Monthly Archives: September 2009

Electronic book readers

Sooner or later any, and probably every blogger, will pull out a reference to the Gutenberg press. Now it’s my turn. The Gutenberg press was probably the single most important invention in modern times. It came on to the scene in about 1440 and by 1499 approximately 15 million books had been printed across some 3,000 titles. The development of the world wide web comes close and has had a similar dramatic impact on the distribution of knowledge to the masses. Not so, however the electronic book reader.

Kindle was launched in 2007 and on August 25th, as reported by various publications including the Economist, Sony has launched their latest challenger. In the same article it is also reported that “according to some estimates more people use Apple’s iphone to read digital texts than use Kindle”. To me this is no surprise and is the classic single function product problem.

It is as if electronic book readers have been developed by book lovers rather than technology companies. For the same reason the born digital generation don’t wear watches (their mobile phones provide them with the time as well as a range of other functions) they also won’t buy ebook readers. They may well come to buy a device that reads eBooks in an accessible and pleasurable way but also plays audio and video files, store photos, accesses the internet, tells the time and various other tasks but that appears not to be what eBook reader manufactures are producing.

The Gutenberg press created the opportunity to share all the information in the world in the best format available at the time. It happened to be a single function device – printed material. Today’s information requirements are far broader and the sooner eBook reader manufacturers realise they are competing with mobile phones, mini laptops, internet watches, and a whole host of other wearable and static technologies the sooner the consumer will start parting with their cash.