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Is E-Reading a Dead End? January 8, 2013

Posted by Peter Varhol in Publishing.
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Nicholas Carr is the smartest consistently wrong person that I am aware of.  He may be contrarian because there is a lot more publicity in being spectacularly wrong than boringly right, but he’s still wrong.

You may remember him from his decade-ago tome entitled “IT Doesn’t Matter”.  The thesis was that IT did the same thing for every company, and no one had a competitive advantage, so it didn’t matter in the success of a business.

He was wrong, of course.  Amazon is a case in point.  IT is very much a competitive advantage to those who use it right, and that is impossible to deny today.  Why else do we have Facebook?  And why is Amazon steamrolling over both online and offline competition?

Still, it made a name for this Harvard Business School professor, and he seems to have found a way of keeping himself relevant through provocative but strongly misguided conclusions.

Well, he’s at it again.  Now he’s into e-reading, claiming that it will be a complement to paper books, not a replacement.  Certainly, his data offers pause, as he notes that e-books sales have slowed, and weren’t that large a part of the reading market to begin with.  I can appreciate this straw man idea.

But he once again doesn’t take into account the longer trend, rather focusing on a shorter-term blip.  Paper remains expensive, and the longer trend is toward low-cost delivery mechanisms.  Paper is also slow, and we are increasingly a society that values speed in our information.

And he offers no justification as to why paper may ultimately win out.  That’s even worse than the silly justifications I hear from my former colleagues in publishing; the best they can muster is that “they like the feel of paper in their hands.”  That’s just stupid.

Carr isn’t stupid, but there’s no substance behind his argument.



1. Ed Dodds - January 8, 2013

“They like the feel of paper in their hands” is code for “folks will never take tablets and smartphones into the restroom”. Man, have they misjudged that one: http://www.pcworld.com/article/249022/smartphone_owners_prone_to_using_their_devices_in_the_bathroom.html

What I think is amazing is that publishers have not figured out a bunch of folks are audio learners and they are leaving the “rushhour market” untouched because they assume no one will try to learn comp sci, code samples, theology, in their cars.

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