The Trade-Off by Kevin Maney talks about the convenience of a product versus its fidelity, aka its special aura or experience. E-books are a new product, and currently there’s no break-out product for history to declare the winner. The Kindle has made some headway, and the iPad has the potential to revolutionize, but we’re not there quite ready to name the Betamax.
Maney puts in plain terms what many consumers have already concluded. E-books just aren’t as treasured right now as real books. Real books, he argues, have fidelity. Real books can be displayed on a shelf to impress your friends, noted with your name, and kept forever. That fidelity can’t be replicated by an e-book, which offers a more transient experience. Your e-book exists in the ether, never truly yours to own in the way as a nice hardcover.
An e-book is potentially more convenient though. You press a button and poof! Instant book. No trip to the store or agonizing wait for the UPS man. No heavy backpack to lug around. But, even though it all sounds good in theory, right now e-books just aren’t that convenient. You have to buy an expensive device, buy expensive books, and deal with some less than ideal design issues.
So, right now, e-books aren’t particularly convenient, and they’re not offering a high fidelity experience either (must restrain from John Cusak joke). Maney says this puts them in the “fidelity belly,” that no-mans land between the two extremes, and this isn’t a good place for a product seeking success. E-books could break out of this trench, though, by becoming super convenient. I think Maney is on to something here.
Amazon or Apple or another e-book player could pour money into development and unveil a ridiculously convenient e-reader. This e-reader would be cheaper, have a more intuitive design, allow users to truly own books without pesky DRM, and more closely simulate the experience of reading a real book. When that mythical e-reader debuts, the real revolution in written media will begin. Until then, I’m sticking with Amazon supersaver shipping, Barnes and Noble, and my trusty public library.
I do think it’s only a matter of time before this ideal e-reader is created. The promise of technology is there, and we’ve seen super convenience revolutionize other fields like music and television. When the platform is right, e-books will fly off the shelves, and physical books might no longer be there…