The news this week that e-book sales had stripped hardcover book sales at Amazon over the past 3 months has generated a flurry of comment and opinion both celebrating and despairing the news in a way that few topics can be guaranteed to do. I have what can only be described as minimal interest in the entire subject but with the release of this news I couldn’t help but remember a dark time in my personal history.
It was in 1996 that the first of a very, very long line of sales folk trapped me in a room for 90 minutes to extol the virtues of an early model e-reader (a Sony). The tag-team of expensive suit wearing chaps waxed lyrical about the many ways in which the organisation I then worked for would be more efficient, generate more wealth and solve forever the problem of world hunger if only we bought e-readers for everyone. In the subsequent 14 years I’ve endured countless similar sessions in which the gadgets have gotten fancier and the sales speak has gotten slicker but the reality hasn’t changed much at all: very few of the workforce wants an e-reader.
I think now as I thought then: something that is as good as the sales people say it is shouldn’t need such a strong pitch. If e-readers are such a boon to life, business (and solving world hunger) then they will naturally replace paper books without the help of an army of cologne-wearing salesmen. Won’t they? I don’t remember the switch from LP to CD for the mass consumption of sound recordings taking 14 years and requiring a never-ending stream of opinion pieces. It just happened. Fairly organically. And reasonably quickly. In a business context the smart phone has been around for a lot less time than the e-reader but has experienced a much (much) higher adoption rate.
Perhaps this week’s news means that e-readers are finally on the home stretch for world domination and it just took a little longer than anyone thought it would. But honestly I don’t think so, though I admit my ‘evidence’ isn’t terribly scientific:
- I can think of two dozen people I know in real life who are moderate to heavy readers and only 3 of them have any kind of e-reading device
- In the Crime and Mystery Room at Friend Feed where I spend many a happy moment chatting about all things crime fiction with other fans there are (I think) only 2* e-reader users (*Update – apparently there are 4 not 2)
- At work the take-up rate is minuscule, less than 1% of the eligible workforce has one
- I don’t have one (I’m an avid reader, could easily afford an e-reader, am in no way averse to technology and harbour no inherent objection to the format but have yet to be convinced of the need to own one)
I wonder where we’ll be in another 14 years.