There’s been a lot of vitriol toward ebooks, indie publishing, and generally anything that isn’t an old-fashioned paper book on “old-guard” media sites for the past couple of years. The New York Times is particularly bad about it, but The Guardian across the pond has its moments too.
Which is why it was both surprising, and refreshing, to see a piece that actually looked at how and why people are interacting with the digital age when it comes to books.
I get that people fear change; it’s one of my catch phrases and ongoing watchwords. People do fear change, whatever else they’ll swear to your face. Yes, even you. Change is scary, and humans instinctively shy from things that scare them. But the inevitable thing about the future is it is inevitable. It is always coming, and every so often it actually gets here. For books, right now, that’s digital. There’s nothing particularly wrong with paper, but compared to what digital offers . . . it boggles the mind that it’s even debatable.
MP3s and what they’ve done to change how people consume music took a while to enact mostly because consumers had to run out and buy new devices that could handle the formats. These days there are, I have no idea, hundreds or even thousands of different methods you can carry around and put in your car and hang on your walls and stick in your beach house to blast music from a digital MP3 source. And, of course, even our phones do it.
That’s the key thing I feel makes ebooks truly inevitable; the factor that makes it an absolute certainty digital books are here to stay and will not be going away.
Consumers don’t have to run out and buy a specific device to read ebooks. Of course, they can if they want; there are a number on the market. Some of these ereaders even offer features or form-factors that appeal to consumers, so it’s understandable why some folks want a Kindle or whatever. But the market penetration of smartphones is effectively absolute; even long-term homeless people have them in their pockets. And tablets are going quite strong as well, which offer functionality greater than most smartphones but just a bit less than a full desktop computer. Phones and tablets are things a lot of people have, want, and are going to keep using.
That takes the device hurdle out of the adoption process. Completely. Ereader software is free (at least, the major ones I’m aware of are); so that’s another hurdle absent. The only cost is a few minutes of downloading and installing, and then you’re browsing for books you want to read. Tap tap, wait a tick, and there it is. Anywhere you’ve got internet access. And that’s a rather sizable portion of the Earth’s surface these days. Standing in line at the store or the DMV or on the train or waiting for the elevator . . . pull something up to read. Sure a lot of folks spend time like that screwing around with social media, but some folks are old-fashioned enough to read rather than tweet while also being hip enough to have embraced the change.
Any scenario where ebooks abruptly fade away and paper reasserts its dominance would be a plot worth of a cyber-thriller or suspense-intrigue story. Sorry bookstores; but your old role of acting as a public distribution site for physical books is basically not needed anymore. The smartest among you will figure out a new role and embrace that. The rest, well, I’m sure if you all get together and complain loud enough the world will stop using digital products just so you can stay relevant. Wish real, real, real, really real hard.
Oh wait . . .