Thursday, January 7, 2010

Because people don't read anymore...

Last week, Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos was interviewed by Newsweek and said he thought that while the novel would survive virtually unchanged, the ink & paper book was a rapidly-fading technology, soon to be replaced by devices like his company's Kindle e-Reader.

 He would say that, wouldn't he?

 Well, he had some daunting sales figures to back it up. He further made a pitch for the continuation of a dedicated e-Reader rather than creating convergence devices such as the proposed Apple Tablet that is rumored to be appearing at an Apple Store near you sometime this year. Before Apple could pull the curtain back on the Tablet, HP preemptively announced that they are rushing a similar tablet PC to sales floors and the product demo apparently featured the device running Kindle software.
“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.” - Steve Jobs quoted in the New York Times: 15 January, 2008
Prognostication fail.

 You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the tech industry who still believes that and I'm sure Jobs would love to erase that quote. Almost exactly two years later, the CES tradeshow is all about the e-Reader. The Plastic Logic Que will be unveiled today and the new tablets are largely being touted for their capability as e-Readers.

3-D televisions are getting scooped in favor of the next, best way to digitally deliver books to readers. e-Readers are the hit of the season, one of the few markets where the electronics industry is expanding rather than contracting.

Bezos seems very aware of the Jobs quote when Newsweek interviewed him. He obliquely referenced that Jobs quote when he said that "...two years ago, none of us expected what has happened so far. It is [our] No. 1 bestselling product." No one knows better than Bezos that Amazon is out in front and some very very big gorillas are chasing them, desperate to catch up. Hence the pitch for the continuation of a dedicated device for reading e-Books. 

The biggest threat to Kindle is that people will actually want an e-Reader/laptop hybrid. There's a lot of debate out there about how far consumers want their devices to converge into a single omni-gadget.

 This week, comedian and YouTube vlogger Craig Benzine ("Wheezywaiter") distilled the zeitgeist into the ultimate hybrid machine, the logical evolution of the smartphone, essentially a cell phone taped to the back of his MacBook.

Is it better to do everything poorly or one thing well?

Jeff Bezos spent the entire Newsweek article effectively arguing that Benzine is right. Readers want devices that just do one thing really well. Nevertheless, readers are clamoring for full color and the current e-Ink technology used for the screens of almost all e-Readers currently on the market are incapable of going color at least anytime soon.

e-Readers continue to be rather clunky devices, and what no doubt haunts Bezos is that the fact that Apple wasn't the first company to put out an MP-3 player, they were the first company to put out an MP-3 player that wasn't a pain in the butt to use.

Apple's business model is often touted as being about innovation, but really their most successful products have all been about doing something new with existing technologies. Apple specializes in breaking into existing markets with better-designed machines and gradually dominating those new markets to the point where we forget that they didn't invent them. Amazon should be worried about getting iTuned out of the market.

Snapping at Apple's heels (maybe) are netbook innovators Asus. They have been pitching an intriguing folding e-Reader with two color screens so you would see facing pages and replicate a real book reading experience. The device was rumored to be slated for a 2009 release but it hasn't materialized and there are no updates that I could find. Critics point out that if the screens are really just standard touch screens, it won't really be an e-Reader, but another evolution of the netbook with all the eyestrain issues currently keeping most people from choosing a $300 netbook over the $400 Kindle. Of course if they can hit their target price point of <$150.00, they may pull it off, who knows? Asus seems to like snapping at the heels of the bigger companies, it's been a successful business model for them. So, what is that the future of the e-Book? Is it a convergence of gadgets into a single multi-use device, or will the dedicated e-Reader survive?

The market is groaning under the influx in a winner-take-all bout and there's no end in sight. In the meantime, save me a place in the queue for the Wheezy 1Billion.

Scott Walker Perkins writes literary thrillers and blogs on the interface between technology and literary culture. His current novel is The Palimpsest and he is working on another tentatively titled 42 Lines.
Contact Me Linkedin Facebook Blogger Twitter

No comments:

Post a Comment

Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).