The news of Barnes and Noble being put on the block earlier this month rekindled (pun intended) the memories of a rather heated round of discussion in one of my Marketing classes on Amazon vs Barnes and Noble. We talked about how other bricks and mortar stores were taking away market share of physical books from B&N , and on the e-books front it was getting its ass kicked by Amazon.The consensus in the class was that in all probability B&N was fighting a losing battle and Amazon was going to get even stronger.This certainly seems to be bearing out now.
The fundamental issue here is probably reading an e-book vs reading the good old paper and ink physical book (also called dead tree books-probably a term coined by environmentalists or the Amazon marketing machine). The shift is certainly happening as far as the reading habits of people are concerned (this is especially true of the more technologically mature countries). Last holiday season Amazon sold 143 e-books for every 100 hardcover books it sold in that quarter. At present this ratio stands even higher.
All this definitely shows a shift, but predicting an obsolescence of dead tree books from this shift is not possible. This is because e-book readers have a long way to go as far as replicating the look and feel of dead tree books is concerned.From what I have observed, people read books off computer screens only when they have absolutely no other option. In the Marketing class that I talked about earlier, I remember people predicting the death of dead tree books and the new golden era of e-books in the class. But these were the same people who would take print-outs of their e-books for the next test because they didn’t like reading e-books 🙂 .The next level to reading from computer screens is the e-book readers of today, but they at present do no have the wow factor that would probably be needed to wean away a lifelong reader of dead tree books.
The tipping point for e-books over dead tree books would come when the e-book readers are able to convincingly mimic the look and feel of a physical book.
All e-book readers are single screen which I think is a big mistake. If you are trying to replicate the classic reading experience,you need to make it dual screen where the two screens fold like two halves of a physical book.The e-paper technology has brought down the glare level.The business model is excellent.Most publishers are on board.Product design is the only factor Amazon lacks in and I suppose it is because the technology today is not advanced enough. If this falls into place in the coming years, my bet is that we would see the death of dead paper books because the substitute would look like it,feel like it and if they can pull it off somehow, smell like it.
Amazon (and other e-book reader manufacturers) also needs to focus for now a lot more on school and college students,especially school kids. You get them reading from your device at a young age – and you will have them for all of their lives,because never having had read too many dead tree books,they won’t know what they are missing out on.
Dead tree books or e-books, reading is the king.