Monday, June 23, 2008

Reading the Future -- It looks like eBooks to me

Reading the Future, a report but together by the Bookseller and the Next big thing ebookroundupis a fascinating snap shot of the British attitudes about reading and books in the future.   The study surveyed over 1000 adults across Britain and included questions about their present reading and browsing habits and their "best guess" about the future of bookstores.

Not surprisingly there is a huge difference in attitudes about electronic reading between "Millennials" (18 to 25 year olds) and seniors (65+).  For example:

  • 28% of those 18-24 were favorable towards the idea of e-readers, compared to 9% of 65+ year olds
  • 40% liked the idea of downloadable chapters of books, compared to 7% of 65+ year olds.

The thing I find the most amazing about the study is the finding that 9% of seniors find the idea of e-reading even an alternative!  Think about it -- the first modern computer was invented 65 years ago and the idea that people would actually read books on a computer was essentially incomprehensible.  But I digress. . .

The real focus of the study is on "Millennials" who will most certainly be the drivers of book publishing and buying habits over the next decade.  Interestingly only  half of them think that bookstores as we know them will survive over the next 20 years.  They are less clear on what will replace them. 

They are, however, clear on what is important: content. They seem less interested in how they read or how they find books to read than they are in having content available.  

This makes me think of Arthur C. Clarke's first law of prediction --

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

One thing is certain, we have not yet achieved an advance technology for reading.  There is no "magic" in current eReading!  Not in the devices or the eBook formats!

And yet, devices and formats are not really the issue.  Neither is how you purchase or acquire content.  In the end the really compelling stories are what you remember, not how you access them. 

I can't help wonder what the next generation -- the so called “Bebo generation” -- would have to say about reading and the future.  They were not questioned for this study. 

These are the electronic kids; they are the future.  Many  preteens and most teens have cell phones right now.  They seem to rarely use them to actually talk. . . they are too busy texting. Devices, digital reading and online networking are just a part of the fabric of their lives.Are bookstores even part of their conscious experience? And why would they even care?

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