An increasing number of consumers now download and read books on electronic devices, such as the popular Kindle by Amazon, the Nook from Barnes and Noble, or the iPad from Apple.
As you survey my blog posts, I have long been an opponent of these devices. I have previously argued why traditional books should be the way to go. I will not repeat those arguments here – they are readily available in our archives.
I think the “show-stopper” will be the investigation and results that come from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) of the Federal Government. This watchdog association is notorious for its detailed and long-lasting impact on products that put consumers at risk.
My prediction is that tests will continue to reveal a negative impact on consumer exposure to these devices. An increasing number of reports available on the internet now reveal questions about the effects from reading text with these devices, including eye strain, headaches, blurred vision, and short and long-term vision loss.
To be fair, there are also a number of reports that call these claims “silly,” and there are also available posts that show consumers how to adjust the backlight and contrast in order to make the exposure more suitable for the individual.
All of this is fine, but the reports have brought enough attention where we will see serious, not anecdotal investigations into the effect of these products. You can regularly see recalls of products that the CPSC has deemed unsafe. Their decisions have brought dozens of manufactured products to their knees.
Will the CPSC be bold enough to go forward to apply the standards for safety that they have long used to these electronic devices for reading? What will the scientific investigations reveal? And, regardless of the findings, will enough consumers be scared, and return to the purchase of traditional books? I believe that this will happen. One credible report, with one major recall, that is announced with enough publicity, will be enough to significantly debilitate consumer acceptance of these devices.
In the meantime, what is your own tolerance level for risk? Reports from both sides are available on the internet. Who and what do you want to believe?
Let’s talk about it really soon!
From the New York Times: Career Counselor: Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?
At an event unveiling new Apple products, Mr. Jobs said: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.”
Bill Gates does not agree.
Put me down in the Steve Jobs column.
You can read the “debate,” with eight voices weighing in, here.
You might enjoy this earlier post of mine: The Parable of the Calligraphy Class – Profound Insight from the Life Story of Steve Jobs.
It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.
I wrote about this in a comment on my post, “What Three Books Should I Load On My Kindle For My Cruise?,” but let me add to that comment.
I think that it is inevitable that e-books will drastically impact the sale of physical books. But, for now, I think that maybe there are simply more total books being sold overall because of e-books.
The article that has generated this round of conversation is this one, from the N Y Times, E-Books Top Hardcovers at Amazon by Claire Cain Miller:
Book lovers mourning the demise of hardcover books with their heft and their musty smell need a reality check, said Mike Shatzkin, founder and chief executive of the Idea Logical Company, which advises book publishers on digital change. “This was a day that was going to come, a day that had to come,” he said. He predicts that within a decade, fewer than 25 percent of all books sold will be print versions.
The shift at Amazon is “astonishing when you consider that we’ve been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months,” the chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, said in a statement.
Still, the hardcover book is far from extinct. Industrywide sales are up 22 percent this year, according to the American Publishers Association.
Amazon is being helped by an explosion in e-book sales across the board. According to the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales have quadrupled this year through May.
The numbers are undeniable. The sale of e-books are rising faster than many could have expected. Notice that key phrase: Still, the hardcover book is far from extinct. Industry wide sales are up 22 percent this year… It appears that e-books are booming, but physical book sales are also quite healthy at the moment.
So what will happen? Remembering Yogi Berra’s warning (see above), here’s my two cents worth: physical books will be around a long while, maybe forever. But ultimately, the overall sales will significantly tilt toward the e-books. I think it is inevitable. And the accelerated pace is evidence that such sales are ramping up very, very quickly.
It’s Saturday. The weekend is upon us, and I read wherever the links take me. And I think back over the week, think about what I heard, read, learned… So – here is a Saturday edition of Randy’s “let’s just think about some stuff…”
1. The office is disappearing. That’s the conclusion of Seth Godin, and it was so “big,” and yet, once you read it, you knew he was certainly correct, that it even got picked up by Andrew Sullivan (The Office, RIP: Seth Godin gives the last rites). Sullivan writes about a lot of different topics all the time, but seldom about business issues — so this is notable.
Here’s what Godin wrote (click on the link to understand his #7 comment):
If we were starting this whole office thing today, it’s inconceivable we’d pay the rent/time/commuting cost to get what we get. I think in ten years the TV show ‘the Office’ will be seen as a quaint antique.
When you need to have a meeting, have a meeting. When you need to collaborate, collaborate. The rest of the time, do the work, wherever you like.
The gain in speed, productivity and happiness is massive. What’s missing is #7… someplace to go. Once someone figures that part out, the office is dead.
2. The desktop computer is disappearing. That’s the conclusion of Farhod Manjoo, Slate.com’s technology writer. (I’m a big fan of his writing – I understand it!)
In the last decade, portable computers have erased many of the advantages that desktops once claimed while desktops have been unable to overcome their one glaring deficiency—by definition, these machines are chained to your desk.
Amazingly, by 2015, desktops will constitute just 18 percent of the consumer PC market…
In just three years’ time, tablets are projected to outsell desktops, becoming the second-largest PC category after laptops. This sounds crazy until you consider that Apple alone is already selling 1 million tablets a month.
He’s right, of course. I now read as many articles on my iPhone as I do on my desktop. I suspect I will have an iPad before too long.
But, let me describe how I work. I wonder if any others out there work the same way. I do fine with my portable devices for “input.” I read my e-mail, read articles, find information. I read both the Godin post and the Manjoo post on my iPhone. But for “output” – blog posts, e-mails, preparing handouts to go along with my presentations, I want/need my desktop. (I’m a Mac guy – I’m now on about my 5th Apple over a long period of time; and I love my iMac. I’ve never warmed to the keyboard/mouse in a laptop, and practically refuse to work on one when I “have to.”’ I’ve never owned one).
Recently, I heard Ron Holifield, CEO of Strategic Government Resources, describe two different kinds of workers. Those who work “from the shoulders down,” and those who work “from the shoulders up.” This is a really clear, graphic image. Increasingly, those who work “from the shoulders up,” can work anywhere there is a connection. Which is just about anywhere. They won’t need an office – and they won’t need a desktop. They will just need to be connected.
As for where all of your stuff will be – it will be in the cloud. So it will be available anywhere, anytime… (I’ve got every one of my book handouts, and a whole lot more, available to me on my iPhone and/or from any connected computer anywhere, through my MobileMe account. Yes, I could do the same for free on Google Docs, but MobileMe does a whole lot more, and it is so easy to use with my iMac! It is worth the cost).
And just for fun, let me remind you of a few of the fantasy communication devices we all remember. Dick Tracy had a wristwatch that allowed for live visual face-to-face communication (you know – where you could talk and see each other at the same time). The new iPhone will now actually have capability. Captain Kirk had this hand-held device that he could flip open and say “Beam me up, Scotty.” By the time Captain Picard arrived, he just tapped a spot on his uniform. No more clumsy, too large, inconvenient flip-open communication device.
The communication devices/reading devices/working devices are getting stronger, faster, smaller, less obtrusive, easier to use, seemingly by the week. Tomorrow is arriving faster by the minute.
It’s been a while since we discussed this. Karl Krayer, my First Friday Book Synopsis and blogging colleague, is convinced that books will more than weather the Kindle/Nook/iPad storm. I’m not so sure.
The loss will be immense. How about this one: “what are you reading?” has always been a conversation starter, prompted when you see someone holding a dog-eared hardback or paperback. I don’t feel the same freedom to say “what are you reading” to a Kindle user. In fact, the question is usually “how do you like the Kindle?” The shift from content to delivery system is not a good one for our conversations and our intellectual development.
And, as some have already observed, we are about to lose the marketing genius behind good dust jackets. Think about the great old music album covers (do you remember the cover for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? It is a distant memory; and graphics are really not the same on iTunes).
This may indeed change the way “books” are “read”. But I remain convinced that there is a singular experience – of devoting time to read a writer’s sustained and crafted words of more than, say, 50,000 words – that cannot be supplanted by anything else. Maybe this solitary absorption of another’s words will become the activity of a precious few. But anyone seeking wisdom or learning over knowledge and entertainment will still look for it. And treasure it.
I hope he is right.
James Surowiecki is the author of the influential book, The Wisdom Of Crowds (one of the books I have presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis), and a regular columnist for The New Yorker. He is an astute observer of the trends and changes in our culture. Here’s his latest.
In a big-picture scheme of things, we have two groups that are healthy, and one that is in real trouble. The two healthy groups are the “very best,” and the “good enough.” It is the “middle” that is in real danger. This is the premise behind his article SOFT IN THE MIDDLE. Here’s part of his opening paragraph:
Starting at five hundred dollars, the iPad is significantly more expensive than its competitors. But Apple’s assumption is that, if the iPad is also significantly better, people will happily shell out for it (as they already do for iPods, iPhones, and Macs). That’s why when Steve Jobs first introduced the iPad he said that, if a product wasn’t “far better” than what was already out there, it had “no reason for being.
At the other end of the spectrum is the “good enough — adequate.” Here’s a paragraph about this group:
On the contrary, companies like Ikea, H. & M., and the makers of the Flip video camera are flourishing not by selling products or services that are “far better” than anyone else’s but by selling things that aren’t bad and cost a lot less. These products are much better than the cheap stuff you used to buy at Woolworth, and they tend to be appealingly styled, but, unlike Apple, the companies aren’t trying to build the best mousetrap out there. Instead, they’re engaged in what Wired recently christened the “good-enough revolution.” For them, the key to success isn’t excellence. It’s well-priced adequacy.
And though these two examples are about different ends of the consumer world, they have something in common:
These two strategies may look completely different, but they have one crucial thing in common: they don’t target the amorphous blob of consumers who make up the middle of the market.
Surowiecki concludes with this:
According to one estimate, Nokia has nearly twenty times Apple’s market share, but the iPhone alone makes almost as much money as all Nokia’s phones combined. But making money by selling moderately good products that are moderately expensive isn’t going to get any easier, which suggests a slight rewrite of the old Highland ballad. You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road, and we’ll both be in Scotland afore the guy in the middle.
Here’s my take. A while back, I read (and presented) the Robert Bloom book, The Inside Advantage. In it, he spoke of the importance of these two questions
• Who is my core customer?
• What is my uncommon offering?
From the Surowiecki article, we learn that it may be much easier to answer these questions for the upper and the lower end of markets, and a whole lot harder to target the “amorphous middle.”