The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is a novelty, a fad. These were the words uttered famously by a president of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford's lawyer Horace Reckham not to invest in the Ford Motor Co. in 1903. Blame it on the Theory of Technological Evolution or call it the Survival of the Fastest (with due respects to Mr. Darwin) but for a majority of people, travelling in an automobile is as much a part of normal activity as may be bushing their teeth. The day also is not far, oh you lover-of-the-scent-of-paper, when e-book readers will fall in the same bracket.
Coming back to the story, Rackham ignored the advice and bought $5,000 worth of stock and eventually made a fortune by selling it for $12.5 million. The natural question here is: in whose position would you like to be? Horace Rackham's or the banker's? If that's not already easy to answer, let me make it easier for you.
Kindle, the popular e-book reader was the #1 bestselling, #1 most wished for and #1 most gifted item on Amazon. Nook, the brand new e-reader unveiled by Barnes & Noble (who claim it to be the world's most advanced e-book reader), is already out of stock because of unexpected demand.
This is when e-book readers today are priced a bit uncomfortably around $250 and are in a nascent stage in terms of features, much like the first Ford car, if I may carry forward the analogy. By the end of 2010, it is expected that 10 million people will be using e-readers. And if by any chance they break the $100 barrier, which I believe they will eventually, the floodgates will really open.
There are reports that we already have an enterprising Indian publishing industry representative planning to bring in an economical e-reader for the Indian market with Chinese collaboration. And Apple, of course, is rumoured to have a real ace up its sleeve. So, apparently, there is a lot waiting to happen in the near future which could turn things completely around for electronic reading.
This really brings us to the all-important question -- what's the whole song and dance about? We are pretty happy reading our books, why do we need an electronic reader?
For one, it weighs approximately the same as a paperback but can store about 1,500 books; so that's like your personal library moving around with you -- to the conference, on a flight, in the waiting lounge, just about everywhere.
And then, you don't have to desperately keep looking for that elusive copy of the book you have been looking forward to read because it's just a click away -- log on to a supporting website like amazon.com and you have the book downloaded in less than a minute in almost any part of the world.
Mind you, there is no extra fee, apart from paying for the book. If that's not all, your e-book reader also remembers the last page read for each book and has a zoom feature with various levels of text size among a lot of other features like letting you take notes on a page and saving them, MP3 playback and basic browsing to check your e-mail (where available) as also working like a GPS.
Still not excited? All right, the biggest bonus is that an e-book already sells at a lower price than a physical book and soon we should see a dramatic lowering on that -- you can expect the price to be actually lower than half of what it is now.
Do I finally see your eyes lighting up?
Let me confess I am no techno-freak. Actually, I just about manage to use my phone for sending and receiving calls and messages. Also, I quite love the look and feel of a book. In fact, my wife perennially complains that she married someone who was already married -- to books. But at the same time, I can see that the future of reading is beckoning us and there is no use closing our eyes to it.
I am planning to switch sides. From a love marriage with books, I plan to get into an arranged marriage with an e-book reader. I am sure love will follow, because I could feel it at first sight.
Let me invite you to join the party too, unless you want to be in the company of the legendary Thomas J. Watson, the former president of IBM and one of the richest men of his times, who had famously remarked in 1943: "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers".
For the whole world is a market for e-book readers.