavioural changes.

Convenience – I live in the what is referred to as the Western world and in a highly developed industrial/information economy with high standards of living. This has enabled me to own a computer for a long time. And because my job requires me to work on my computer for many hours and because I have a good internet connection it is convenient for me to read on my computer. Now that I own a tablet and because available software makes it easy to transfer content to my tablet I can also sit on my sofa and read my digital content comfortably.

Price – A lot of good publications are now free in digital format and supported by ads. This includes local newspapers for the most part, many magazines and even some books. Paid subscriptions are also usually cheaper than the print version. In other words, the price model currently favours the digital market. Some publications are switching from a free ad supported model to a pay model but I think for many of them they will ultimately fail at this. This includes the New York Times. However niche publications where available online free content is not readily available or of substantive quality will continue to succeed using the pay to read model. I subscribe to three newspaper of which at least one, the Wall Street Journal, I will not renew my subscription as alternatives sources exist that are just as good IMHO and are free.

Space – I like most people live in a city. In my case I live in downtown Toronto. So space comes with premium cost per square meter. In other words although my condo is not small, as it’s about 111 square meters (1200 square feet), my wife and I are still challenged for space. I work from home, so what some might normally uses as a second bed room is in fact my office. So space for my printed books is limited. And while I still buy some printed books the available space I have is not growing. With my digital editions I’m only limited by either the size of my hard drives or available online storage. However both of these can be easily expanded on for a small amount of money.

Convenience, price and space affect not only me but most people and for many people for totally different reasons. Take Africa as an example. It’ hard to lump a whole continent into an example so bear with me. I think it can be said that most African households don’t have a computer as is the case in Canada. I can also safely say that most African’s don’t have reliable internet access at home. So convenience and price as I described for me does not reflect the average African household.

However while Africans lack what I take for granted, their digital transition is also taking place and in ways that are out innovating other parts of the world. Because infrastructure is so uneven in most African countries they’ve had to adopt to the digital world in different ways. This has meant that most Africans digest their digital content on mobile phones as opposed to the personal computer, let alone a tablet. Mobile phones are becoming ubiquitous in Africa.

So for them convenience and price means something totally different. Convenience is now in the form of access to digital content by mobile phone. Price is a reflection that printed books, especially educational printed books are expensive and hard to come by. Because of this the World Bank and others are testing ereader pilot projects.

And while the following example is not about ereading it goes to show how the adoption rate of mobile phones and how it has affected markets. This is from a Techcrunch article, The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be; “Kenyans flocked to mobile-phone money transfer services, because they had no consumer banks: now M-Pesa, the largest, handles money equal to a mindboggling 10% of Kenya’s GDP every year. (The US equivalent would be $1.4 trillion/year. By contrast, PayPal handles less than $100 billion/year worldwide, of which mobile-phone payments are but a small fraction.)
The great thing about digital reading is that more content is available today than ever before. And while the printed word is on a slow decline, reading is on the increase. As a reader and publisher I’ve fully embraced the digital word. For me there is no turning back. For the next generation and future generations there is no choice.

Note: I’ll be in Cape Town, South Africa in early October for the International Astronautical Congress where I’ll be launching a new digital product for SpaceRef.