A while back I said that I had wanted to return to this post by Fred Wilson and I thought now was as good a time as any. To briefly recap, in the post Mr. Wilson takes a look at the media consumption habits of his kids and tries to glean some predictions on where the media world is going from those observations.
This time around I wanted to tackle his point on e-books. In his post Mr. Wilson says...
They still read books the way we did as kids. That doesn’t seem to have changed a bit. They read them for school, they read them for entertainment, and they read them lying in bed waiting to be tired enough to turn off the lights. My son Josh read four 600 page Harry Potter books on our two week trip and he’s not a super fast or voracious reader. But he likes reading. All my kids do. Might books be the only medium that remains unaffected by the Internet (except the ease of finding and buying them)?
Later in the post he goes on to say...
books may be the one category of media and entertainment that aren't disrupted by digital technology. or maybe we just haven't seen the technology that will do it. i honestly don't know. and i don't know how the book business is faring versus five or ten years ago. but at least in my family, books are still a growth sector.
I'm inclined to agree with the theory that we just haven't seen the technology that will do it yet. There are really two issues here.
First, digitizing books is harder than digitizing music so the industry has little fear of piracy. I've been a strong critic of music piracy but I fully realize that fear of it has pushed the music industry into doing good things (as I pointed out here). The lack of fear on the side of book publishers has made it very hard to get them to digitize their content and that lack of content will continue to hold down e-book readers. Until an e-book reader can get 95% of the newly published books digitized (in a friendlier format than pdf) I don't think it stands much of chance.
Second, there still hasn't been a break through e-book reader. I think people forget how much of a dud MP3 Players were before the iPod came along. But once it did come along the market boomed in a big way. The more I look at it the more I think the Kindle is on the track to being that break through device. Its just a couple versions (and a huge price cut) away.
Anyway, I think once those two issues are resolved the e-book market will boom. Even if Mr Wilson's son just loves the feel of real books I think he's probably been too conditioned by the world of instant gratification to pass on a device where he can (a) get books instantly and (b) carry his entire library around with him. Not to mention searching, sharing, and all the other goodies that come along with a digital format.
That, in a nutshell, is what I think it has come down to. The iPod has gotten us accustomed to having all (or at least much of) our media constantly at arms length. As that becomes available for a new types of media I can't see kids saying no to it, even if they have to give up a little to in the process.