Parks Associates Blog

Friday, March 27, 2009

E-Book Reader, The Paperback of a New Generation

“I have never been much of a reader, but I would like to read more,” is a comment heard ever more frequently at happy hours, professional events and even, as for me, at the office. In my case, as in many others, the conversation centered on the advent of e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader Digital Book which, ironically, are using technology to bring this desire to reconnect with the tradition of the written word within the grasp of today’s overscheduled and high access media entertained young professional. “I want to read more,” my coworker explained, “but I just don’t have the time.” In his case the technology under discussion was the Kindle2, which allows for both text-to-speech and page display e-reader functionality – thus giving readers the ability to “listen” on the drive to work to the book they began e-reading while in line at the grocery store.
The technology is impressive and the idea that it may bring literacy for entertainment back into vogue is an exciting concept. But one has to wonder what effect it will have on the publishing industry. Like the paperback novel before it, the e-reader may come to influence what types of materials are commercially published. Prior to the US introduction of the mass market paperback by Robert de Graaf in 1939, the hardcover book was a library or bookstore commodity whose readership did not always include “commuter class” workers; however, fueled by their easy availability at newsstands and the corner drug store, the public’s ravenous appetite for these convenient “pocket books” caused the publishing industry to take a genuine interest in the paperback’s market potential.
The first paperback offerings, just as those for the Sony Digital Book and the Kindle, were previously published works by established authors. Over time, however, owing to the comparative low cost of production, as well as to the often non-traditional tastes of the paperback reading public, some publishers began producing original works and slow selling “sensational” titles in paperback formats designed specifically to appeal to their new readership. Mike Hammer, Mickey Spillane’s hardboiled cult idol, first found fame within the pages of the 1950’s dime store novel.
So now, once more, we are faced with a new innovation that may bring with it a new readership whose tastes differ from that of their pre-e-reader forebears and the question must be asked – what changes will they make even as they embrace the long standing bastion of the written word, and, in the end, who will have the profounder effect on whom?

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