There comes a point in any significant cultural shift when “it” (the thing previously on the fringes which leads directly to the shift – could be a perception, an ideology, a philosophy or even a physical product) achieves critical mass.
That’s when, as if by magic, everyone is on the same page about “it”. That’s when “it” goes mainstream, so to speak. That’s when “it” becomes common wisdom, absolute truth or goes beyond being the technology du jour, to become something that’s going to stick around for much longer than just a day.
As far as eBooks go (our “it” for the purpose of this blog post), it’s no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when.
Judging by the fact that Wal-Mart just announced that it will begin offering the Barnes & Noble Nook and the Kobo eBook readers in stores alongside the Apple iPad and Sony eBook readers, that “when” could very well be right now.
If the most “populist” of all mega chains has plans to create a “NOOK-branded eReading area”, and carry a full array of all of the most relevant eReaders, you can bet your eInk that the shift is pretty much in the process of happening. Soon, very soon, even the darkest, most remote corners of America will be able to easily access to the complete works of Dostoyevsky. Shudder to think.
Target and Best Buy seem to have similar plans. Can the corner bodega be very far behind? Okay, maybe that’s a bit much, but you get the drift (or maybe not, if you don’t live in NYC – in that case, substitute bodega with convenience store…7-11, Circle K, take your pick).
In a previous post, we highlighted the fairly bold prediction by a fairly significant voice in the eBook debate – Nicolas Negroponte – that physical textbooks will be relegated to the dustbins of history, within the next five years. We’re not convinced of the validity of the time frame, but we do think Negroponte is on the right track. Maybe not five years, but it’s gonna be quick – relatively speaking. In case you haven’t noticed, everything is happening faster…exponentially.
So, if that’s the case, you can expect prices to become even more competitive than they’ve been, lately. If you think a few bucks north of $100 is cheap, just wait.
But hold on…what’s this? Amazon received a patent for technology that will charge you (and me) just for browsing a book online, a couple of months ago? Doh! Just when you thought that critical mass meant accessible pricing, one of the players is looking for creative, newfangled ways to get your money.
Apart from passing judgment on the wisdom of charging for the privilege of “kicking the tires” before you buy (like in a brick and mortar store), we’ll just say that this demonstrates that the future paying model is going to go through a bunch of convulsions before the needle comes to rest on a fixed point. Agency pricing anyone?
If it hasn’t happened yet, let’s just hope that by the time eBooks do reach critical mass, “it” will be accompanied by business practices we can all live with.