Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I don't need a library in my pocket, thanks

And besides, "library in a pocket" just calls to mind the horrible school coaches in Texas that were forever accusing us pubescent boys of "shootin' pocket pool." It seemed annoying at the time, but as an adult, I look back at that as, in fact, quite inappropriate and foul.

Anyhow, I'm referring here to Motoko Rich and Brad Stone's article in yesterday's NY Times on electronic reading devices, which sought to understand the ways in which readers are consuming books electronically - on dedicated devices and on phones with book features (ie, iphone, i-touch, etc). It's nice to see that this is of such wide interest. I know NY Times readers are a fairly specific demographic, but this article is currently the number 2 most emailed article.

But I can't help but feel this lingering suspicion as I read the article...

My partner's contention is that people do not want e-readers as much as e-reader companies want people to want e-readers. He believes the companies are generating this hysteria falsely, creating the illusion of demand in order to create demand. Is he crazy, and is this theory crazy? Well to be honest, those are two separate questions, but I don't want to digress again, as I've already said too much re: school coaches, above.

This article supports his case. Yes, we have the "man on the street" voice, from Keishon Tutt, a pharmacist in TX; romance (e)novelist Shannon Stacey; admin assistant and blogger Sarah Wendall. But mixed in, we also get quotes from e-reader execs who are trying to casually explain the allure of their products:
“It’s a surprisingly pleasant experience to read on a small screen,” said Josh Koppel, a founder of ScrollMotion, a New York company that has made some 25,000 e-books available through Apple’s App Store and has sold more than 200,000 copies.

and
"The Kindle is for people who love to read,” Mr. Freed of Amazon said. “People use phones for lots of things. Most often they use them to make phone calls. Second most often, they use them to send text messages or e-mail. Way down on the list, there’s reading.”

These quotes are provided as if the journalists ran into these folks on the F train and this topic kind of came up, perhaps with the opening line, "Whatcha reading, and on what device?"

I don't think we need to ban e-reading and insist on printed matter for all books. I really don't. But I'm not convinced that this demand is as real as these lobbyists of sorts want us to believe.

Here's another funny moment in this strange article:
According to the Codex Group, a consultant to the publishing industry, about 1.7 million people now own [a single-function e-reader], and that number could rise to four million by the end of the holiday season.

That's a huge increase. Is this a case of self-fulfilling prophecy? There is no other context, just this projection thrown into the mix.

Hey, if you're into e-reading, e-read away. Make yourself sick with it. But I continue to read these fluff pieces - which generated pretty strong responses questioning the thoroughness of Rich and Stone, the writers - with a fair amount of skepticism. I almost feel my lack of concern about attaining an e-reader runs counter to the underlying demand, and that suggests an article that is not, on the whole, balanced.

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