In college I read most of the books assigned, but not much else. Since I began working for a living, however, I have read far more books per year than I ever did as a hard-working college student. There is no panacea for success or any single formula for professional growth, but an unbridled curiosity and a hunger for knowledge and the enthusiasm for sharing that knowledge with others around you is at least part of a formula. Reading is a huge part of that. And reading books is key.
But do people still read books? Steve Jobs, speaking on what he thought of Amazon's Kindle said: “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is; the fact is that people don’t read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year.” It is true that a large minority of people in the US do not read even a single book in a year. But as Randall Stross pointed out in his New York Times article, "the overall distribution is balanced somewhat [in the US] by those who read a lot." In my own case, as every year goes by and technology gets better and better, I actually buy more and more books. I buy more books perhaps because I am far more aware of books in the long tail thanks to blogs and the increased avenues for Word of Mouth marketing that reach me.
So what's the future for books?
As I mentioned on the podcast with the Microsoft guys, as technology keeps pushing forward and we all spend more and more time online for information, networking, etc., I actually have found that I purchase more "real books" every year and do most of my learning and studying "off the grid" and away from the computer. I have come to look at books, then, as a refreshing and comfortable escape that allows me to slowdown and think more deeply about what I am reading.
I purchase about 7-8 books a month and I actually read most of them. I read more living here in a large city in Japan since I spend so much time on the trains (hours spent on trains is probably one reason why Japanese read so much). I get most of my books online, but I also love book stores. I love stumbling onto things through serendipity. While in the US a few weeks ago I picked up these books below while just browsing (except for Bert Decker's; ordered that one). You may think that some of the books are an odd choice. I mean the Dali Lama and Donald Trump! Are you nuts? Maybe. But I actually learned something from both (though I do not agree personally with everything Donald preaches, such as the idea of revenge, etc.).
A potpourri of non-fiction discovered serendipitously in the US.
• Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing out of Sync? (Seth Godin)
• The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living (Dalai Lama, Howard C. Cutler)
• The Art of Happiness at Work (Dalai Lama, Howard C. Cutler)
• The Swordless Samurai: Leadership Wisdom of Japan's Sixteenth-Century Legend---Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Kitami Masao)
• Creating Messages That Motivate (Bert Decker)
• The Digital Photography Book (Scott Kelby)
• Type Style Finder: The Busy Designer's Guide to Type (Timothy Samara)
• The Designer's Desktop Manual (Jason Simmons)
• Think India: The Rise of the World's Next Superpower and What It Means for Every American (Vinay Rai, William Simon)
• Think BIG and Kick Ass in Business and Life (Donald Trump, Bill Zanker)
• The World Without Us (Alan Weisman)
• Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture (Taylor Clark)
I learned something from all the books; some more than others. For the business folks out there Meatball Sundae is a must (and a very quick read), and Starbucked (which I actually read in a Starbucks—they're everywhere!) is a very interesting read from a local writer in Portland, Oregon. If you have a book that you'd like to recommend, please let us know.
And speaking of Seth Godin, go here to sign up (free) to hear Seth Godin, Tim Sanders, Andy Wibbels and Pamela Slim reveal the one thing that will make or break your marketing efforts in 2008.