The Main Lesson That Digital Offers The World

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True story…

I was making my way through the airport magazine shop and did my usual pit stop by the business book section. I’m usually not all that surprised by which books I find on the shelves. I’m a little bit of a business book nerd and I’m either eagerly awaiting something that is about to hit the streets, or – because of my newspaper and business columns – many book publishers send me advance copies (prior to publication date). To my surprise, there were three new business books that I was not aware of and that I wanted to grab. Just a few days prior to this, I was in a similar situation but this time it was in Frankfurt, Germany. I prefer business books from Europe because you can get the latest releases in paperback (which is much more convenient for both travel and occupying shelf space). I didn’t buy any books. In both scenarios, I was travelling (and when I travel, I travel light). The books were all big, bulky and I found myself questioning the value of the content within the books against the pain and hassle of having to lug them around. At the same time, I have both the Amazon Kindle app and Apple‘s iBooks app on my iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air – all loaded to the gills with books that I am hoping to read.

The physical-ness was holding me back.

Almost 50 books that weigh nothing versus one or two that will suddenly fill my bag… was the purchase of those books necessary? Solution? I fired open my Kindle app and bought each and every book right there. Problem solved. No need to worry about carrying the books around, claiming them at customs, leaving them on a plane, forgetting them in my hotel room, leaving it in the office when I want to read it at home and more. Did I mention that the digital books are often significantly cheaper? Yes, this makes buying books that I used to be "on the fence" about a complete no-brainer.

Digital makes it simple.

You may be grumbling that it’s not the same to read a book on an iPhone or iPad. You like the feel, heft and smell of a printed book. You think that I’m lamenting the death of print in favor of digital. This is not the point. Put all of that aside and think about the simplicity that digital brings (it can be books, movies, music, news, connectivity to friends, information at your fingertips and beyond). As I read more and more books – almost exclusively on digital devices – I’ve learned one major lesson: while I too prefer curling up with a good, physical book, I’ll suffer some for the simplicity and ease that digital reading offers me. I like being able to have my books with me anywhere and everywhere. I love highlighting segments and being able to find them all in a simple way. I love reading a page or two of a book during a quick break, whereas before I would not have bothered to lug a book around with me everywhere. I love the fact that all of this literature is right here in my pocket. In fact, I like it so much that it outweighs the emotional struggle that I grapple with when it comes to letting go of print, or the fact that I can’t let someone share the book.

It turns out that I am not alone.

The general complaint I hear is that people think it’s much harder to read on an iPhone, Kindle or iPad than book ("it’s just not the same!"). MediaPost published a very interesting article titled, E-Readers Read More, on September 30th, 2011. Here’s the most telling part of the article: "While some lament the introduction of the e-Reader as a death knell for books, the opposite is true, says the report. First, those who have e-Readers do, in fact, read more. Overall, 16% of Americans read between 11 and 20 books a year with one in five reading 21 or more books in a year. But, among those who have an eReader, 32% read 11-20 books a year and over one-quarter read 21 or more books in an average year."

Digital readers buy more books. Digital readers read more books.

It’s not a perfect world. For everything that digital brings, comes with it a level of change and discomfort (it happened to the music and news industry, it’s happening to the film and TV industry and it’s happening to just about every industry in between). While we can always be a market of one, it’s important to think beyond our own values. Digital may not be panacea, but there are big lessons that businesses can learn by watching the adoption of e-readers and digital books instead of lamenting the days of yesterday.

It’s important to know where we came from, but it’s even more important to know where we are… and where we’re going.


  1. You’re absolutely right. I bought twice as many books since buying my Kindle. And I love the fact that I can hold it in one hand on the bus. I still purchase some physical books that are larger than usual or loaded with images. I also like when publishers make their free ebooks available to download on the Kindle.

  2. I was just about to write a blog post on this topic! Since getting my Kindle 6 weeks ago I have read 6 books. Now some of that might be novelty but I think it is about ease. I finished one book last night and bought a couple of others this morning. I dread to think how much I will rack up in costs – even though they are significantly cheaper than in the paper form.
    But – I was in New York last week and wandered into Barnes and Noble – just because I could. I love American bookstores because the range of business books on the shelves is so much bigger than I can get locally. I browsed for almost and hour picking up books and leafing through the pages. Being attracted to the covers – colours, pictures, blurb….and then I logged on and checked the Kindle price!
    There’s room for both in my life but I realise that the future is digital.

  3. Although I miss the stack of visible books that I want to read and see in my office or besides my bed (I don’t see them the same way on my ipad), there is no question digital has changed the way I view books.
    One of the lessons (as a researcher) of the way ebooks and readers have evolved is that they have clearly succeeded in spite of consumer resistance to the idea — key evidence that when you are reading your next market research report, that sometimes well designed products breakthrough the resistance.

  4. Having not looked at the article yet, they may have addressed this, but I wonder if digital readers read more because of the reasons you’ve listed (convenience, size, etc) or if the people that always read more are quicker in adopting these technologies.
    That said, I LOVE the ability to essentially read anywhere I am. The only thing that keeps me from switching completely is the ability to buy books at a used store for a lower cost than their digital counterparts.
    Since the Kindle launched, I’ve thought that Amazon could have an enormous niche business with the “transition.” They let you send your paper books in and they will give you the digital copy free or at a very low cost. Then, they sell the books you send in their “used” store. I think there’s potential there if they could develop a model that would work for everyone.
    But, your scenario fits the one I find myself in more and more lately.

  5. I’m still struggling to come to terms with everything on a screen, preferring hard copy to screen words, but can fully understand the Kindle generation (I have joined but nit fired it up yet too busy TBH).
    Easy to use, light and available. Long journey time!

  6. I’m definitely a fan of kindle for the iPad, one click purchase, one device many books, especially like being able to highlight key bits and make notes, particularly useful for business books and dipping back in.
    Speaking of which, any top suggestions for recent business/marketing books?

  7. I’m in the same situation you were in – I love the idea of digital and see several more benefits of having them always at my fingertips, but there is just something about having shelves full of books that I can’t get over.

  8. I very much like the ability to highlight phrases, have them complied, and referring back to them for review. This makes sharing what has influenced me the most so easy. As ideas spread, people connect, and writers gain fame.
    Does anyone have a personal preference for a specific tablet. Is an IPad much more productive/capable than say Amazon’s new tablet? Even though I have a tight budget, if I’m spending big bucks as it is I’d like to get the most function and efficiency in the product. Thanks for your advice!

  9. Agree with you if you are on the road all the time you just dont have room for paper book or time to get new books. I read much more w e book

  10. I think it’s true. I consume way more books with the kindle app. It’s on my phone, iPad, cloud reader, desktop turning any spare moment into a productive one.
    The only beef I have with eBooks is, when the book is not available in eBook format. 🙂

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