Tonight was the last night of my e-publishing course run by David Henley for UTS. I will miss the course because of the way it generated new ideas. Tonight was a blue sky session looking at the future, while also summarising areas previously covered.
I don't know about you, but sometimes I struggle to articulate comments or questions in simple ways. This seems to happen most frequently in two circumstances: where I actually know a lot, but don't know how much audience knowledge to assume; or, alternatively, where I know very little but have the glimpse of an idea, but don't know how to express it properly.
Thinking about my fumbling attempts, I decided to use this post to express three questions.
To begin with, what is the future of the e-reader? Today we have a number of readers broadly relying on two standards, both limited. In asking my question, my underlying feeling was that dedicated e-readers actually had a limited future, that consumers would demand content that could be delivered regardless of device.
My second question related to the future of e-publishing itself. Did it have one? Very precisely, in a world in which content was increasingly sliced and diced to meet specific requirements, wouldn't everything outside transaction related services become e-publishing? In a way, this is just another version of the old convergence argument.
My third question focused on the independent publisher. The first effect of e-books and e-publishing was greatly widened choice for writers or content creators. However, as the big end of town moves in, as network economics and economies of scale set in, will choice actually narrow and even vanish in key areas?
Now that I have actually defined those questions, a few comments on demographic trends. As so often happens with me, during the course I have been studying people on public transport to see just what they did. I have then asked people questions and looked at other sources of information. Not very scientific, but enough to indicate a few clues to user demographics.
To begin with, e-reader users are generally older (often a lot older) people who already read books. This is the dominant e-reader demographic.
Younger users are more likely to use mobiles or iPhones. And what do they look at? According to my eldest daughter, they browse shopping sites! That's probably not far out, although I have seen a few looking at Facebook. And speaking of Facebook, it's just so 2010!
Why do I say this? I have ten Facebook friends under thirty who, between them, have something over 5,000 friends. I may not have access to those friends' Facebook pages, but I do see the general interaction between the them and the ten on my list. I also belong to a small number of Facebook groups and have liked a number of pages from which I get posts. I joined Facebook in September 2007, so have been watching patterns for coming up on five years. Now without being too precise, let me tell you the patterns that I have observed:
- The heaviest Facebook users are now older and also write in other fora including blogs and twitter.
- The use of Facebook as a very regular communications device among friends has declined, at least so far as the younger age cohorts are declined. I am not privy to the private person to person messages, but the pattern seems clear. People check in to see what others are doing, they still use it to organise certain things including parties. But they don't use it to communicate in the way they used too, in part I suspect because it is now not private enough where large numbers of friends are involved.
- The role of open pages or groups has increased.
Not sure what final conclusion I draw from all this, it's part of a natural pattern of change. Still, it's interesting.
In a comment, Legal Eagle wrote:
I can't believe that some people have 5000 "friends"! Those can't be real friends! And as I've noted here, it's difficult to let people drift off gracefully with FB.
I think that's one of the issues about FB - all your friends are in one monolithic bloc (as I've noted in the intro to this post.
I agree with you that there has been a decline in FB use. Part of that is because of the addictive nature of it. Also I agree that the main FB users (such as myself) are older, and write in blogs and twitter. I am also a user of an e-reader...but then I'm an older book reader who wanted to curb the number of books spilling out on to the loungeroom floor. I don't know that I've seen my students with any kind of e-reader.
The two posts LE cites above are worth reading. As it happened, on today's train I saw two twenty something with e-readers. But I reckon the broader point is still true.