Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
The future of eBooks
Published on November 21, 2007 By Draginol In Books

I just got back from the future in my time machine. Lots of cool stuff and not so cool stuff too.

But one of the things that surprised me was how eBooks ended up succeeding in ways one didn't expect and failed utterly in the areas it was expected to do well in.

It all started with the Kindle.  The Kindle was the first mainstream (seriously mainstream) attempt to get eBooks going.  With Amazon getting behind it (just like the did the Segway incidentally) the Kindle became pretty successful in its time.  But in the end, it failed as a product once people concluded a few things about books:

  1. People like books (physically).
  2. The people who buy lots of books like to have them around.
  3. People like the share books.
  4. If you damage a book, you might be out a few bucks, damage Kindle and you're out $400.
  5. Books don't have idiotic DRM issues.
  6. Books are easy to hold and read (Kindle doesn't have enough text on screen).
  7. Books can be sized and have print designed for that book (Kindle is a one sized fits all solution).

I buy about 4 to 6 books per month. I spend a lot of time reading. I'm also a techie. I'm the ideal customer for the Kindle.  Besides the fact that the thing is ugly, overpriced, and can't even handle PDF's directly, it does have an important niche use: The ability to read many different things while traveling.

And ultimately, that's where eBooks will end up taking off.  In the future, people buy physical books still but they also get a license to the Kindle version (good for Kindle, its format becomes the standard -- Amazon gets rich off of licensing the format even as its device fails). 

So when you go on a trip, your iPhone G5 will have your Kindle books on it too that you can read while the physical book remains at home.  Which is nice since I don't have to drag with me 2 or 3 hard cover books (that's the problem with non-fiction books, they tend to be big hard covers).

But Kindle, as a device will fail. But once Amazon figures out how to sell Kindle content with the actual book for tiny extra fee, it will succeed as a format.


Comments (Page 1)
on Nov 21, 2007

While I hesitate to question your time machine I think it is the "for a tiny fee" that will continue to trip up endeavors like this. Business types dislike aiming for ecomonies of scale when the short term perceived "pay-off" could be be larger by charging higher fees. Of course, the endeavor fails at that point and that short-term payoff never materializes.

 

This is why NBC stupidly decides it would rather foot the whole bill for a poorly designed video download service for it's mediocre TV shows over a dispute with Apple concerning a difference of $1 per show. They went for the short term pay-off over the long term gain and in the end will get neither one.

 

I would love to believe that Amazon will be better about this, but I am a pessimist at heart. If they were that long-sighted they would have insisted the whole shebang be DRM free from the get-go.

on Nov 21, 2007

The biggest problem I've ever had with e-books have been a few: readability on the small screen without too much scrolling around; and digital rights management hassles that locked me into only being able to use a specific device, or a few specific devices, that keep me from easily moving the material from one device to another.

Lately I would say the problems (for me) relate to not having a more modern device (last device I considered and tried using e-books on was an older Windows Mobile PDA) that makes sense for such uses.  Yeah, I have a laptop with a nice widescreen, but it was basically a replacement for my home computer and with me not travelling so much, I just don't have the time to spend reading books on screen or even on paper.

on Nov 21, 2007
on Nov 21, 2007
A book-sized device that can do what a book can do?

Little-whip is right about the two advantages, however

1) doesn't apply to most people and probably not to paperback books anyway

2) there are only two places where I would want to read and don't have access to my computer (which can also display e-books): travelling and the loo. When travelling I rarely need more than one book, and if I do, it's probably a journey on which I carry my laptop and sit down, and I never needed a library in my loo in the past and will probably never need one in the future. If I require more than one book there, my biggest problem is probably not lack of reading material.
on Nov 21, 2007

there are only two places where I would want to read and don't have access to my computer (which can also display e-books): travelling and the loo. When travelling I rarely need more than one book, and if I do, it's probably a journey on which I carry my laptop and sit down, and I never needed a library in my loo in the past and will probably never need one in the future. If I require more than one book there, my biggest problem is probably not lack of reading material.

With acknowledgement to the Way Back machine (or is that Way Forward Peabody?), we have seen the future in the Star Trek movies.  These ebooks may be the way of the future, but as Leauki points out, there is not really any great advantages.  I think what will drive it is conservation.  When the cost of "printing" gets to the point that this way is cheaper. Electrons dont cost nearly as much as trees.

on Nov 21, 2007

I am just not sure what market need this product is trying to satisfy.

The more I look at Kindle, as a product, the worse it gets.

  1. You can subscribe to magazines like Time (that's good)
  2. But you can't buy just individual issues, you HAVE to subscribe (that's bad)
  3. The magazine selection is pretty good already (that's good)
  4. But the device only supports black and white (that's bad)
  5. It weighs about the same as a good (that's good)
  6. But it has a stupid big keyboard attached to it that is largely useless (that's bad)
  7. There could be a use for this for college text books (that's good)
  8. But you can't write or make notes in the books (that's bad)

But over and over, it's like there's a sense of petty greed going on here. Where so much of the device becomes interesting and useful at half the price. 

For instance, the magazine subscriptions are nearly the same as the paper magazine subscriptions even though the paper ones involve printing and mailing into their price and COLOR.

Like I said in the article, I could be talked into the device IF they had reasonable bundling deals -- I buy book X for N and I get the Kindle version for an extra couple bucks.    But no, I am expected to pay $400 for the device (That's a LOT of books) and then pay essentially full price for the Kindle book minus COGS (i.e. instead of paying $12 I pay $7, whoop).

 

on Nov 21, 2007

and then pay essentially full price for the Kindle book minus COGS (i.e. instead of paying $12 I pay $7, whoop).

It will change.  When?  Well, Star trek was 300+ years in the future. So I am not holding my breath.

on Nov 22, 2007
Here's another pro-ebook-point you missed:
- full text search!
I often find myself holding a 'real' book in my hand, trying to find a particular quote and wishing I could just Ctrl+F...

on Nov 22, 2007

- full text search!

now THAT is a selling point!

on Nov 22, 2007

now THAT is a selling point!

Not a $400 selling point. Maybe a $150 selling point.

 

 

on Nov 25, 2007
Not a $400 selling point. Maybe a $150 selling point.
I agree--WAIT--ala iPhone. But it's just another portable chit-chat device for unimportant matierial and then deleted.
on Nov 26, 2007

I was watching TNG on G4 last night.  They ran a streamer at the bottom that said Amazon had sold out of them in 4 hours on Black Friday.

But then a lot of people bought the Newton too!

on Nov 26, 2007
I was watching TNG on G4 last night. They ran a streamer at the bottom that said Amazon had sold out of them in 4 hours on Black Friday.


The thing never released was the number originally in stock. I think it was quite tiny or else they would have mentioned it.

False scarcity is the hot new sales tactic for tech. Best Buy has been testing out having sales guys walk out onto the sales floor announcing "the last Wii in stock!". It sells immediately and an hour or so later the same guy does the sam thing. Amazingly effective.


Since Amazon now says they won't have more in stock until the 17th it seems that this first bit was just a test production run.
on Nov 26, 2007
DRM-free, layout-free (IE, not formatted, so no problems with the layout not matching your screen), device-independent e-books. For less than the cost of a paperback book. That's what it will take to have ebooks "break out", IMHO.

And you can have it today - www.webscription.net. Also see http://www.baen.com/library/.

Baen books has been selling DRM-free ebooks since 2001 or 2002; and giving away books for almost that long. And, shockingly enough, making money at it. And they're doing it the same way our gracious host is - by not measuring piracy, but measuring sales.
on Nov 27, 2007

by not measuring piracy, but measuring sales.

 

Most business folks simply aren't able to grasp this simple concept. In their minds pirated copies of something equal lost sales on a 1:1 basis.

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