Friday, 9 October 2009

Amazon Kindle: What Would Gutenberg Say?

As I had written in a previous post, Google just released a new product in its labs: Google Fast Flip. The aim of the product is to change the way in which we read news on the web. Someone else, though, is trying to make a much more agressive move in trying to change our reading habits. As you may have noticed in fact, in these days (Christmas is coming?) we are assisting to a massive marketing push by Amazon in this direction. I guess you have already understood what I'm referring to: Amazon Kindle. The product has been around for quite a while now, but in these days a newer and cheaper version is being made available to the international market (more than 100 countries). In fact, until a couple of weeks ago Amazon e-reader was only available in the States. Competitors are also jumping on the bandwagon: Sony e-reader and rumoured Barnes & Nobles Android-powered reading device are two of the main competitors for the Kindle.

Amazon's move is fairly audacious. Trying to change our reading habits is not exactly an easy move. The pleasure of reading a book is not easily replicable. The feeling of holding the book in your hands, going through the pages, smelling it, contemplating it or also the simple fact of having it in your library are all things that e-books cannot substitute for. Moreover reading from a screen is kind of frustrating and tiring after a while. Of course there are also some advantages: you can have thousands of books, newspapers, pdf or Word files following you wherever you go. Not bad. Moreover, you can almost instantly wirelessly download books directly on the device at a cheaper price.

Anyway, a recent experiment run in various US univerities revealed that e-readers are not going to have an easy life. Students and professors were given a Kindle for a certain period of time. They had to use it as a study tool and later reveal their impressions about dealing with the device. Here are some not so enthusiastic quotes:

"Much of my learning comes form a physical interaction with the text: boomarks, highlight, page-tearing, sticky notes and other marks representing the importance of certain passages [...] All these things have been lost, and if not they're too slow to keep up with my thinking, and the 'features' have been rendered useless"

"For some people, electronic reading can never replace the functionality and 'feel' of reading off paper"

Therefore it looks like people do not like the Kindle if they need it for study-related purposes. But, Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO) is writing that "kindle is the most wished for, the most gifted, and the #1 bestselling product across all the millions of items we sell on" It looks like people are definetely interested in the gizmo! Otherwise Amazon wouldn't have decided to go for such a bold move.

Feeling curious about the matter I decided to run a little test to see whether Amazon & co. (competitors!) efforts are being reflected in people's interests. I used Google Insights for Search: a program that gives you various statistics regarding googled words. You google the word(s) you are interested in and you can see how much it was/were searched for in Google.

Here is what I got (click on the image to enlarge it):

People are definetely getting more interested in e-reading devices. But it looks like they are googling more the Sony product than Amazon Kindle! Is it because sony's device costs $200, instead of the $259 for the Kindle? Google is not anwering that (sic). Anyway, US based Forrester research doesn't seem to agree: Forrester raised its forecasts for Kindle "e-reader sales in the United States to 3 million units from its previous prediction of 2 million sales. Forrester Research also expects Amazon’s Kindle to command about 60 percent of the e-reader market in 2009, compared with 35 percent for Sony’s Reader."

I think that the day when we'll be reading from a screen is still far to come. Anyway, there is definetely an interest in such a trend, and maybe the two things should not be thought as mutually exclusive, but rather as two complementary possibilities. Luckily, we are going to read paper books for many years to come, but this doesn't exclude that we could read some stuff from a digital device and enjoy it!