Wristwatches and eReaders

It was only a couple of years ago when eReaders went from being obscure and expensive to entering the mainstream. I bought a few in succession and didn’t like any of them. It’s a matter of taste but the “e-ink” of the old Kindle, Sony, and Nook struck me as dull and lifeless. Each gathered dust on my bookshelf.

So the iPad was a revelation to me. Maybe this will surprise you: the first iPad was released only on April 3, 2010. That was two and a half years ago. That thing changed my whole life. I only needed to see my first epub on iPad to realize that I would only read paper and ink with great reluctance from then on. It’s still the same today. In fact, I’ve turned the epub into my main profession: I run the Laissez Faire Club that releases top-of-the-line epubs weekly on a subscription basis.

Last holiday season, millions of people received eReaders for gifts. The eBook entered the mainstream.

The Kindle Fire came out, a back-lit product that seemed useable but inferior to the iPad to me. The main Kindle product is now $69 with wifi but no 3G. When Amazon dropped the price, the world was shocked. How is that possible? Maybe it was because Amazon could depend on buyers also loading up on eBooks?

Well, the world has shifted again. My local drug stores now offer 7″ eReaders for $78. The local discount bulk store has an 8″ for the same price. Add some bells and whistles and you pay $129. The makers are companies like Nextbook, Craig, and Coby — not exactly famous or high status but the products are all serviceable. I picked one up. It it not the iPad but it is better than any product I saw on the market three years ago.

This little thing connects nicely the wifi, displays epubs, checks email, gives weather, plays music and videos and movies, browses the web, has a nice feel, and a great touch to it. It is customizable and flexible. Again, it is not as intuitive as the iPad but by the standards of, say, five years ago, this little machine is miracle. It opens up a world of information with more tools, access, and power than existed on the whole planet 10 yeas ago. And all for $78 bucks.

We can see where this is going. These eReaders are going to get better and cheaper. In time, you will find them in the bargain bin for $40, then $30, then $20, then $5, and so on. They will become like wristwatches. In the 16th century, these were only there for the elite of the elite. So it remained for centuries. Even when I was a kid, anyone who had one planned on owning it for a decade or more. It was a big deal. At some point in the last ten years, they became ubiquitous. You could buy them by the handful. They came in every color. If you lost one or it broke, no big deal. Get another.

This does mean that the luxury goods disappear. For reasons, I don’t entirely understand, there is still a market for wristwatches that cost thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars. Go figure. This is especially strange since you can get what to my eye are indistinguishable knock offs for a few bucks. But there they are.

So it will be with the eReader. The luxury good will always be there, with ever fancier cameras and tricks. And the label alone and the status it carries will continue to be something worth paying for.

That’s probably even true of paper and ink!

My summary point: the market is working as it should in technology, despite interventions such as patents, taxes, tariffs, and labor regulations. Generally, technology is a freer sector and therefore we see massive declines in price (deflation is fabulous and profitable!) and increases in quality, year over year. This is right in front of our eyes. And yet we still puzzle about what to do about health care, education, and the court system. How about we apply the same institutional structures to the messed up sectors that we do for technology?