iPhones, Teenagers, and The Future of Reading

November 13th, 2007 · 14 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

There is no question that we are undergoing major change in the world of entertainment. The rate of change is both rapid and glacial. What is absolutely certain is that the next generation will consider our ways quaint and overly complex. They are growing up with a new set of expectations — and it is those expectations that publishing companies should start meeting now.

How many publishers are working to make sure ebooks can easily be read on the iPhone?

I’ve been talking about this for a while, but was reminded yesterday of the importance of planning for the future. While many are looking at the online habits of 25-year olds, it is probably more instructive to seek out a few 18-year olds for balance. Heck, try a 14-year old. Learn what he or she knows.

Starting with the expectation that media — whatever kind — will be accessible on demand. For my money, no matter what cool this or that is launched by major entertainment media, it’s the YouTube model that exemplifies today’s environment. Love it, hate it, don’t understand it, YouTube works. You don’t have to do anything special to access programming. This “just works” ability is what today’s consumer desires…and it’s the base level expectation of today’s youth.

Spending money for this convenience is not as much of an issue. The time and effort required to acquire media factors into consumer decisions to engage in illegal downloads. Forcing consumers to jump through hoops — downloading special software, undergoing extensive registration, or, as happened to me, forcing an unnecessary authorization process to protect digital rights management policies…only to have the authorization process be “down for the next few hours” — is not the way to stop piracy.

In fact, my decision when I couldn’t get Adobe’s Digital Editions to authenticate was not (as suggested by an Adobe employee) to spend time and energy on the phone trying to solve their problem. I decided I’d simply not bother at all. I’d already put too much effort into the project, not to mention my actual purchase of ebooks. As the customer, I just wanted to read a book. I had no desire to download and install software. I didn’t want to go through another process. And I certainly didn’t want to make a phone call.

It’s just easier to not buy the books at all.

This leads, rather smoothly if I do say so myself, to another example of making consumers happy: the iPhone. As I noted way back when, the iPhone is optimally suited for ebook reading, though my thoughts were more speculative than based on experience. Since acquiring one, I’ve determined that it is indeed a good device for reading text. Not perfect — it’s no lounging on the couch with a book and a glass of wine, but I’m getting a lot of online reading done. Hardly any of it is done while I’m in traffic, naturally.

Quick show of hands: how many publishers out there are actively engaged in discussions with Apple to ensure that the iTunes store stocks and promotes ebooks? Making sure that the iPhone has the right technology to facilitate reading ebooks? Or heck, any other kind of text? How many of you are making your voices heard when it comes to making certain that iPhone customers are able to download and read books on their phones?

Ebooks can be read on the iPhone. The best solution, unfortunately, is also an unsupported solution; getting a reader requires downloading a third-party application. Apple is all “no, no, no” when it comes to this — and software upgrades generally break any unsupported third party apps. Reading on your iPhone is more trouble than it’s worth.

I’ve tried other workarounds — reading PDFs I’ve emailed to myself — but it’s just not working. An unnamed friend did install the third party app, and found himself with book during a blackout at work. While I do a lot of reading of websites (the Edge network is amazingly slow, but I am a patient soul) with my phone, where I’m really getting my money’s worth is reading RSS feeds; Google Reader has just made their iPhone interface even better, so the RSS experience is even better.

(Note to blog owners: full feeds would be nice. If you simply cannot bring yourself to do full feeds, make what you’re feeding enticing enough to encourage me to click through, not skip to the next item)

Right now, the iPhone is the number one lust object for mobile phone consumers. Getting books — or reading material — to users of iPhones should be a number one priority. I am quite certain that it’s in the works. Just wanted to make sure. You know how I am.

[tags]ebooks, iphone, ereader[/tags]

File Under: The Future of Publishing

14 responses so far ↓

  • Chris Webb // Nov 13, 2007 at 7:02 pm

    After the iPhone SDK is released to developers in February, I suspect we will see a 3rd party ebook reader available for the iPhone.

    More importantly – it will be designed for the iPhone – not a port or hack of an application designed for the desktop.

  • Download Music » iPhones, Teenagers, and The Future of Reading // Nov 13, 2007 at 9:38 pm

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  • Kassia Krozser // Nov 13, 2007 at 10:29 pm

    Chris — The BS husband is on your page. Me? I want to make sure that the publishers are out there, making sure that my reading experience is optimal. I think a third party reader is just fine, but I want all publishers to adhere to the same standard so I have it easy. I want one way of loading ebooks onto my phone, I want one application for reading all the books, I want, I want, I want.

  • Adam Hodgkin // Nov 14, 2007 at 6:19 am

    Totally agree with you about the potential for reading on the iPhone. See a post here which takes the same line:

    Here are some books using the Exact Editions platform that can be read and searched with facility on the iPhone platform:

    Its surely very likely that Apple will be producing systems with larger screens which will be even better for viewing films and reading books, but the system already works very well on those small screens.

  • Alex Gorelik // Nov 14, 2007 at 9:18 am

    I found it a wonderful synchronicity that on the same day that Houghton Mifflin announced that it had signed with Mobifusion to deliver electronic versions of its books to cell phones (November 5) Google announced that it was releasing Android – an open source mobile phone operating system. Considering how much effort Google has put into digitizing books – there are bound to be some great synergies possible.

    Only a couple weeks earlier, Hachette Book group adopted the open standards – International Digital Publishing Forum’s file format standard for e-books, making it the first trade publisher to adopt the standard.

    An open mobile platform and an open standard for e-books… The future of mobile reading looks bright.

  • bowerbird // Nov 15, 2007 at 12:49 am

    the s.d.k. comes out in february.
    then you’ll have your e-book app.

    whether or not you’ll have the content
    that you want, especially if it’s from a
    “major publisher”, is another question.

    but have you seen the trash they are
    putting out lately for their customers?


  • iPhones, teenagers, future of reading at Tobias Buckell Online // Nov 16, 2007 at 1:58 pm

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  • Stephen J. Gertz // Nov 19, 2007 at 4:35 pm


    Of related interest to this posting, you and your readers may want to check out an article in today’s (Nov. 19, 2007) NY Times titled: STUDY LINKS DROP IN TEST SCORES TO A DECLINE IN TIME SPENT READING (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/19/arts/19nea.html?em&ex=1195621200&en=bc01c3c505ea455e&ei=5087).

    “arry Potter, James Patterson and Oprah Winfrey’s book club aside, Americans — particularly young Americans — appear to be reading less for fun, and as that happens, their reading test scores are declining. At the same time, performance in other academic disciplines like math and science is dipping for students whose access to books is limited, and employers are rating workers deficient in basic writing skills.”

    It’s not a pretty picture. While there is some disagreement amongst various researchers about the study’s conclusions, the consensus seems to be that young Americans, while they may be reading online for various reasons, they are not reading for fun.

    From my perspective, it is difficult to read purely for enjoyment on a digital device – it is either too cumbersome, the screen to small or, significantly, hard on the retinas.

    For ease on the eyes and utility, portability, and zero energy use (the “green” way to read) there will never be a substitute for the good old fashioned bound book.

    Sometimes low-tech is the best tech.

  • Greg // Dec 4, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    Interesting read that I just stumbled on…

    This market will be interesting to watch as heavy hitters like Microsoft and Amazon missed the iPod boat. I don’t think we will see this happen on “ebooks.” If the Kindle starts to take off, I think a lot more competitors will emerge and we will not have a single company owning 60% of the market.

    However, to make it truly marketable a couple of things will have to change:

    DRM – more and more people are refusing to accept DRM. They want to ability to transport data across multiple platforms in a standardized format.

    Price – People are simply not willing to pay as much for digital content as they would for the “real thing.”

    Publisher acceptance – Publishers, like the RIAA, will extort a high price for digital content and will try and shape the market to best meet their pricing models.

    And right on with who we should be watching…14 years olds are really the first “all digital” generation and they will certainly shape the future sooner then our generation did.

    Good post!

  • Heather S. Ingemar // Apr 28, 2008 at 9:10 am

    I think compatability/standardization is the main hurdle ebooks have to (and should) overcome. It’s why they aren’t a huge portion of the industry.

    Now the thing about teens — I think that if we could get them interested in ebooks through their availability, and the fact that they can be read on their gizmos, there’s a potentially lucrative market there. Probably 90% of teens have cell phones. Some of them even have handheld devices like PDAs (which are great for ebooks), and even more of them have stuff like the iPod. If the companies would get on the bandwagon, and do like you said, promoting ebooks in a format compatible with their machine (heck, why not ALL other machines!), they could really capitalize on that.

    Great post, and awesome blog. 🙂

    All the best,
    Heather S. Ingemar

  • Jason // Jul 17, 2011 at 5:48 am

    re: Kassia Krozser I was wondering if i could use your article for my school IES project also known as (intergrated enquiry studies) I”m planning to do a study on teenagers and iphones and i was wondering if you could give me some background information about you for me to include in my essay many thanks!

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