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Old habits die hard
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승인 2010.07.31  19:54:48
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▲ Photo courtesy The New York Times Company

David Carnoy, a technology news reporter at CNET had a burning question: just how old are Amazon Kindle e-book readers? As Amazon Kindle and Apple iPad have been increasingly touted among the old media circle as one of the most likely saviors of the dying newspaper industry, 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 findings gleaned from more than 700 responses came as a rude wake-up call for some newspaper moguls who had pinned their hopes on the popular e-book reader-some 70 per-cent of Kindle users were aged over 40.

Carney’s discovery, although low in scientific rigor, confirmed my long-held suspicion that Kindle, apparently popular among relatively older users, is simply going to replicate the old habits of analogue age news-reading in the digital form, and hence lose the opportunity to exploit the vast potential of online news. Readers over the age of 40 can be generally considered digital immigrants and if Amazon fails to attract digital natives - those in their teens to 30s - to Kindle, its long-term future seems doomed.

Many believe that people read news-papers to look for new information, but I believe that newspaper reading is largely out of habit, a daily ritual that reminds the reader that he or she still belongs to a society, and is not left alone in the dark. Digital natives, on the other hand, have had no chance to form a strong attachment to the peculiar newspaper smell. To many, their first contact with the news has usually been on the Internet, where news-reading is not so much a search for information as a catch-up with the talk of the town.

It is no wonder that the most popular services on many online news sites are usually the “most read,” “most emailed,” “most blogged” or “most searched” sections. However, they are not just useful indicators for tracking the hottest issues of the town but they are 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 permanent anxiety that they might be left behind alone in the dark and excluded from the top conversations of their peers, the importance of the Web’s ability to track the most-talked-about topics is even more pronounced.

DAUM, a major Korean portal, even tracks and publishes the demographic, geographic and psychographic profiles of readers for every news article it publishes, making it handy for its readers to follow the current buzz among different groups. If you want to know what women in their 40s living in Seoul read about this morning, DAUM has an answer for you and will update it as you are reading.

Amazon Kindle, Apple iPad and other e-book readers, on the contrary, are devices that simply present editorial decisions made from above. Still, Sankei Shimbun, a conservative Japanese daily, decided last year to join the e-book trend by distributing its newspapers in print layout via its iPhone app, repackaging print-age editorial decisions for the iPhone generation.

The cases of Amazon Kindle and Sankei’s iPhone apps, however, look like examples that prove how difficult it is to shatter old habits

from the print age. Newspapers do not necessarily have to resort to the Internet to turn themselves into interactive media, however.

One suggestion would be for newspapers to print story ideas in each Monday paper and ask readers to vote for those they like, which staff writers would then turn into stories. Newspapers, though limited in their scale, can encourage the editorial participation of readers this way, turning them from passive consumers of content to involved stakeholders.

Old habits die hard. When the IT industry buzzed about Web publishing tools back in the early 1990s, the publishing world stuck to the Internet, blinding people to the exciting potential of the new medium. It took nearly a full 10 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 - old habits left from the cyberspace era will blind us to discovering the new rules of this new hybrid space.




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