The future of reading…..
Richard Charkin‘s blog has an interesting discussion about ereaders, following Andrew Marr’s piece last week in the Guardian, which you can read here. I’ve written my response, which goes along the following lines. I think most of us and the National Treasure that is Andrew Marr are all – sorry to say – just TOO OLD to really understand what is going to happen when the iPod moment happens with ereaders. It will be about fashion, not reading.
MP3 players had been around for ages before iPods hit the street, but what made the iPod an object of desire was a combination of great looks followed by capacity. It was very cool to be seen with. For those of us who remember, it’s like when the Walkman arrived and your mum and dad bought you a cheaper non-brand version. They didn’t get that the one you wanted was the original Walkman, because (to parahrase someone else) it’s the label stupid!
The label makes a statement (not least that you had enough music to fill your iPod – I can remember the “my library is bigger than yours” conversations taking place when I got my first iPod).
So far no ereader has made a fashion statement. They look functional and are functional, not cool. When one does – and it will be multi-functional (mobile phone, music, RSS etc etc) – they will be embraced first by cool hunters (esp younger readers) and then everyone else trying to look cool. Just like the iPod, just like MySpace, just like YouTube and the good old interweb itself.
All these innovations experience a noticable “greying” of their market when they become mainstream. This is because early adopters are predominantly young and are followed by parents and grown up kids like me.
The fatuous argument that books will stick around because you can “drop them in the bath” depresses the hell out of me. Of course, paper books will stick around, not least because they make better wallpaper than electronic files (sames as CDs), but the idea that a new generation who read their lessons from eBooks and use smart boards rather than blackboards in lessons will stick with paper because of tradition and literary heritage reflects the middle class ghetto in which most of the trade lives. As any teacher, there are a lot of children who grow up with NO or very few books in their home. They don’t necessarily have a “literary heritage” to marry them to the paper format.
The argument s often used to defend paper over ebooks often presuppose that all commercial fiction/nonfiction is equal. Most of it is disposable. An ereader is ideal for the majority of cheap commercial chart fodder, which will never appear in one of those leather bound heritage libraries on offer in the Sunday supps to people who don’t read but want to look like they do.
Finally, what I can’t wait to see is how creative people take up the challenge of creating a whole new reading experience offered by ereaders – or mooks – combining, games, music and animation in one reading experience. It could be playful, interactive and, most of all engaging. Now that is exciting, and I predict when we get an ebook that shakes cages like that, then everyone will want one.