California, however you look at it, appears screwed right now. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report had a few laughs over the state's predicament, but the truth remains that the people and government really painted themselves into a corner. The government is unable, by law, to raise taxes, but due to the citizen referendum initiatives that are allowed by California law, the government is constantly checked when it tries to act to correct their situation. The state, the 9th largest economy in the world, is so crippled economically, that the recent drastic cuts to almost every sector of government spending look a lot like the drastic austerity measures New Zealand had to impose decades ago, from the mid-70s to the early 80s, just in order to survive.
While the news is bleak all around, at least one bright spot appeared this week. You see, the Governator, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, has decided to eliminate the $350 million that California spends every year on textbooks. Instead of carting thousands of tonnes of dead tree to the waiting hands of children every year, the California Department of Education will be providing e-book versions of the same texts.
It has not been determined what platform will be preferred, or whether there will be a single platform, since the e-reader demand whipped up by the millions of students in California school will probably outstrip the supply the e-readers of all formats nationwide. Are there a million Sony e-Readers lying about? The last I checked, Amazon Kindles were weeks behind demand, with Amazon scurrying to get the reader out to the market. So what, then? Will Arnold authorize the distribution of a million iPod touches?
It is a thorny question, and critics are right in saying that this move won't save money - initially. But over time, once the logistics are sorted out, this move will not only save the state hundreds of millions per year, but may very well revolutionize education, as well as change the face of the publishing industry.
Hyperbole, perhaps? Perhaps not. With a massive (read millions) market of e-reader users, used to reading on a electronic platform everyday, suddenly stepping onto the stage, the economics of publishing will change. That market will be coveted, and marketed to heavily. Instead of begging millions of children to walk into a book store once or twice a year, those millions of children will carry bookstores with them wherever they go, day in and day out.
Simply by making the devices ubiquitous, and forcing the students to utilize them in classroom after classroom, the idea of using an e-reader to read, just about anything, will no longer be a novelty. It will seem to be a normal, everyday activity. And not only a normal activity, but a comfortable and regular activity.
Reading could even become cool again.