mm133: Envisioning the Next Chapter for Electronic Books

September 8, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The concept of electronic books has always been promising, and never yet delivered in a practical, affordable form.

But, they keep trying:

nytimes

By BRAD STONE

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 5 — Technology evangelists have predicted the emergence of electronic books for as long as they have envisioned flying cars and video phones. It is an idea that has never caught on with mainstream book buyers.

Two new offerings this fall are set to test whether consumers really want to replace a technology that has reliably served humankind for hundreds of years: the paper book.

In October, the online retailer Amazon.com will unveil the Kindle, an electronic book reader that has been the subject of industry speculation for a year, according to several people who have tried the device and are familiar with Amazon’s plans. The Kindle will be priced at $400 to $500 and will wirelessly connect to an e-book store on Amazon’s site.

That is a significant advance over older e-book devices, which must be connected to a computer to download books or articles.

Also this fall, Google plans to start charging users for full online access to the digital copies of some books in its database, according to people with knowledge of its plans. Publishers will set the prices for their own books and share the revenue with Google. So far, Google has made only limited excerpts of copyrighted books available to its users.

Amazon and Google would not comment on their plans, and neither offering is expected to carve out immediately a significant piece of the $35-billion-a-year book business. But these new services, from two Internet heavyweights, may help to answer the question of whether consumers are ready to read books on digital screens instead of on processed wood pulp.

“Books represent a pretty good value for consumers. They can display them and pass them to friends, and they understand the business model,” said Michael Gartenberg, research director at Jupiter Research, who is skeptical that a profitable e-book market will emerge anytime soon.

The concept is wonderful: in a package the size of one book one could tote around an entire library.

The reality: this has not been a product that has rewarded early adopters.

Let me count the ways: Too big; too heavy; not sufficiently book-like in readability and “feel”; way too expensive.

But, electronics keep getting: smaller; lighter; more energy efficient; cheaper.

So, why no world-beater e-book yet?

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Envisioning the Next Chapter for Electronic Books – New York Times

Were MUDGE a road warrior, an e-book would be tempting. Indeed, the older of two official younger brothers of MUDGE, a globe-trotting road warrior if ever was (actually both brothers maintain 7-digit frequent flyer miles accounts — a way of life older-bro would run screaming away from), glommed onto the RocketBook (I’m recalling) a decade or so ago.

Wonderful concept; okay execution for the late 90s. Probably soon discarded.

But, we know that there are zillions of road warriors out there, but who else, really, is a potential consumer of these products, even should [too big; too heavy; not sufficiently book-like in readability and “feel”; way too expensive] get solved? Amazon’s “Kindle” seems like an optimized version of a tablet computer — again, the road warrior’s weapon of choice.

But, if I’m at home, or at the office, wouldn’t I rather open up a book or magazine, and read that black type on white paper?

Of course, what does it mean that so many people spend so much time reading on their computers?

It’s different. I consider this short-attention-span reading, provided by folks like yours truly, a short-attention-span writer.

(BTW, the younger of the aforesaid official younger brothers is said to be working on a novel — a long attention span feat well beyond MUDGE‘s capacity or ambitions. I’m impressed!)

Case in point: a favorite read, Gregg Easterbrook, writing as ESPN Page Two’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback, is good for 9,000 words per week during the NFL season. TMQ I print and read offline. It’s just more comfortable.

Is there potential value on the back end? Sure, in the same way that, in a perfect world, a fee for purchasing music on iTunes might be smaller for the buyer, and potentially more lucrative for the creator, since there’s less costly production and distribution between artist and consumer. Might. Sigh.

A way for writers to achieve readership without someone’s investment in the industrial revolution’s basically obsolete bricks and mortar of production, distribution and retailing?

Well, it’s called blogging. This nanocorner of the ‘Sphere just crossed 2,000 total lifetime (active for exactly four months today) hits. Obviously, and with my gratitude, a few loyal readers.

But more exposure than this curmudgeon ever expected to achieve in his short-attention-span writing career.

How would I look on paper? Certainly not worth the trees, even if paper is totally recyclable.

And how would Left-Handed Complement look on a “Kindle?” I wouldn’t spend $400-500 plus media fees to find out.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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