Kindles, eReaders & ‘Everyone is (should be) like me’ bias

There’s a very interesting bias amongst people who don’t read much, and perhaps even among people who read a lot –

The ‘Everyone else is (should be) like me’ bias.

This is a fundamental misattribution error – where you misattribute your own personal perspective/world view to EVERYONE else. Sometimes it’s worse – You realize other people aren’t like you, but you ASSUME that they are wrong and they should be like you.

Everyone is (should be) like me

Let’s look at some examples of this –

  1. I don’t read. That must mean that Everyone doesn’t read. The ex-CEO of Apple and the current CEO of Google are two examples of this. No one reads any more – By the way, we have 100 million people who are iBooks customers.
  2. I only read on LCD screens. That must mean Everyone should read on LCD screens.
  3. I think a Tablet is better than eReaders because a Tablet can do more than read. That must mean people who buy a device dedicated for reading don’t know what they are doing.
  4. I think eReaders should be $50 ($100? Free?) because reading isn’t important. I, personally, don’t think reading is important. So, a device that can’t be used for anything other than reading should be $50. Wait a minute while I fill up gas in my $23,000 car, wearing my $125 shoes and my $177 sunglasses. What were we talking about? Oh yes, there’s no way an eReader can be worth more than $50.
  5. I like Apple/Google because aesthetics/openness are so important and because Steve Jobs/Do No Evil is my hero. You are so evil and wrong because you think Google/Apple is better.
  6. I like Amazon/B&N because customer service/real people customer service is so important. You should like Amazon/B&N too because your reasons are meaningless compared to my marvellous reasons.
  7. I detest DRM because it violates my personal rights and it’s evil. eBooks are never going to take off with DRM because everyone in this world is like me.
  8. I love Amazon because it has great customer service/largest range of books/cheapest book prices. Everyone else values these exact same things. I don’t understand why anyone else would like an iPad or a Nook or a Sony eReader – so what if they are much better made hardware?
  9. I think Amazon needs to go to ePub because interoperability is paramount. Without going to ePub Kindle will be dead in 2 years. Is it 2 years already? I meant 4 years. Kindle will be dead in another 2 years.
  10. I read a lot on my iPad. 5 books a month. That must mean each of the 151 million iPad owners must also read 5 books a month. Which, in turn, must mean that ebooks are 279% of total book sales and Apple devices account for 587% of ebook sales. What is that you say? That’s more than 100%. Don’t try to overwhelm me with figures and statistics. I’m experiencing the higher plane of existence that animated page turns and reading on LCD screens in bright sunlight affords me.
  11. I think that people who bought a device dedicated for reading read less than people who bought a tablet that you can also read on. I’m basing this on my sample size of one. All those people should get Tablets instead. They could play Candy Crush Saga when they get tired of all the long words in books.

The crux is that you could take any viewpoint you believe strongly in, or any behavior characteristic, and delude yourself into thinking one of the following –

  1. Everyone else is the same as me. Everyone else will do the same things I will.
  2. Everyone else should believe/do what I do. Because I’m right and they are wrong.

This is very interesting. Why? Because our existence revolves around what we see and perceive and believe. It revolves around how we interpret the world.

That makes it really difficult, at first, to switch perspectives and try to see things from someone else’s perspective. Until you start doing it. Then it’s exceedingly easy. Because we have an unlimited capacity to IMAGINE another perspective or belief system and understand why other people think differently from us and do different things.

Guess what helps your imagination – Reading Books. So, and this is quite funny, people who don’t read books will have a harder time understanding other people’s perspectives. Which might explain why the thought of a dedicated reading device frustrates them so.

Kindle will be lucky to sell 40,000 units lifetime

That’s what one journalist wrote about the Kindle. To put that in perspective – a person whose livelihood revolves around people reading what he has written, thought Kindle would be a failure. People just don’t read anymore – except news, websites, books, magazines, newspapers, textbooks, signs, etc.

Here’s the amusing thing. Now we have 10 million eReaders sold every year. However, those journalists still can’t wrap their heads around the concept that people would want a device dedicated to reading.

They feel as if there was some tear in the time-space continuum and eReaders miraculously took off. That now the tear is mended and things will go back to how they should be. People who love to read will do their reading on a device optimized for movies and games.

People who don’t believe in eReaders, who think that it makes no sense to have a device dedicated to reading for people who love to read, now fight very strongly for certain things that will help validate their world-view –

  1. eReaders will soon die out.
  2. People who read once a year on their Tablets are more important than people who read once a day on their eReaders.
  3. Reading on a Tablet is better than reading on an eReader.
  4. Reading isn’t worth a dedicated device.
  5. Reading isn’t cool.

Notice how all of this isn’t about what is actually happening with readers and eReaders. It’s just people who don’t value reading trying to make sense of something they can’t understand.

It would be much simpler for them to simply realize that –

  1. Just like twittering and reading news articles and watching movies and playing little casual games is very important and meaningful to them.
  2. Reading is very important and meaningful to people who love to read.

That people who are buying devices dedicated to reading are no different from anyone who buys things that give them pleasure and are built/optimized for them. It’s the exact same thing.

Why does Reading make so many people defensive?

My assumption (and it is an assumption) is that Reading is something that worries a lot of people.

  1. It worries advertisers because people who read become smarter.
  2. It worries companies because then they can’t just show a pretty girl next to a car and make the car more attractive.
  3. It worries people who don’t read. At some deep level, they understand that watching After Earth and Transformers isn’t going to confer as much of a benefit as reading books and exercising your imagination will.
  4. It worries pretty much everyone who has been trained to hate reading by being forced to read things they didn’t want to read in school.
  5. It worries everyone who got taught that if they can’t ‘study’ books then they get pain (bad grades).

A large part of the population is brought up to detest books because books get associated with forced education of questionable value.

A large part of the corporate and advertising machine detests books because it makes people very, very hard to ‘influence’ via advertising.

Devices that cater to readers. Devices that result in people reading more. Devices that get more and more people to start reading. Devices that let people read, who were locked out of reading earlier.

They are a nightmare for everyone who detests books and reading and people exercising their imaginations.

People are hating eReaders even with $69 eReaders – So the problem isn’t the price of eReaders

When Kindle was $399 and people questioned the value, there was an implicit assumption that at $199 or $149 or $99 we would reach a ‘logical’ place. Where both readers and non-readers could agree that eReaders were a good thing.

Why hasn’t it happened?

Why do we have people, who are buying $199 and $499 Tablets, refusing to acknowledge that eReaders, even $69 ones, have their own unique value and benefits.

Perhaps the problem never was the price. Perhaps the problem was the perception that reading is worth a dedicated device.

If that is the case, then the problem lies entirely with people who don’t read books and/or don’t read much. For them, reading isn’t worth much. For them, a dedicated reading device doesn’t make sense. They are projecting that on to people who read. That leads to this whole ‘Everyone should be like me and read only on Tablets that aren’t optimized for reading’ circus.

I think over time, all these people who find Tablets so much better for reading books than eReaders, will read more and more books on their Tablets and develop a more mature perspective of things. Then they’ll see the value of a device dedicated to reading, just as we readers see the value of Tablets optimized for meaningless entertainment.

3 reasons full-length books are a better experience than short stories

Reading a book is an experience and a journey.

We take the story the author has laid down for us, and the context and framework she has created, and fill it out with our imaginations.

This is one of the key differentiators – why even a ‘frivolous’ thriller or ‘flaky’ romance novel is better than nearly any other type of entertainment. We are actively constructing the world in our heads. It’s our creation, our masterpiece – built on the framework and story the author provides.

The author might paint an exquisite framework – a lonely alley in 1865 London with a Vampire possibly hiding in the shadows. However, it’s just a framework. It’s we the readers who fill it out. What the alley looks like. What it feels like. The sights and sounds and smells. The feeling of fear. The Vampire.

This is why no movie based on a book ever measures up to our expectation of the book. The best director in the world can’t compare to the worlds we have created for ourselves. All the limitations he faces – just don’t exist in our imaginations.


Which brings us to why full-length novels are much better than short stories and novellas.

A full-length novel does three things – it gives us enough time to fully flesh out the story in our heads, it allows us to fully connect with and feel for the characters (to develop an attachment to them), it allows us to step fully into the world of the book.

The first is all about submodalities and the fineness of the story-painting in our heads. With a short story we have ended before we have formed the images fully in our heads. The protagonist is a paper cutout instead of a person, the city is a movie-set instead of a living, breathing city. A full-length book allows us to create the world fully and fill it with the submodalities we like and imagine.

The second is about the characters. Over the course of a full-length novel we develop an attachment to the main characters. We understand them better. We think about their motivations and worry about them or hope they get their just desserts. They start morphing into people – people we wonder about and people we want to read more about.

The third is the experience of stepping out of our world and stepping into the world of the book. With a short story, by the time you begin to step from the cold, foggy street into the warm comfort of the house – the house has vanished. You’re left in the void between your own world and the beautiful, compelling world you were creating while reading. A full-length book lets you go further and further into the world. This is why we don’t want to leave a good book in the middle. It’s a world and a story that we are creating/building – one that literally draws us in.

This act of creating worlds in our heads. The passion and skill and actual effort involved in fleshing out all the details and creating something of our own. It’s Participation. Life is a Participation sport.


What are the deeper implications of the shift to ebooks – for us

Let’s forget Publishers … and Authors … and all the companies that want to take over Publishing and Books.

That leaves us readers and our books.

We are migrating from books to ebooks and from a curated gatekeeper model to a mix of curation and long tail and ‘anyone can publish’.

What impact does it have on us?

Two Links to Set/Get some Context

Courtesy TeleRead we get two very interesting articles –

  1. Nicholas Carr warns schools about the potential switch to eBooks. Interestingly, this time he uses solid arguments to back up his gift for stringing words together poetically.
  2. At Quill and Quire, scientists in Toronto find that reading books changes people – that people create a simulation in their minds as they read and it has a measurable impact on personality (at least they claim it’s measurable). It might seem strange to do a study on something that seems pretty obvious to anyone who has ever read a good book. However, it never hurts to get proof that reading a book can have quite an impact on the reader.

Combine the two and we get an interesting thought – If Books really do change people, and if Nicholas Carr is right and ebooks aren’t as impactful as physical books, then are eBooks going to herald the dawn of a world where books no longer have as much impact?

eBooks come with advantages and disadvantages

If we think about the role books play and the impact they have on us, then it’s worth noting that eBooks are neither much worse nor much better than physical books.

eBooks just aren’t as good as Physical Books (in some respects)

Here are a few negatives (most of which Nicholas Carr has discussed at length, and in much prettier language, in his article) –

  1. With an eReader or a Reading Tablet there is always the temptation to check the news or play a game or surf the web or send an email.
  2. There is some difference between turning the pages of a book and getting the tactile sensation and the smell and the familiarity – versus using an eReader and the specific and very different experience it presents. Purely on the basis of the fact that we probably are in the habit of concentrating more (and going into a different state of mind) when reading a physical book, it’s quite possible that eReaders won’t present as pure a reading focus until we get used to them (which will be different for different readers).
  3. Absolutely anyone can publish an ebook. That means you get a lot of noise and a lot of people with some truly strange books and ideas influencing you.
  4. The quality control (both in terms of content and in terms of formatting and editing) is not as high.
  5. You can’t interact with the book in the form of taking notes like you could with a physical book. A little ‘1’ mark for a note hardly replaces the impact of something scribbled in the margins.
  6. It’s different – just the act of switching to a new way of getting and reading books takes some getting used to. Some people will never try or will quite before they become comfortable with this new way.
  7. The inability to easily skim and write in margins means ebooks are not suited for textbooks. Add on the lack of color in the current generation of eReaders and we really don’t have any ‘textbook readers’ at all. Amazon didn’t help matters by pushing the College Student Pilot Program using a Kindle that had no touch, no color, and just wasn’t adequate as a text-book reader.
  8. The user interface still needs work – it makes some things (such as highlighting) annoyingly slow.
  9. eBooks are accused of not providing as many visual cues i.e. structure, chapters, where in the book you are. It doesn’t help that everyone has their own interpretation of page numbers and whether or not to show them.

That’s a long list and it isn’t even complete. Nicholas Carr seems like a genius and his advice seems golden – We really shouldn’t rush to replace old tools with new ones before thinking things through.

However, what about the things that ebooks do better?

eBooks do a better job than Physical Books (on some fronts)

Here’s the part that Nicholas Carr’s editor cut out from his article.

  1. eBooks are making reading a lot more affordable – which means more people can read, and people can read more. Black Echo for $1 and Stephen King Novellas for $3 just wouldn’t be possible with physical books. Nor would indie author books at $1 and book deals at $1 and $2 (at least not to the same extent). It will, almost certainly, lead to more people reading, and people reading more. Perhaps most importantly, it makes books competitive with lots of other ways of passing the time.
  2. eBooks are making reading a lot more accessible. People who couldn’t read can read now –  Larger text and Text to Speech is opening up reading to a lot more people. Additionally, People can read now in places and at times when they couldn’t read earlier. You can read on your phone, on your PC, or on your eReader. As Jerry Lee Lewis would put it – Whole lotta reading going on.
  3. With the Democratization of Publishing we get a lot more ideas and diversity. While there is a lot of noise, there is also a lot more variety. We have replaced the filter of ‘high quality and what Publishers think people should read and what Publishers think will make money’ with ‘zero quality control and what any person in the world wants to send out and varying consideration of profits’. The lack of quality control is bad but the other two things are good – everyone gets a shot and lots of people who don’t care about money get a shot.
  4. Convenience – Books in 60 seconds and stores that are open 24/7. This also increases the amount of reading as the friction is reduced significantly. Books needed ebooks to be able to compete with instant on TV and Internet and Video Games.
  5. There is more available in your genre of choice. Let’s say that you have an unhealthy obsession with Post-Apocalyptic novels – Well, you can now choose from Publishers and Small Publishers and Indie Authors and your neighbourhood Baker. There’s less quality control but a lot more choice – plus you are free of the threat of everyone switching over to publishing Twilight clones for 16-year-old girls.
  6. eBooks are giving books a longer life. Whether we like to admit it or not, the truth is that $10 books sold in physical stores and published according to their profit potential were losing out to things like TV and YouTube. Now books are competitive again.

While rushing out to replace our old, trusted tools would be stupid, it would be equally stupid to keep using them if everything around us is changing and they just aren’t as effective.

The world is changing and books have to change too – If books don’t evolve they face the very real danger of dying out or becoming far less important.

Of course, there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

Things Left Unanswered

Well, here are a few –

  1. How do eBooks affect us? Do they affect us as much as physical books or more?
  2. What happens when Network effects start kicking in? What happens when unknown authors become bestsellers in the space of a few days?
  3. Will people read more now that ebooks are so accessible and cheap or will they read the same amount and just spend less on books?
  4. Will the quality control of books be gone forever? It’s hard to imagine Publishers being able to afford to run stringent quality control given the likely drop in ebook prices.
  5. Will the lack of sharing and resale have some permanent effect?
  6. Will we ever get an eReader that can handle textbooks? Perhaps it’s the students that are the problem – Do we really think we could ever make a device that would satisfy college students?
  7. If books become very accessible due to the rise of ebooks will people become too smart? Do we really want people who are capable of making the cognitive leap that they shouldn’t be funding Wall Street bonuses with their retirement savings?
  8. Will people get too influenced by each other? Will the gatekeeping of Publishers get reduced by the Court of Peer Pressure and Public Opinion?
  9. What happens in we end up with 2 major players in Books and things get even more controlled than when there were Publishers?

These are exciting times for anyone in Publishing. They are critical times for anyone who reads – a lot is going right and a lot could go wrong. It’s easy for Publishers to focus on the negatives and for us to focus on the positives. There are things happening that can’t be undone – not all are good, not all are bad, but most are irrevocable.

In a way, no one knows what will happen. Everyone is waiting for an opportunity to seize an advantage and take over the profits in books and everyone is uncertain of the direction in which things will move. This might be the best of times for books. This might be the worst of times for books. It might even be both – In fact, it probably is both.