Three years after the Kindle first became available in South Africa (and two years after the birth of the iPad), consumption of digital content still hasn’t hit its stride locally.
Given the exciting functional advances of mobile e-readers, this seems odd. What is the hold-up?
The biggest issue has been the cosy familiarity of many readers with print. Many still say they can’t imagine getting the same enjoyment from an electronic device as they do from a book, and find all sorts of reasons – some not entirely convincing – why print is better.
Interestingly, when a die-hard print book lover does see the light, he or she often ends up loving e-readers even more than books.
Another factor that is holding back digital reading is price. In December 2009 you could order a Kindle from Amazon for R2 500 – or R3000 from a retailer like Wantitall. Today, a Kindle ranges from just over R1100 to a little over R2 000.
While this still puts it out of reach of many South Africans, Pick ‘n’ Pay recently introduced a sub-R1000, bringing this market incrementally closer to broad accessibility.
Mobile computing devices like iPads and high-end tablets are also dismissed for their cost. However, cost competition is strikingly evident in this segment too — in November a sub-$100 Android tablet hit the market. Less expensive premium tablet prices are also heading south, with the recent launch of Microsoft’s Surface and a number of new BlackBerry devices leading a comeback from RIM.
But even at $98, a tablet is too much for the absolutely indigent. Still, the case for tablets in education is solid, and with state funding programmes, equal access to information may no longer be such a far-off dream.
Matter of time
Reading for entertainment has certainly been leading influences in the e-book phenomenon – comic books, for instance, can drive adoption even among the non-reading public. Discreet reading, among the many advantages provided to the modern reader by e-Readers, especially if Fifty Shades of Grey is your pleasure (no-one needs to know), has helped spur on this digital revolution.
Although there are multiple book genres taking full advantage of being available as e-books, there are still some industries that are slow to mobilise. Academic journals, considered a very dry niche in the industry, are yet to show a massive potential for e-books. The sheer volume of legal and medical content being produced continuously inclines this publishing niche favourably to e-books.
Right now, the average person in the street is still infatuated with pulp, but it’s only a matter of time before the next generation, obsessed with digital, succeeds the current print-loving, bookmark-losing, corner-folding set.
Subtle but swift
In the end, the dominance of e-books will seem sudden, but like any distributed force its subtle effects are already pervasive.