I had a conversation recently which bothered me on several levels. One of those levels will be the punchline to a talk I am giving later this week for ICBA. But at the moment, I am thinking about another question that has been rolling around in that apparently empty head of mine... I was recently asked if ebooks are a marketing solution to a problem for which there is no demand?
After giving this quite a bit of thought, I think this is in fact the wrong question. I think the question should be more something along the lines of "are current e-book solutions a poor substitute for what is really wanted?" After Henry Ford created the automobile, he reportedly quipped that if he had asked people what they really wanted, they would have said faster horses. There is another quote, who's author I do not know, that goes something like, lightbulbs did not result from the continuous improvement of candles. In other words, sometimes breakthrough advances or radical changes in a space result in new technologies that are so different from what we remember, that they are hard to predict. But, when the right technology comes onto the scene, there can be a more or less rapid transition from the old technology to the new.
People may be skeptical of e-books, arguing that there is no market demand for such content or devices, yet look at the success of Stanza -- an e-reader application for the iPhone. At the TOC conference last week they reported that in less than seven months after their creation they had over 1.3 million downloads of their reader across 60 countries and had downloaded more than 5 million books in twelve languages. Not bad for a platform where the CEO of the company said not long ago that no one reads anymore. Maybe reading the "old way" has become like using candles before the lightbulb.