Culture is future » Innovation and digital


Contribution : "Smartphone, great news for the e-book" by David Lacombled

Today, the smartphone and the tablet as a reading medium win the favors of more and more readers, apart from the “big readers” circle. This is good news and a chance to take for the book industry but also a new way of reading that we need to reconsider outside of the closed systems.

Even if we are writing less and less letters in the current digital era, let’s admit that The Purloined Letter, the short story by Edgar Allan Poe is still topical. We all know the argument. A compromising letter has been stolen from the royal family by a minister who intends to use to blackmail them. The police goes over a fine-tooth comb in the thief’s apartment, explores meticulously the least nook, looking for false-bottom drawers, lifting up every lath of the floor, examining all baseboards… In vain. The letter is still missing. And then the inimitable keen-nosed French detective Auguste Dupin turns up. According to him, the solution is simple: the letter must be hidden in the most visible place of the apartment. What is just under our eyes is often invisible.

The exact same thing is happening with the e-book. While the Internet giants put great efforts into imposing the e-book with their tablets and e-readers associated with closed systems on the market, an omnipresent object in our everyday lives, constantly under our eyes and in our pockets is emerging as the new booming medium for the e-book. Indeed, the smartphone is about to become the favorite e-reader, as Laure Belot’s survey in Le Monde, “My smartphone, my library” published on the 19th of February 2014, reveals.

Actually, there is finally a blinding evidence in the fact that the smartphone established itself as a reading media. First because of its distribution: the use of smartphones has indeed become widespread until becoming an almost universal tool.

According to Médiamétrie, in the end of 2013, one French people over 15 years-old out of two has a smartphone. Moreover, the screen size has widened to get closer to that of the tablets. Finally, the smartphone is becoming the ultimate connected and connection object, combining more and more parts of ourselves. It becomes in a way the kaleidoscope of our personality by revealing all aspects of our personality: social, playful, professional. It is before all intimate by being a personal object in essence. Reading undeniably belongs to the intimate sphere. And throughout our readings, it is an intimate part of ourselves that is expressed: “Tell me what you read or show me your library and I will tell you who you are”.

There is a natural relationship between the smartphone and the reading practice. The immediate interest is that the smartphone is fully able to play the role of an e-book ‘democratisator’. Surveys show that e-readers or tablets (Kindle by Amazon, iPad by Apple or Kobo) first address a “big readers” audience, which represents 27% of readers in the United-States, 17% in the United-Kingdom and 2% in France, according to 2013 figures of the AT Kearney survey. Yet the smartphone seems to be successful with a wider circle of occasional readers.

In fact, the leaders of the e-reader market have made a strategic withdrawal by proposing applications for smartphones. As Michel Tamblyn, head of contents at Kobo, confides in Laure Belot : “The downloads for the Kobo application have more than double in a year time, as well as the book sales via this channel. People want to be able to watch videos, play and read with the same device”.

But a shift from the e-book to the smartphone imposes to rethink entirely the offer, which is too inflexible today: by getting out of the closed and captive systems, by proposing incentive prices or more flexible offers. Besides, some alternative ownership models are developing in the form of a rental by subscription for example, or streaming… The stakes are high as pirating is a direct threat.

Le Monde’s dossier on the subject shows optimism. “It is one of the surprises – what is economically reassuring for publishers and authors: reading creates an affective relationship, and the users are not (all) against payment” Laure Belot admits. This is also a kind of reading that ‘cannibalizes’ less printed books. It appears that the readers who have read a book on their smartphone often buy it afterwards to put it in their bookcase. Indeed, the smartphone seems to be an alternative rather than a substitute, contrary to the tablet or the e-reader.

This is good news for the book sector that needs to develop jointly those two mediums. The Purloined Letter also is good news, which must be read and reread, in hard-copy or on your smartphone. 



"Mon smartphone, ma bibliothèque"


About David Lacombled 

A journalist by training, David Lacombled is a Managing Director for the content strategy at Orange. He is also president of the think-tank, The Villa Numeris and author of the book Digital Citizen (Plon).

His website :

On Twitter : @david_lacombled