What I Wrote for The Crime Writers of Canada

E-readers: A Fad or the Future?

Way back in 1994, a CBC television producer told a researcher I was dating that the internet was just a fad like CB radios.  If she wanted to build a web page for the show, she’d have to do it on her own time.  Oops.

The producer can be forgiven this assessment of the internet because he was confusing a device, a radio, with a new and highly versatile medium of expression.  C.B. radios had only one purpose, and no one could use them for advertising.  He was also probably thinking about that eight-track tape player gathering dust in his basement.

E-books are the new must-have gadget, and they are everywhere.  Last week the new color version of Barnes and Noble’s Nook reader launched.  They’ve sold over a million of the old (so last year) black and white version, and they expect to sell a million of the color Nook over the next year.  Combine that just with Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony e-reader and you’ve got a lot of consumers looking for content for their new toys.  Let’s not even get into the tablets like the i-pad.  Avid readers can also get apps for their smart phones that’ll allow them to purchase e-books, so every Blackberry, Apple i-phone or any phone with Google’s Android operating system is a potential e-reader.

But I’m sure some authors and publishers are still thinking about all those eight-track tape players or their Beta VCRs.

They should think again.  E-readers are evolving platforms for expression.  Cookbooks will be able to insert how-to videos, and advertisers can find nooks (pun intended) and crannies to sneak in their less than subtle messages.  People can find new ways to make money.

More importantly, like the internet, e-book readers are going to enable content providers and facilitators to appear from unexpected places.  Who’d ever heard of Google, E-bay, Wikipedia, Facebook or even Craigslist in 1994?

E-readers are going to allow small publishers to distribute electronic downloads on an equal footing with big publishers.  No trucks required.  No expensive warehouses.  There will be price wars, content wars and jostling for attention.

I don’t predict the imminent death of the hardcover or paperback because some people still like to show how smart they are by what’s on their bookshelf.  But like the newspapers, big publishers are going to have to get used to slumping sales of paper books–sales that never recover to the glory days of the twentieth century and fade with the boomers.

Yet e-readers may be good for writers.  There’s opportunity for creativity, a new and (for now) more egalitarian platform from which to sell your words.  It’s exciting.  I’ll go out on a limb and say that it’s the future.  You heard it here first.

By the way, I married the researcher.

Mike’s Note:

The Crime Writers of Canada asked me for an article on e-books for their newsletter.  The article I wrote above turned out to be very similar to one they’d published last month.  Who knew?  I’m not the first person to see this coming.

I slashed off a different article for the newsletter, but above is what those Crime Writers would have read if they hadn’t aleady read it somewhere else.

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