Tuesday, January 8, 2008

eBooks and the Perfect Reader

irexsonykindle There has been a lot of talk about eBook hardware in the last year:  the Irex Illiad, the Sony reader, the Cybook and finally the Kindle. Lots of press.  Lots of talk.

With each new device the questions arises:  Is this the new iPod for books?  Is this the piece of hardware that will take eBooks mainstream?  The "Killer Device" for eBooks?

The talk is seductive. I admit to having gotten a little sucked into that mind set.  I like the idea that somehow, someday there will be a "killer device" that will catapult eBooks into the next dimension.

This morning, while in the shower (I do my best thinking in the shower), it struck me -- the whole concept is totally fallacious.  It is, in fact, highly unlikely that there will ever be such a thing.

Think about it.  All over the world people are reading digital books.  Most of them read these eBooks on PCs, PDAs and mobile phones.

They aren't waiting for the perfect reader.  In fact they aren't even necessarily interested in a new gadget that will transform the whole electronic reading experience.  They are quite happy just as they are.  Thank you very much. 

Sure, there are some annoying inconveniences but basically, the technology is "good enough" for them just as it is.

cellphone girlMost of the "good enough" readers are young, hip and wired.  They are generally under 35 and grew up with computers, games boys and cell phones.  They are dexterous and have decent eyesight.  They think of books as something their parents read to them before they could play video games.  Alternatively, they think of books as some kind of bizarre punishment inflicted on them in the name of education. 

old man reading Most of the people waiting for the "killer device" think of books as iconic.  They seem to feel that the physical form of a book is somehow sacred.  After all, they grew up reading books, libraries were well funded and book stores were everywhere.  They expect the electronic reading experience to replicate the familiar print experience. 

In the end it is all about expectations and familiarity.  And then there is this:  the "good enough" generation is growing even as those waiting for the "killer device" are slowly and inexorably dying off.

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