Thursday, February 28, 2013

Are Tablets Really E-Readers?

O.K. I know the answer to this one. Yes, tablets have the technology necessary for being used as an E-Reader. The real question though, is why are people buying these devices?

I started thinking about this a couple of days ago after listening to an NPR report on the potential shift that Barnes and Noble is looking to take regarding the Nook. According to the report, "Barnes & Noble Chairman and chief stockholder, Leonard Riggio, is looking into the possibility of buying the company's retail book business, but not the Nook, the e-book, the company had staked it future on." The report went on "James McQuivey of Forrester Research is among those who thought the Nook would lead Barnes & Noble into the digital publishing future. But things move fast in the digital world, and McQuivey says the Nook is getting left behind...McQuivey commented 'The Nook is basically a reading device, maybe a media device. The tablet market has gone far past just reading or even consuming media. It's about email, it's about productivity. These are all things the Nook can try to do but just doesn't keep up with the paces set by someone like Apple or Google or other people who are working on these tablets.'"

Is the reason Amazon and their Kindle Devices are succeeding is because the devices are tablets that have the ability to work as an e-reader, or are these e-readers that have other purposes? Did Borders go under because of their e-reader did only that and didn't cater to those people who simply wanted a portable computer?

After I heard this report, I really started to pay attention to the people around me who had these assorted devices. What I found interesting was the number of people reading on them compared to the number of people playing Temple Run 2, Angry Birds or watching the latest episode of Walking Dead. It was really disappointing. In the small sampling I saw, very few were reading.

As somone who did graduate work in Literacy, this is a discouraging. Although we thought the technology would make reading more accessible to a lot of people, I fear that these tablet devices are doing much of the same thing that TV did to book reading. Is all of the extra stuff we have put on these devices really reducing the amount of reading we do today?

According to an article on PC World, the top five reasons to buy a tablet are:
  1. Portablitity
  2. Productivity
  3. Entertainment
  4. Adaptablity
  5. Battery Life
Now you might think the portablity argument would be the thing that brings in the reader population, but the author of this article, I truly believe, highlights what a lot of supposed readers do with their technology. " Initially I had purchased the device to browse my massive library of digital comic books, but soon I found it useful for other, more-practical tasks. I started taking the iPad to meetings and using it to do quick Web searches, and it became my preferred way to read and respond to e-mail."

I have to say, I want to applaud Barnes and Noble for looking at this as an option. I like the idea of getting people to finally think about books and reading as one activity, and playing on an electronic device or doing your work on a tablet as another activity. The reporter did state "What does Riggio think he can do with the book side of the business? You're looking at a business that's about to go over the cliff, meaning the book selling business, generally; and yet you're saying, I want to buy that. Either he believes that this business is a special business that he wants to cherish and nurture, or he thinks he's going to do something other than sell books with it. And my money would be on the latter if you are going to put money on it at all."

Personally, I do not think the book selling business is about to go over a cliff. People will want to continue to read. People do like stories. I simply think the market is in a state of fluxuation right now. The market is simply trying to sort a few things out. As people in the publishing industry (authors, editors, agents, book sellers and book buyers) maybe it is time to really make a huge push to get people to read again. Turn off Temple Run and read a classic. Who knows? You might discover a new world other than a way to collect more gems and survive that darn mine car sequence.

I am not saying that e-readers don't have a place. I am simply saying that maybe we have forgotten that first reason we wanted to buy the e-reader. We wanted to read.

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