Saturday, September 05, 2009

The trouble with e-books

Forrester Research released a study this week which concluded that e-book readers are still too expensive to reach "the widest range of U.S. consumers."

The devices would have to be priced at $50, Forrester said, for consumers to think the "superior functionality" of electronic-book readers is worth the money. The e-readers have high-resolution screens that are easier on the eyes when reading, compared to the screens on smartphones which can also be used for reading e-books.

This is bad news for the makers of e-book readers, because $50 doesn't even cover the cost of the screen alone. E-readers are currently priced somewhere between $200 and $500.

"The majority of consumers don't care enough about reading or technology to invest in this type of single-purpose device at anything close to realistic prices," the study said.

However, Forrester still believes e-readers will have "phenomenal economic and social impact as they prove to consumers that digital reading can be a pleasurable experience."

Do they vibrate?

That's not a facetious question, or at least it's not a completely facetious question. America Wants To Know has written before that new technologies succeed with the public in direct proportion to their ability to display pornography, and those e-ink display screens are no match for an iPhone with a wireless connection to the Internet.

It's hard (sorry) difficult to get firm (sorry) reliable numbers, but if you believe people bought their first CD-ROM drive and satellite dish for the interactive encyclopedia and the East Coast feed of the NBC Nightly News, here's some advice: Delete those lottery and inheritance e-mails from Nigeria, they're not true either.

In addition to their inability to compete with Internet porn, e-readers have another fatal defect.

Nobody can see what you're reading.

You don't have to spend much time talking to people before you realize that more people buy books than read them.

Apparently there's a Rolex effect in the book business. Even though a $15 watch will tell the time equally well, people will pay a lot of money for a Rolex because it sends a message that the wearer is successful and wealthy.

In the same way, carrying around a book that "everybody" is talking about sends a message that the person carrying that book is informed, elite, interesting, and intelligent.

You don't actually have to read it. As long as it's displayed casually on a desk or coffee table, carried into a Starbucks, used to save a seat at the airport or placed prominently in a bookcase, it will do its job.

A Kindle, on the other hand, just sits there looking blank.

Another problem for e-readers becomes obvious when you study the bestseller lists the week before Christmas and the week after New Year's.

There are tens of millions of people in this country with male relatives who simply do not need another tie or sweater.

So every December, the bestseller list is jammed with weighty biographies of presidents and generals, with inspiring stories of CEOs and athletes, with somber books about wars and thick volumes on narrow slices of history.

They're wrapped as gifts and placed under Christmas trees and happily received as a compliment to the recipient's discerning intelligence.

They look really nice on the coffee table. The cover art is always rich and elegant.

A Sony e-Reader can't hold a Kindle to it (sorry).

Copyright 2009

Editor's note: You might be interested in the earlier posts, "Porn's Great Depression," "Howard Stern and the big secret" and "105-year-old Internet porn."