The future and e-books

There’s a really great article over at Gizmodo about e-books. I think it’s completely wrong, but it’s great to see that someone’s been doing some serious thinking about e-books.

Why is it wrong? Here’s a five-second summary of the article:

  • E-books haven’t been successful yet because there hasn’t been a really good e-book reader
  • Sony’s new Librie is a good e-book reader, but its arcane DRM has crippled it
  • Not all DRM is bad, and for e-books to be successful, DRM must be included
  • Once someone gets both DRM and the physical e-books right, e-books and print books will peacefully coexist for years to come

Here’s where I disagree. E-books combine two incredibly disruptive technologies: ease of distribution of information and ease of access to information. They add a third — the back-breaker: convenience. DRM cripples the first two. Sony’s Librie cripples the third as well by making books “disappear” two months after you “buy” them. I think e-book readers are going to be successful when they stop thinking of themselves as e-book readers. What people want is a powerful, portable, Web-surfing machine that’s easier on the eyes than a traditional computer interface.

Once people can carry around their Web browser as easily as they can a book, they will start to use the Web in ways they had never imagined. Instead of relying on those blue highway signs, they’ll find their favorite restaurants with the portable surfing device, on the road. They’ll sketch pictures and upload them to their private Web space. They’ll even start to use them to read longer, more involved texts: books. E-books will evolve the same way the Web itself has evolved. The first successful e-books will be amateur efforts, written by tinkerers just exploring the new medium. Next, classic, copyright-free texts will be transferred to the new format. Finally, gingerly, traditional publishers will get involved as they see the potential for their market to get sapped away by a bunch of amateurs. By this time, e-books will already have evolved into a new medium. Will people want e-books in 300-page chunks, the same way they like their novels? Probably not. Will they want pictures, or sound, or more interactivity than traditional books offer? Probably.

There’s no telling exactly what this new medium will look like, but there’s no doubt that it will not look like today’s traditional, published book. I’ll speculate more about it in a later article.

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2 Responses to The future and e-books

  1. Matt says:

    Yes, I agree completely. The industry keeps wanting to shove DRM down our throats, but the consumers are resisting and they’re damn right to do so. You know, what’s really hilarious about all this is that the industry could be going about this in a totally different way…

    Forget DRM–just make everything available in a non-protected format, but sell books/articles whatever on official websites. There are plenty of trained monkeys out there who would gladly pay $1-$20 for a books and things in order to get the “official” version from the “authorized source,” especially if they felt a sizable chunk of that investment would end up in the author’s pocket.

    I think what we’re seeing in the market is the start of a long and painful economic shift from depending on parent-funded kids and teens buying games/books/music (this group is now “stealing it”) to a morally trouble self-funded group who are sensibly trying to see that their favorite artists are properly supported.

    Here’s my rhetorical punch:

    Let the music and movie industry cause the next Civil War–the writing industry will GLADLY let young people “steal” their products–why? Because, for God’s sake, if a kid actually WANTS to read rather than listen to Gangsta Rap or watch bloated Hollywood FX fests, then for God’s sake let her READ!

  2. Pingback: Future of the Book

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