E-readers and The Nonconsumption of Books

I have been read The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth by Clay Christensen and Michael Raynor. This book is the follow-up to The Innovator’s Dilemma.

The authors say that companies need to build products and services that make a job easier for the customer invoking Ted Levitt’s Marketing Myopia. They also say that true growth comes from finding nonconsumption rather than battling for existing consumption.

Given the never-ending e-reader news of the last several weeks, including today’s news of Skiff, the Hearst-backed project, I thought this was a great excerpt to think about. This was written in 2003:

Hundreds of millions have been spent to apply new technologies–the Internet and e-book displays, specifically–to reshape the college textbook industry. Innovators have attempted to develop and sell tablets that can display downloaded e-books. And with many textbooks, you can click on a URL to obtain far more information about the topic than could possibly be included with the limits of a book. Would we expect these investments to generate significant growth? Our guess is that they will not. Although we would like to believe that all undergraduates students are really trying to get done, from our observation, is pass their courses without having to read the textbook at all.

These companies have spent a lot of money helping student do more easily something that they have been trying not to do. It would probably take far less money to create from the same technology a service called “Cram.com”—a utility that would make it easier and cheaper for students to cram more effectively for their exams. This would likely work because cramming is something that students are already trying to do, but with marginal efficacy. There are a lot of textbook-avoiders on campuses—a huge market of nonconsumption. (p94-95)

This got me thinking about what job The Kindle, The Nook, and the host of other devices are really solving. What Amazon is selling in its new commercial is that we need help getting our books faster, that there is a speed problem. For voracious readers, that might be true.

How many of those readers are there though? Forrester Research is forecasting that 900,000 units will be sold during this holiday season and that next year sales will reach 10 million units.

Where is the nonconsumption? Are these devices really going to bring people back to reading books?

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