Note: This is a guest post by Jean K. Min, former director of international division at OhmyNews. The post is excerpt from Min's presentation on May 21 for the Infinity Ventures Summit in Sapporo, Japan.
David Carnoy, a technology news reporter at CNET, had a burning question: just how old Amazon Kindle e-book readers actually are? As Amazon Kindle has been increasingly touted among the old media circle as one of the most likely saviors of the dying newspapers, it was an interesting question that merits a deeper look.
Since Amazon has released no official data about the demographic profile of Kindle users, Carnoy conducted an unscientific “poll” in the Amazon.com forum, asking how old the forum’s Kindle users were. His finding gleaned from over 700 responses came as a rude wake-up call for some newspaper moguls who had pinned their hope on the popular e-book reader--some 70 percent of Kindle users were over 40’s.
Carnoy’s discovery, although low in scientific rigors, has confirmed my long-held suspicion if Kindle, apparently popular among relatively older user groups, is simply going to replicate the old habits of analogue age news-reading in the digital form, hence losing the opportunity to exploit the vast potential of the online news. Readers over 40’s should be generally considered ‘digital immigrants’ and if Amazon failed to attract digital natives--those in their 10s to 30s--to Kindle, its long-term future seems doomed.
Many believe that people read newspapers to look for new information; however I believe newspaper reading is largely out of habits, a daily ritual to be reminded that they still belong to the society, not left alone in the dark. Digital natives, on the other hand, had had no chance to form a strong attachment to the peculiar newspaper smell. To many, their first contact with the news usually was on the Internet, where news-reading is not so much a search for the information as a catch-up with the talk of the town.
No wonder that the most popular services in many online news sites are usually the "most read," "most emailed," "most blogged" or "most searched" news section. However, they are not just useful indicators for tracking the hottest issues of the town today--they are the collective editorial decisions emerging from the implicit participation of readers, feasible only in the online space.
In a highly competitive society such as Korea where people are driven by the permanent anxiety that they might be left behind alone in the dark, excluded from the top conversations of the peers, the importance of the Web's amazing feature that allows readers to track the "most-talked-about topics" is even more pronounced.
DAUM, a major Korean portal, even tracks and publishes the demographic, geographic and, yes, psychographic profiles of readers for every news article they publish, making it handy for its readers to follow the current buzz among different groups. You want to know what women in their 40's living in Seoul are reading about this morning? DAUM has an answer for you and will update it as you are reading.
Amazon Kindle and other e-book readers, on the contrary, is the device that simply presents the editorial decision made from the above. Still, Sankei Shimbun, a conservative Japanese daily has decided early this year to join the e-book trend by distributing its newspapers in the print form via its iPhone application, repackaging the print age editorial decision from the above for the iPhone generation.
The case of Amazon Kindle and Sankei's iPhone app, however, looks like another example to me that proves how difficult it is to shatter the old habits bequeathed from the print age.
Newspapers, I believe, do not necessarily have to resort to the Internet to turn itself to an interactive media, however. Here is one suggestion; what if newspapers print a following announcement on every Monday paper--"Here are some story ideas we you want you to vote for." Editors can select from the story ideas that earned the most votes on its Web site and ask their staff writers to turn them into actual stories. Newspapers, though limited in its scale, can encourage editorial participation of their readers this way, turning them from passive consumers of the free content to involved stakeholders. Actually, this would be a much more important benefit of this editorial contraption.
Old habits die hard. When the IT industry buzzed about the "Web publishing tools" back in the early 1990's, the publishing world's old habits stick to the Internet, blinding the people from the exciting potential of the new medium. It took nearly full ten years for the industry to understand the true interactive nature of the "read and write Web".
The real crux of the matter is that the same mistakes will be repeated in the mobile Internet age--the old habits left from the Cyberspace era will blind us again from discovering the new rules of the hybrid space that is "memosphere".
A life-time follower of Marshall McLuhan, he experimented with various medium as a communication designer at Cheil Communications, Samsung's in-house advertising agency. He also contributed to the launching of Seoprise.com, an influential political web zine in Korea that, together with OhmyNews, played a vital role in electing the former South Korean reformist president Roh in 2002.
He is currently profiling the latest development in Korean technology sector in Planet Size Brain.