News flash: I joined a cult. The cult worshiping a graphite black device designed exclusively for the best pastime activity nobody seems to care about anymore – reading. Yes, I bought Amazon Kindle. I would like to take a wild guess why it has become successful. Here is my case. Kindle has succeeded where the previous platforms didn’t because its users perceive it as a device more familiar to a book than its precursors.
What is the reason behind the phenomenal success of the e-readers? That is not the right question. Instead, we should be asking “Why has all the previous technology before the e-readers fail?” To answer that, we have to look deeper into the process of creating and selling any technological device.
These devices are designed by engineers who perform their job based on specification from their superiors. They are after only one thing – functionality. The engineers must create something that works.
Engineer’s line of thought:
- Will the device be able to read .mobi and .pdf files?
- Will the battery last for more than three hours straight?
- Will it be compatible with whatever operating system?
Furthermore, these devices are marketed by people who see the consumer as a set of data (female, 25-30, single, no children, limited disposable income around $50,000) and their primary concern is to actually sell it or help the sales department do its job.
Marketer’s line of thought:
- Shall I go into print or TV?
- How will I optimise the PPC campaign?
- How shall our PR department work with feedback from the journalists and consumers?
As you probably already know, functionality isn’t the same as usability and the consumers are people like you and I, not just a collection of data. I am just missing the “people element” in the process. The consumers are involved in making new devices. You may argue that since there is market research, the consumers are involved, to which I say “pish-tosh.” The marketing research is nowadays so complicated that everyone interpreting the data can interpret them at least in three different ways.
The result of competing priorities of marketers and engineers combined with the lack of target market involvement and user testing is a gap between the producers and the consumers. The final technological gadget is too alien for the users. They neither can appreciate the complexities of the engineering nor they want to. The previous e-book platforms simply looked too much like technology and not enough like books.
Kindle and its clones have overcome this obstacle. Amazon created a device that weighs similar to a regular book, is user-friendly, lasts long over three hours and its display looks very much like conventional paper. To a user, it appears much more like a regular book rather than a tablet or a handheld computer. The very design of Kindle makes it nearly impossible to use it for anything else than reading and buying books. No distractions.
It is likely right to assume that e-books and e-readers have transformed our world for the better. According to Geoffrey Fowler’s article in WSJ.com, people who own an e-reader are likely to read more and spend more money on books. Fowler also produced interesting statistics confirming that reading is not dead and is likely to go through its rennaissance among the young generation.
- 51% of e-reader owners increased their purchases of e-books in the past year
- 9% of consumers increased their purchases of hardcover books in the past year
- 2.6 Average number of books read by e-reader owners in a month
- 1.9 Average number of books read by print-book readers in a month
- 176% Increase in U.S. electronic-book sales in 2009
- 1.8% Decrease in U.S. book sales in 2009 from a year earlier
- 86% of e-reader owners read on their device more than once a week
- 51% of e-reader owners read on their device on a daily basis