On my radar: Getting the digital generation to read books

2014-07-11 10:00

I write a lot about disruptive technologies and how they change the status quo.

These technologies prove to be game-changers that affect entire industries, forcing companies to rethink their business ­models and adapt.

Sometimes these digital disruptions also have a positive ripple effect. Take the digitisation of print media as an ­example. In 2009, an ­almighty battle raged on in the news­paper industry, when newspapers started dabbling with providing content ­online – for free – a move that put publishers into a corner.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the newspapers misjudged how ­voraciously people consumed online content, which proved detrimental to the sales of the physical newspaper.

When newspapers started charging for online content, the online reader had grown so accustomed to accessing free content, they were not prepared to pay for that pleasure.

Book publishers faced their own challenges. Not only did they have to contend with people migrating to e-readers and tablets, which spawned an entirely new digital publishing industry, but also a digital generation who were seemingly no longer interested in reading books.

But sometimes you have to fight fire with fire and find ways that will ­allow you to rethink how you do things, rather than what you fundamentally do.

Research is showing that the digital generation actually enjoys reading on devices like cellphones or phablets. It is not only the instant accessibility that cloud computing brings, but that no one knows what you are reading – something books can’t disguise.

I’ve stumbled across two remarkable ideas that will allow a digital generation to access books digitally: one uses cellphones, which almost all young ­pupils have, and the other is a clever gimmick that is sure to lure the most stubborn bibliophobe.

The first is a concept that might just revolutionise education in South Africa. It’s called SimBook.

A SimBook is basically a book loaded on to a cellphone SIM card, which can then be read on any feature phone. The concept first appeared in the Philippines when advertising agency DM9JaymeSyfu joined forces with Smart Communications, a wireless services company, in 2012.

Initially, they were trying to find ways to reduce the weight of books that pupils had to carry in their bags. The agency collaborated with book publishers to load textbooks on to SIM cards provided by Smart, which were then distributed to several public schools in the Philippines. The result: the bags were lighter, school attendance rose to 95% and the average test results rose to 90%.

Thabang Mabuza of Ulwazi Resource Consulting is hoping to drive the same concept in South Africa and I sincerely hope telecommunications companies, publishers and education departments are reading this, and help him out.

The second innovation I stumbled ­upon is aimed at people who own smartphones, and is just as ground-breaking: it’s a digital library printed on wallpaper.

Like SimBook, this concept started as a problem-solving exercise, in this case shelving space for small living spaces. Again, this collaborative effort ­involved a communications company – Vodafone Romania – which partnered with furniture retailer Mobexpert.

The Digital Library Wallpaper is a ­fusion of our digital and non-digital worlds. If you live in a tiny space with no room for bookshelves, you can ­design a virtual, two-dimensional bookshelf online. You fill your virtual shelves with books of your choice and add a few décor items like framed pictures – just as you would in the real world. After placing your order online, you receive a roll of wallpaper with your selection of “books” printed on the ­paper.

The wallpaper looks like a realistic bookcase, with one unique feature: each book spine has a quick response code. This code can be scanned by a smartphone or tablet, ­after which the content of the book is downloaded on to your ­device. It is nothing short of genius.

Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit fluxtrends.com

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