There was lots of excitement generated by yesterday’s Macworld 2008 presentation by Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Bet you can’t wait to get your hands on a MacBook Air. In an interview with some New York Times technology columnists after his presentation (the columnists called it “his performance”), Jobs had something interesting to say about other technology gadgets. The one comment I thought of most interest to our profession had to do with Amazon’s Kindle device for reading e-books. Jobs doesn’t have a problem with the technology, he just thinks it’s a pretty bad idea – and not because people don’t like to read e-books, they just don’t read much at all anymore. From the article:
Today he had a wide range of observations on the industry, including the Amazon Kindle book reader, which he said would go nowhere largely because Americans have stopped reading. â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people donâ€™t read anymore,â€ he said. â€œForty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people donâ€™t read anymore.”
When the Kindle first appeared there was a fair amount of discussion among librarians about how the device might be used to encourage reading. Jobs is pretty savvy about technology and consumer trends, and just the fact that he doesn’t see it going anywhere because people don’t read should be a cause for concern. Now perhaps his observation only concerns whether it can be a huge hit with consumers, rather than a niche product that will catch on with the 60% of people who do still read with some regularity. Perhaps the ultimate fate of books and reading will depend to some degree on academic librarians and things we might be able to do, perhaps working collaboratively with faculty, to encourage more reading and develop lifelong readers.
Then again, maybe Jobs would be satisfied if we all just watched television shows and movies on his company’s gadgets.