Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

How an ebook is like your microwave

I will admit I’m too young to remember a time before microwaves. But I have heard stories. And the stories go like this:

A story about microwaves

Long, long ago, when making popcorn was a lot more complicated, the microwave was created. It was awesome. The problem? Nobody knew how awesome it was, because, frankly, folks could do everything they needed with their current kitchen appliances.

And so, as microwave sales tanked, the manufacturers—instead of crying—came up with a new plan. They hired salespeople to demonstrate microwaves in grocery stores. They spent a good chunk of cash on not directly advertising their product, but on educating consumers.

And, well, we all know the end of that story. We love our microwaves.

What this has to do with ebooks

The parallel between microwaves and ebooks hit me while reading an article about how people like to read PDFs. (I know, I know—there are people out there who prefer PDFs? Insanity.) The article gives a point-by-point comparison between PDFs and ebooks, showing—obviously—that ebooks are about a billion times superior in every category except the one that matters most: consumer familiarity.

So what are we doing about it? Well, producing PDFs. And I think that’s a terrible plan.

PDFs have their place, but digital presentation of books, by and large, is not it. What do I think should happen? Education. After all, isn’t that what publishing is about? Disseminating ideas that we think are great?

So why don’t we? Instead of leaving digital products to outside vendors or production specialists, every person in a publishing house should know the difference between each digital format. Every person should know the pros and cons, every person should have the opportunity to experience these formats on computers, reading devices, and other digital reading technology.

And then every person should tell all their friends.

And tell all of their customers

But more importantly, they should tell all their bookseller friends. And by that I mean sales account representatives should be on the absolute front lines of knowledge. When they stop in to a bookstore, they need to be chatting up their accounts about ebooks. They need to be spreading the knowledge. Maybe host a discussion about ebooks to interested shop patrons. Provide reading material that explains the differences between various ebook formats.

Obviously there are hurdles to overcome. But what we have going on is the bystander effect. There are so many publishers working on these formats that no one is taking the time to educate the consumer. (Ereader companies certainly aren’t—especially about free online ereader programs!) We need to take a moment and think about it: because if we can get people educated, the ebook may just be the next microwave.

About Leah Thompson

Writing and publishing professional in the Boston area.


This entry was posted on December 27, 2011 by in Opinion, Technology and tagged , , .

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