I love the Kindle, Amazon.com’s electronic book reader. It makes getting the information I need fast and easy. I like reading hard-copy books, too, but sometimes I want the information right now – I don’t want to have to wait days or weeks for a book to arrive.
I am also a globetrotter, so nothing makes me happier than packing my suitcase and flying off to a faraway city. In the past, whenever I went on one of those trips, I ended up lugging a heavy backpack filled with reading material. Now, I can glide through the airport with dozens of books loaded onto one little gadget about the size of a single magazine. I’m the same way with newspapers – sometimes the print edition is nice, especially after breakfast on a Sunday, but most of the time I actually prefer to read the news online.
Not everyone is like that, though. I read an article the other day talking about how books will never die out, because gadgets are cold and just don’t give you the pleasure you get holding a book and turning the pages. I agree, for some people there’s just no replacing the emotional satisfaction they get from holding a hard-copy book. But think of the typewriter – some decades ago, typewriters were considered irreplaceable, and yet today you can go for years without even seeing one.
I think the same thing will happen to books. The older generations still have many people who are attached to the tactile feeling of paper, but an entire generation is now growing up with Facebook, Twitter, blogs and mobile technologies. This generation doesn’t have the same emotional attachment to the older publishing formats. Whether books will continue to be published for them as they grow older is yet to be seen. When so many of them have learned how to acquire information or build a readership without the costs of publishing and distribution, perhaps only the very dedicated will continue to use the old paper-based format.
Here’s what Alain de Botton, author of “The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work,” has to say about projections into the future, specifically related to the reading of paper-based books: “The problem with predictions about technology is that they are generally way ahead of their time, but typically frighteningly true. For at least 10 years now, people have been suggesting that web technology is going to make us lose our powers of concentration and that among other things, the long-form book will die. Our unaided minds can no longer possibly hope to emulate the thrills available from these devilish technologies. Sales of serious books have plunged 39 percent since this time last year. We are at an epochal moment. Our intelligence has ended up making us stupid; it’s a miracle if you are still reading.”
For business and entrepreneurship, this means you don’t have to relinquish the old and familiar, but you do have to embrace the new. For example, you might personally prefer the tactile experience of walking through a physical store, picking up the items and holding them in your hands. Maybe you can’t imagine how someone would not consider that an integral part of the shopping experience. But not all of your customers will feel the same way. Some of them will prefer shopping for your products online from their own living rooms. Even if you don’t like a new technology personally, embrace it. You will be able to resonate with customers who might otherwise have little interaction with your business.
Remember that business is not about what you think individually, or what you and your colleagues think collaboratively. It is about what the customer thinks, and it is about you letting that shape the way you handle demand. When you accept that things are changing and that technology is shaping the world, you open yourself to more business opportunities. Just because a new technology feels cold to you doesn’t mean it feels cold to a potential customer who would like to give you some of his money, if only you would embrace the new.