In Living Color

18 11 2010

It’s fun to watch marketers duke it out for our attention, as well as our pocketbooks. The battlefield is littered with the remains of companies who have tried but failed, yet the war goes on to win us over.

The battle for our digital reading just intensified yesterday with the release of the Nook Color from Barnes & Noble. At $249, it promises to deliver books and more via wifi, and give users a touchscreen experience similar to that of the iPad. Just in time for Christmas, right?

Thus far the e-reader market has been fragmented, with Nook and Amazon’s Kindle fighting it out over the low-end price point (basic Kindles now start at $139), and iPad and its competitors (more aptly called tablet devices), on the high end of the spectrum ($500 and up). The Nook Color tries to reach a middle ground of sorts, albeit without the computing power and apps native to the iPad.

The e-reader/tablet landscape is only going to get more crowded. The much-anticipated Galaxy from Samsung is going to challenge iPad for supremacy. And as others reach market, there will no doubt be more price erosion as competition heats up.

I am particularly enamored of these devices, and argue that they have a place in academics. I anticipate students very soon toting them around in backpacks instead of laptops and textbooks, because everything can be done on the more powerful high-end products. My colleagues and I have written papers and made presentations touting the benefits of academia going this route, and our works has been well-received by our peers.

But try as I might, I just may still be a curmudgeon at heart. I have been successful thus far in cutting the ties that bound me in so many ways: CDs, movies, cameras, magazines and newspapers. But when it comes to books, I am having a hard time.

After all, books are to my mind as bikes are to my legs. Both take me places. And I just cannot (yet) wrap my mind around the whole shopping experience of downloading books to an e-reader device.

Not that I can’t handle actually using such a device, or even reading a book on one. I already devour the Austin American-Stateman and several magazines completely digitally. And I would like to add books to the list.

Here’s the problem: Shopping for books on my iPad is a very unrewarding experience. There’s the New York Times best seller list to peruse, plus iTunes’ best sellers, but that’s about it. It is completely unlike the full frontal assault of walking in a bookstore and seeing 100,000 or more books at once, or even the almighty suggestion engine for which Amazon is famous. I effectively have to pre-shop for the book elsewhere (at Amazon or a brick-and-mortar bookstore), and then return to my iPad to see if it is even available via iTunes for purchase. Heck, if I’m going to have to make that much effort, I may as well just buy it there.

I am willing to forgo the tactile experience of holding the book and turning its pages, but the way I shop for books is simply not conducive to buying them for my iPad. While Kindle and Nook have the modest benefit of the complete online catalog (and suggestion engines) working, iPad’s sales pitch is simply terrible by comparison.

You see, I am a serious reader. I’ll say it again. Serious. And I am open to many types of books. I go into bookstores (or login to Amazon) with a completely open mind (and wallet). Hit me with your best shot, Mr. Bookseller. I want to peruse the pages, not just the jacket blurbs and author bio. I want to start at the back to see where it ends up, then jump to the front to see how it gets there. I want to skip around and sample a few pages, in the beginning, the end, and in the middle.

And it is just too hard to do this on any e-reader or tablet, and not much better online.

So in response to my student last night when I posted from Red Robin that I was enjoying a book and brew, this is why I wasn’t reading it on my iPad.

In my mind, the success factor of these devices depends in large part on how marketers can simulate the in-real-life shopping experience of actually being in a bookstore, or else mass adoption is going to be slow. Required texts are one thing, but when it comes to avid leisure reading, sellers need to recognize that the hunt is often as rewarding as the kill.

And that, to me, could kill these products if they solve this problem soon.

Dr “By the Book” Gerlich


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