Sep 7, 2016 · 2 minutes

Pity the poor insanely innovative technology that seemed transformative… and yet, proved short lived.


Laser disks.

TiVo, arguably was one, once cable companies simply ripped off the DVR functionality.

Uber may well prove one once we’re in a self-driving car era.

And of course, stand alone e-readers. E-readers-- which seemed transformative once they finally got a lot of the form factor right-- have had a double whammy. It turns out people don’t want a stand-alone device, choosing instead to read on tablets and smartphones. Meantime an even more portable form of technology has dominated the reading market. It can be read anywhere. It can be tossed aside when you are done with an individual title. It’s pretty cheap. And has an unlimited battery life. You guessed it: The actual print paperback.

According to Pew Research:

Fully 65% of Americans have read a print book in the last year, more than double the share that has read an e-book (28%) and more than four times the share that has consumed book content via audio book (14%).

But while print remains at the center of the book-reading landscape as a whole, there has been a distinct shift in the e-book landscape over the last five years. Americans increasingly turn to multipurpose devices such as smartphones and tablet computers – rather than dedicated e-readers – when they engage with e-book content. The share of e-book readers on tablets has more than tripled since 2011 and the number of readers on phones has more than doubled over that time, while the share reading on e-book reading devices has not changed. 

In graph form:

And more devastating to those who felt digital on any format would take over, only 6% of people read only digital, while 38% read only print.

That’s pretty much me in that last camp, for reasons the famed novelist Margaret Atwood brilliantly articulated at PandoLand when an audience member asked her about the fate of ebooks. Atwood--remember-- is no tech-phobe. She’s championed sites and apps like Byliner and WattPad and invented the LongPen to be able to sign books remotely.

“Like every other piece of technology on the planet, including the apple corer… it is good for something and e-readers are very good for traveling, or for people who have to read a lot of manuscripts love them… and they are really good when you are working with your publishers and are sending PDFs and documents back and forth… and they are really good for serial reading…. So it doesn’t pile up in your house. They are really bad at reading ‘War and Peace.’”

Or, a more popular recent very long tome: The Game Of Thrones series.

More on Atwood’s apt breakdown of what didn’t work with eReaders is in the video below.