I write a lot about disruptive technologies and how they change the status quo. These disruptive technologies prove to be game changers that affect entire industries, forcing companies to completely rethink their business models and adapt, not only to a digital era, but also a new world order.
Sometimes these digital disruptions also have a positive ripple effect, but only once the dust of the initial disruption settles. 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 painted publishers into a tight corner, and one that they are only now maneuvering out of.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the newspapers misjudged how voraciously people consumed online content, which quickly proved detrimental to the sales of the physical newspaper – the traditional revenue stream. When newspapers started charging for online content, the online reader had grown so accustomed to accessing free content and they were not prepared to pay for that pleasure.
When digital disruption spread to the magazine industry, a different problem reared its head. Most magazines work on a 3-month production timeline. By creating an online portal – filled with content that had to be updated daily – magazines effectively cannibalised their own content, shooting themselves in the foot. What readers were able to access immediately online, made whatever the magazines published 3 months later, stale news…
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 seemingly were no longer interested in reading books. But sometimes you have to fight fire with fire (or in this case multimedia with multimedia) and find ways that will allow you to rethink how you do things, rather than what you fundamentally do.
New research is showing that the digital generation actually enjoys reading on devices like cell phones or phablets. It is not only the instant accessibility that cloud computing brings, but interestingly, the fact 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 utilises cell phones, which all young learners have, and the other is a clever gimmick that is sure to lure the most stubborn bookphobe.
The first is a concept that might just revolutionise education in South Africa, and it’s called SimBook. Like all brilliant ideas, you have to wonder why it took so long for someone to have that light bulb moment. A SimBook is basically a book loaded onto a cell phone sim card, which can then be read on any feature phone. The concept first appeared in the Philippines when advertising agency DM9 JaymeSyfu 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 students had to carry in their bags, which was causing back problems for many of the learners. The agency collaborated with book publishers to load textbooks onto SIM cards provided by Smart, which were then distributed to several public schools in the Philippines. The result: the learner’s bags became 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 groundbreaking: 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 was a collaborative effort involved a communications company – Vodafone Romania – who partnered with a furniture retailer, MobExpert.
The Digital Library Wallpaper is a perfect fusion of our digital and non-digital worlds. If you live in a tiny space with no room for bookshelves, you simply design a virtual, two-dimensional bookshelf online. You fill your virtual shelves with books of your choice, but you can also 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 QR (quick response) code. This QR code can be scanned by a Smartphone or tablet, after which the content of the book is digitally downloaded onto your device. It is nothing short of genius.
In both cases, the written word is delivered in a format that makes perfect sense to a digital generation. Print media may have been disrupted, but reading has not. Words just need to be repackaged.