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4 reasons why we will start printing a lot less in 2009, plus: mobile reading is here!

Remember when we thought that the Internet was going to bring us the paperless office, and a ‘greener’ new world that would not rely on printed information at all times? This has not really happened yet but in 2009 this concept may finally become a reality for many of us. Looking around at what me and many of those clued-in people in my network do, I see the following trends:

1) Offline web-page and article reading. A lot of people will start reading their web-pages, RSS feeds and blog posts via new offline reading apps such as Instapaper (which I really love – check out their blog, here, *iPhone only), Read-it-later (very cool FF plug-in, just started using it, seems promising), the ubiquitous Google Reader (works on most mobile devices, and syncs great offline, too; with the amazing Google Gears engine), Opera Mini on my new E71 (supposedly offers offline reading), and many other cool apps that are becoming available for mobile devices (those small shiny boxes we used to call notebooks & computers;) right now.

Remember when we all had to print those top stories from all those feeds and sites we like so that we could read them on the plane, or in the train or taxi?  Well… no more. On my end, I used to print 100+ pages per day (yes, sorry), and that’s gone down to less than 10 now; thanks to Instapaper etc. Great!

2) Mobile apps courtesy of your favorite newspapers and magazines. If you are into reading those good old mass media newspapers and mags (no worries, I am, too!) now you can make use of some nice new apps that allow you to read them on your mobile phones. Sure, it feels different, it’s rather smallish and obviously lacks the physical paper user experience, but it works well; it’s free and first of all it’s always there. Right now, mobile newspapers apps are available mostly for the iPhone – but this is changing very quickly.

I reckon that within 6-9 months we will see these apps become available for almost every mobile platform and OS, since this added value is indeed a major reason to buy a new smart-phone. Right now, my favorite is the New York Times app for the iPhone – it’s well done, easy to use, does not crash, and gives me almost everything I need from the NYT (apart from that good old paper feel and smell;). I also like the AP news app (iPhone and blackberry)

So say goodbye to buying a 3-day old NYT at some airport shop in Europe and stuffing it into my briefcase along with my blog post print-outs (see above) – another nice time-saver, waste reducer, and minor money-saving accomplishment. And what’s best for the NYT: I keep paying attention to them, and I won’t be surprised if they ran customized ads on their apps, soon, too. Plus: I still buy the ‘real’ dead-tree NYT if I want to enjoy a more leisurely read. They’ve kept me as user, and that’s what counts.

3) Reading entire books on your mobile device. Again, the iPhone dominates in this turf right now, as well, but this will change quickly. Wired has a good wiki on iPhone reading apps, btw. I don’t use a lot of these apps yet, mostly because many of these services use bizarre copy protection schemes for their fairly limited range of eBooks, they don’t have the books I want to read, and the publishers charge prices that will make you wonder if they want to punish you for trying out eBooks (hey – sorry, I thought that it’s actually a lot cheaper not having to print and not having to ship anything – guess I was wrong). The leading apps include bookshelf, stanza (which I have), ereader, feedbooks etc – here is a good list. Again, for me, reading entire books – rather than just essays, PDFs, blog posts or articles – on my mobile devices i.e. cell phones is still a very tough interface challenge; therefore I prefer to buy the print edition and haul it around (especially if the eBook price is still very much the same) – but my hunch is that this will change in 2009, too. Maybe not for fiction, though – but for business books I can imagine it.

4) The coming boom in electronic readers such as the Kindle and, maybe, the new Sony Reader  (the PS700 BC) which I just bought but have not received yet. It does sound very promising since you can read PDFs with it, bookmark paragraphs or pages and keep it running for weeks at a time.The Kindle is, sadly, not available here in Europe (due to mobile network issues I would think), so I haven’t tried it, but I keep hearing good things about it; apart from people complaining about its design. The best comment on the Kindle is probably from Seth Godin, here Picture_26
(Seth delivers some great comments on ebook pricing, and ‘books as social objects’), and which was summarized in my blog, here.

Summary and 2009 predictions:

  • Many of us will print a lot less, next year – and that’s already a great step
  • Most manufacturers of smart phones and mobile computing devices will get seriously into supporting or integrating all kinds of reading apps (web-page / offline, pdfs, feeds, newspaper apps, book apps), and will therefore also beef up their UIs, as well. And we will use them! Next step:
  • The next generations of eReaders will actually be usable for more than just a few of us – another 2 years and they will become mainstream.
  • A $ 92 Billion industry (ink, printers, paper etc) will probably shrink as a consequence.Talk about disruption!

Printer manufacturers and ink suppliers will start to feel the squeeze in 2009; people will still buy printers, of course, but probably a lot less ink, and much less paper. And, shrinking profits aside, I think that’s a good thing.

Now, what this will do to the publishing business… another story, another post!

Note: related to this, check out Malcom Gladwell’s 2002 New Yorker essay on ‘the social life of paper’

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