The Future of Books is the Device You Have With You – Which Might Not be Your Phone
The Verge posted an interview yesterday of Oyster founder Willem Van Lancker. He makes some bold claims about the future of books, including that the phone is the future of ebooks:
Where are people reading more, tablets, phones, or on the web?
We’ve always been really big believers that the device of the future for books is the phone. That’s the first thing we went to publishers with when we started talking about the differentiation of Oyster, that we can provide the best possible mobile experience.
It’s hard to get the data on this with Android, because, what is a tablet? But between iPhone and iPad, it’s a 50 / 50 split. It might even be higher on the phone in recent months over the iPad. This is an app that people use on their phone constantly, and we see the actual activity spiking during the week at lunchtime, and through the evening and peaks around midnight, and on the weekends it’s pretty sustained. Unlike a lot of products, our biggest days are Saturdays and Sundays, but when we added the web reader, you see it spiking on weekdays because people are reading during work.
We thought about making a button you could hit that would make Oyster look like Microsoft Word like they do for March Madness. It would be funny to bring that to books.
I have long said that smartphones and tablets (and not dedicated ereaders) were the future of the ebook market, but I’m not sure Van Lancker is right in this instance to focus on just one type of device.
While we have seen evidence that smartphones are outselling tablets by a factor of five to one and are driving sales in some markets, I’m not sure that he is correct to say that they’re the future – at least, not yet.
For one thing, with 200 million iPads sold and 500 million iPhones sold in 7 years, the fact that iPads and iPhones are showing up in Oyster in equal numbers suggests the argument that the iPad is preferred over the iPhone as a reading device. (And even if you assume that an arbitrary percentage of the units sold are no longer operational, you’re still going to have far more iPhones in use.)
But more importantly, the growth of phablet screen sizes is quickly rendering most distinctions between smartphones and tablets irrelevant. When you have 4.3″, 5″, 6″, and 7″ tablets and 5″, 6″, and 7″ smartphones available in a single market, the only way you can really distinguish between them is by the connectivity – namely, whether you can use one to make a call. And thanks to Skype, I’m not sure that’s a valid criterion either.
In short, I wouldn’t say that smartphones are the future; at this point that is an arbitrary label applied to some mobile devices. Instead, I would say that people will read on the device they have at hand. Often times that is their phone, yes, but not always.
For example, I have always carried around a 7″ tablet to read on, but lately I have started to replace it with an Android ereader. Yes, I know one shouldn’t generalize from a single example, but his argument is based on the same flaw:
Why did your gut tell you that people are going to be reading on phones in the future?
It was my own behavior. Even when I’m in bed at night, I have an iPad mini with Retina and I still use my phone. And I have an iPhone 6 now, which is even better.