03 July 2009
The curious reader
What an interesting week it’s been. The Sony e-reader has created such curiosity whenever I’ve taken it out of the handbag and started reading. Last Saturday I took the e-reader to the hairdressers. I’m usually there around 2 hours while I have my hair cut and coloured. My hairdresser and colourist are used to me bringing a book and reading while I wait. They usually ask questions about what I’m reading and whether I would recommend it. They both nearly fell over when I showed them the handheld device!
Located in the swish Chatswood Chase complex, the salon had around 30 customers and several began talking to me about the e-reader. A few were noticeably horrified but one lady in particular spoke about The Kindle and the impact it’s made in the U.S. Why didn’t buy that? I explained it wasn’t available in Australia. What made me buy the device I was reading on? I had to explain I work in the book industry and had two e-readers for a project. The Sony e-reader wasn’t available here either but I’ve heard rumours it may be towards the end of the year. A few customers wanted to know what was available and the price of them. I answered all the questions that were fired at me however no one had a burning desire to run out and buy one there and then. But those who were asking the questions were obviously interested – or overly concerned, I couldn’t really tell. Was it because it was a new gadget? Something to admire, to be envious of, to be interested in.. Who knows, but inevitably the conversation would take one of two directions. Either “not sure I like it”, “can’t see me reading from it”, “I’m sorry I just love a book”, “the book is really dead then” OR “it will be great for travelling!” and “that will solve my [book] storage problems!!”
At the beautician a few days later, the young 18 year old behind the counter couldn’t contain her interest and was by my side in two seconds! “Oh MY GOD! Is that an ebook!? Where did you get it? Do you think it will eventually replace the book? AWESOME!” There was a different awe right up until I told her the price of e-readers in Australia. She just sighed.
Then today while waiting at Pattisons in St Ives for a coffee before work (I mention Pattisons purely because if you know it, you’ll know the queue that forms each morning for coffee!) my docket number was 100. They had just called 86. So what does a girl do while she waits? Well she pulls out an e-reader that's what! I could feel eyes looking over my shoulder and while I read Michael J Fox share his thoughts about politics, stem cell research and Parkinsons in his book Always Looking Up, I heard two women next me talk about reading and how kids don’t like to read anymore. They discussed the books they were currently reading. They said loudly how much they love a book. I hid my grin because they were so obvious! I was a traitor. How could I?! I should be shot. What they didn’t know was that I work in the book industry, I’ve worked in it for nearly 20 years, and I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs “hey I love a real book too but give me a chance, I’m trying to understand the appeal of an e-reader and is it really the future?”
I can’t deny there is an appeal but will it cannibalise print sales or bring in new readers? The more I live and breathe ebooks the more I think a percentage of readers will move over to electronic devices – e-readers, mobile phones, whatever takes their fancy – but ebooks will appeal to a new audience, another layer of reader. The critical factor will be what content will actually be available, the price, the release date, and whether it’s in the format you – as the customer – prefers to read from.