If:book has always been pretty hard on ebook readers. Ben Vershbow’s recent analysis of the Sony Reader is no exception.
In many ways, Ben’s analysis is right on target. Ebooks need to be more than just electronic versions of print books. After all, print books do a fine job — in many ways, a better job — than ebooks at delivering page after page of text. Other than scholars, who might appreciate their searchability and the option of carrying many books in a small package, who would prefer one of these imitation books to the real thing?
To be worthwhile, and especially to be worth the premium they cost over standard books, ebooks need to offer more than standard books. The problem for publishers, of course, is that they were hoping ebooks would save them money on printing and warehousing. Now they’re going to have to offer more? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? But if publishers are serious about cutting costs, they’re going to have to do more than ask consumers to pay more for less useful products.
I’ve mentioned before that I thought the ideal ebook would include both audiobook and text versions of the same book. That way, you could seamlessly move from listening to an audiobook in your car to reading the same book in your living room. Sure, you can listen to audiobooks in your living room, too, but I’ve always found that felt a little weird. When I’m listening to an audibook, I always feel like I should be doing something else, too.
There also needs to be a better way to handle DRM. The whole advantage of ebooks is supposed to be that you can move them from your computer to your car to your backpack, again, seamlessly.
I’m a little less cynical than Ben about the future of ebooks, but I do agree on one thing. They’ve got a long way to go before they’ll see widespread adoption.