The War Against Paper

Ever since the Internet became stable and (somewhat) secure, companies have been in a war against paper as a major re•engineering venture that saves millions in hard copy print and mailing costs. A few years ago, when my bank called and asked me if I would like to try “e•banking”, I tentatively agreed. But when I experienced the possibilities – paying all my bills online, transferring money to my son in distant university, filling fewer shoe boxes with old statements that I would never look at – I became an easy convert.
I sometimes wonder whether the war on paper will extend to books. There is usually an inflection point that occurs in a market that signals a major transformation ahead, particularly as the new invention or technology matures and users shed their wariness. We saw the first generation of e•books come and go • no blip, no problem. After all, the screens flickered, who the heck wanted to scroll down instead of flip pages, and you could not go back and forth – and you couldn’t take them to the beach, drop them in the sand or get them wet. But something is happening now: we have an Internet generation reading text novels on cell phones, the next wave of e•books can page across, talk to you, and they come in flutter•proof, water•proof, shock•proof and other proofs that the next generation of wristwatches once did and got us all sporting one even if we could not tell the time. Has the inflection already happened?
For those sensuous readers who like the feel, smell and touch of a new book (or an old one), would their choices diminish as books flood into electronic form like cassette tapes fled to CDs and VCRs morphed into DVDs?
And what are the implications for writers? Lower royalties (the cost of an e•download is considerably cheaper than that of a hardcover, even a paperback)? An e•book fringed with advertisements on the margins? Having to dumb sentences down to cope with smaller screen sizes and fragmented attention (the reader could be flipping screens between e•books, just as they do with the TV)? Copyright infringements (God forbid if a hacker cracks the code and splashes your e•book across the Internet!)? Would writers go off the royalty model and work for a straight salary for e•book content aggregators? After all, if every computer on earth eventually gets networked into one solid grid, how will I know who is tapping into my hard drive, stealing my copy and mashing it with others to provide a composite that is hard to track back to its origins? It will be like trying to trace all written material in the English language back to those 26 letters in the alphabet – we know it to be true but can’t figure out the various permutations.
Would the book have to grip the reader from the very first word (a huge departure from the prevailing mantra that the reader’s attention should be grabbed in the first page)? Would writers just give up in droves and go underground to write their stories for a generation in the future where content will be scarce again and thus respected?
Myriad possibilities exist. In the meantime we write, and hope that someone will read our material, given the vast choices in existence for the reader today, and the many more to come tomorrow.

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