Pundits predict that digital media will replace print. They made the same predictions about newspapers and radio, radio and TV, TV and cable, cable and Internet. But new media don't kill old media. I expect digital and print to coexist and to redefine each other.
So how do you choose between digital and print? The choice depends on how much time a reader has, and how deep the content goes.
We can learn from the example of e-books. In the 5 years since Amazon launched Kindle, e-books have not replaced printed books. In fact, e-books may be reaching a peak. E-book sales grew explosively at first, but now growth rates are slowing. Sales of e-readers fell in 2012 (as tablets grew).
In 2012, 30% of readers read an e-book, while 89% read a printed book, says Pew Research. E-book best sellers tend to be genre novels such as romances and thrillers, not books that call for deep thought.
When e-books first came out, I jumped aboard. It's cool to download a book instantly. E-books are good for reading in low light. It's easy to change the type size, so you can skip the reading glasses. When packing for a trip, e-books are more compact.
But e-books are hard to read in bright light. Since you can't read them on an airplane during takeoff and landing, precious reading time is lost (which the airlines can fix, c'mon already). Wasted reading time annoys me, because uninterrupted time to read is hard to find in a busy life.
Day to day, I'm happy to use a tablet for fleeting information like daily and weekly news. But when I get a block of uninterrupted reading time – on an airplane, vacation or Sunday afternoon – I crave substantial content. That's when the printed book or magazine strongly beckons.
Thoughtful content is even more satisfying in printed form. Why? All the tactile pleasure of substance is lost with e-books. You can't touch and hold them. You can't dog-ear pages. You can't write in the margins (typing's not the same). You never load bookshelves full of books, preserving knowledge for future generations.
Worst of all, you can't pass along an e-book, even though you paid for it. Often I want to share a book I loved. While you can lend an e-book for a couple of weeks, you can't pass it on to someone who will pass it on. And that's what thoughtful books are all about … sharing ideas across space and time.
For fleeting content, digital's fine. For substantial thoughts, print fits. When you want readers to think deeply, choose a substantial medium – print.