Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lesson Learned: France’s Acceptance of Digital Publishing & the Arrival of the iPad in 2010

By Michael Dishi

A study of France’s reaction, acceptance and gradual adoption of the Apple iPad with regards to digital publishing, can be strongly related to a similar technological innovation presented to France decades ago. France’s relationship with foreign technology, and its own culture, can be tracked by comparing its very different reactions to the rise of the Internet and the birth of the Apple iPad. The Internet, now hailed as one of the staples of modern day living, was not originally eagerly accepted in France, and by exploring the cultural bias to such an innovation one is better equipped in analyzing the country’s acceptance of new technologies since.

France once viewed the Internet as an ‘Anglo-Saxon’ symbol of cultural imperialism, threatening to weaken French language and culture, of which they were fiercely proud. The rise of the Internet was seen as a personal affront to France because of its superiority to the Minitel, a video-text online service accessible through telephone lines. By the early 1990s, the Internet superseded the Minitel, widely spreading the English language to a culture that was for the most part unwilling to receive it. It is difficult to know beyond all doubt that France did not realize that the Internet they fought to reject would be a global technological phenomenon, given the strength of their cultural bias (Dauncey). Regardless, the eventual acceptance and adoption of the Internet ensured France’s desire for technological advancement. In 2010, the iPad itself was positively received and digital publishing had become increasingly accepted, allowing France the opportunity to shake off its infamous reputation. The global launch of the iPad acquainted Europeans with the eBook market. Some of France’s major publishing houses have even joined together to launch a new eBook distribution platform, proving that the French have turned a crucial corner with regards to embracing, and investing in this new technology.

France is aware of the importance of digital publishing and this time around they are not shying away from novel, foreign technology. Apple employees in Paris vouch for the iPad’s success in France, calling the product a “huge hit.” They also revealed a recent study of the breakdown of the Parisian customer’s intended use for the iPad, stating that 50% of customers buy it to use Safari, 30% buy it for gaming purposes, and 20% buy it to read iBooks (Thomas).

Unlike its original view of the Internet and foreign technology, France acknowledges the iPad as a major contender in media innovations. Mathias Döpfner, head of publishing house Axel Springer, insisted publishers should "sit down once a day and pray to thank Steve Jobs that he is saving the publishing industry," as the iPad is "what we were all waiting for" (Brauck). Even an opposing argument acknowledges the iPad’s relevance as a powerful shift in media: “the iPad might not be the savior of publishing…but it is certainly a growing vehicle for reaching large numbers of people and potential readers” (Johnson).

In France, the iPad has proven commercially successful enough, and promising enough as an innovation, that competitors are rapidly entering the tablet market sector and plan on producing eBooks, therefore proving France is a viable market for this technology (Mussinelli). Fnac even introduced an iPad competitor in the FnacBook, produced by French technology company Sagem. This single product epitomizes France’s gradual adoption of digital publishing via the iPad because it is ‘French-made’. France knows French people best; if French companies are not only hopping on the iPad bandwagon, but are also immediately producing their own commercially successful versions, then there is clearly a market for such technology and a widespread acceptance of it. Gone are the days when cultural pride or bias could trigger a reluctance in accepting foreign technological innovations, and prevent an entire society from advancing. Like the initially rejected Internet the iPad is culturally alien, of Anglo-Saxon influence, and novel and superior, yet it has been eagerly greeted in France. France still has a long way to go with regards to its complete adoption of digital publishing, however by simply not making the same mistake twice France ensured that this time it will not fall behind.

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