Monday, January 28, 2008


There was an interesting article about the Amazon Kindle in the New York Times -- Freed From the Page, but a Book Nonetheless. The article rightly addresses two of the factors that are key to the success of portable ebook readers -- the quality of the display and usability of the interface, and the physical portability of the unit itself. In those areas, the Kindle doesn't do too badly. Stephen King wrote a column for Entertainment Weekly where he reported on his first use of a Kindle -- he found that he was able to enjoy the book he was reading and the fact that he was using an ebook reader faded into the background.

The article also reports on Steve Jobs' attack on the Kindle not as a device, but as a tool for an untenable market niche because "people don’t read anymore." The article countered the percentage that he presented with some data from a survey conducted in August 2007 by Ipsos Public Affairs for The Associated Press.

27 percent of Americans had not read a book in the previous year. Not as bad as Mr. Jobs’s figure, but dismaying to be sure. Happily, however, the same share — 27 percent — read 15 or more books.

In fact, when we exclude Americans who had not read a single book in that year, the average number of books read was 20, raised by the 8 percent who read 51 books or more. In other words, a sizable minority does not read, but the overall distribution is balanced somewhat by those who read a lot.

Both sides are trying to make a point using statistics: Jobs' figure is high, and the NYT is getting a favorable average by excluding an entire class of respondents. But it's the wrong point. Neither article really dealt with the issues surrounding the content -- availability, formats, interoperability, and DRM. Those are what's really crippling the ebook reader market, not whether people read any more. Make the content as openly available as possible, in as many formats as possible, and transferable between desktops and devices and between people, _and_ do away with the crippling DRM, and then there will be a thriving ebook and ereader market.

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