BRUSSELS, March 9, 2010 (RISI) -REACTIONS TO THE emergence of e-readers from within the pulp and paper industry tend to come in one of two flavors: either i) a head-in-the-sand refusal to believe that anyone would want to read a book or newspaper on an electronic device, no matter how fancy, convenient or cheap; or ii) a we're-all-doomed certainty that traditional publishing is about to die and with it much of the demand for publication papers.
As ever, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Certainly, while demand for the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader and equivalent devices is rising, the cost of buying any e-reader remains a deterrent to most of Joe and Jill Public. The folks at Forrester Research published a report into this nascent sector last September which concluded that mass take-up would require a price-point for the e-readers of around $50. They also reckoned that it would be 2012 before the manufacturers could reach that price. That at least buys paper companies some time to formulate an appropriate strategy to the emergence of these disruptive devices.
How to deal with disruption Disruption comes in many forms, however. For instance, rather than wait for the devices to naturally fall in cost, a manufacturer or publisher may choose to take a leaf out of the mobile phone industry's book and give the e-reader away for free while tying the consumer to a long-term contract for content. And that doesn't have to be an individual consumer: imagine what hotel chains would give for a bunch of machines that allow them to offer guests an enormous library of books or a choice of the world's daily newspapers. And by not owning the device, the consumer would think no more of leaving it by the poolside than he or she would a $5 paperback.
At the same time, it could pay the paper industry to think about how and from where to serve the needs of the millions who, undoubtedly, will never buy or use an e-reader no matter what. And to think about the circumstances in which those who will use the new devices would prefer to do their reading using that old familiar: paper.
What's more, given that the first big bucks from home videos and the Internet were made by people serving the demand for adult entertainment, perhaps it would also be worth finding out about Playboy's strategy for the e-reader market: you can guarantee those folks won't support something that isn't going to have mass appeal.
At the end of the day though, my hunch is that e-readers are here to stay, but publication papers ain't going away. Let the strategizing begin!