E-reading was once seen as a revolutionary shift in how we educate, learn and distribute text. The Amazon Kindle popularised e-readers in the commercial market and the investment into digitising education made e-readers available in select schools in some countries. Now, nearly two decades since the first of these devices were bought, we need to ask serious questions about why e-reading is less popular and if we should try to kindle that revolution again – and if we even can.
The first commercial e-reader was produced by NuvoMedia in late 1998. The idea was ingenious. Transforming inked-pages into digital screens could optimise the properties of the text, make books portable and easier to store. One could have a library at their fingertips. However, the idea was not new. Any computer or digital device could basically do the same. So, sales of e-readers were weak. To make matters worse for the e-book reader, the tablet computer had just recently been commercialised and consumers would have seen a tablet as more the worthier device. But, in reality, people weren´t avoiding these e-book readers because of similar functionality to tablets, they were avoiding them because people weren´t reading. People wished to educate, learn and distribute through print. If e-readers were going to sell, they would need to change how people engaged with text.
Printed vs E-Books
The e-book boom struck in the mid 2000s. People became crazy about e-reading – from mystery novels to lunch recipes – from motivational memoirs to DIY guides. With the interest in e-books came an interest in e-readers. Amazon played a big role in this revolution in 2007 through the Kindle Store where people could easily purchase books online – which they could conveniently read on their Kindle. The e-readers success started when they stopped competing with tablets and started competing with books themselves. In fact, producers of e-readers knew this. Their advertising shifted from trying to distinguish their devices from other other technology and instead focus on why people should read digitally instead of in print. The ´revolution´ did not focus on the devices but rather on the idea of e-reading. That idea pushed people to the devices.
Currently, the sales of books is a pressing concerns, both digital and print. This is not caused by the competition between the two types of reading. The true culprit is a lack of book-reading in our current societies. People do read – just not books. People read blog posts, articles, web feeds and social media posts. We have changed how we educate, distribute and learn.
Just recently, Amazon has announced a the $350 Amazon Kindle Oasis with 4G wireless connection, waterproofing and a six-week battery life! They are attempting to increase sales by improving functionality. Their mistake is in not recognising the problem. People are going to read less unless we create a culture of reading. That is not something that technology can inspire – it is something that we must do ourselves.
Technology-related blog posts every Monday.