Sunday, October 19, 2008

Are eBooks Wise Dot Com?

Article written by Martyn Daniels and published in Bookseller Frankfurt Show Daily 16th October,2008

A Native American shaman friend, Duke Redbird, in the late 90s wanted to create a web site for debating new ideas. When confronted by a new idea he would simply ask the question ‘Is it wise?’

When the book-trade first started its digital journey, the internet was more of a dirt track than a super highway. It made sense to migrate to digital storage off line devices such as CDs. A few years later, we have the promised super highway and this offers the second digital opportunity for the ebook. We now have devices that are capable of holding hundreds of downloaded ebooks. You can access your library of hundreds of titles, anywhere and at anytime without even having to recharge the ereader for days. However we know that the current models will be upgraded and that the file you bought today is not guaranteed still to be readable, in say 10 years time. The business model was built on the existing physical ownership model, but unless one is a minimalist, a digital copy adds little to the décor! So why have we chosen to download, store and buy digital books via this model? Is it Wise? Is downloading the right approach and the logical business model?

The two platforms that are clearly dominating the digital market are the mobile and the laptop/notebook. What is interesting about these is that they are becoming permanently connected with WiFI broadband services. They both can do more today than any ereader and are becoming cheaper, faster and application rich. Who would have thought that the Blackberry would have many reaching for their pockets to scroll their emails? Who would have foreseen the dramatic take up of the laptop WiFi dongle or the uptake in WiFi deployment in schools, campus, business, leisure locations and even urban space? 3G services now can enable users to consume unlimited data and Smartphones are common.

We must now ask the obvious, how many devices do we need and when do we need them? Are you seriously going to work with a laptop in bag, mobile in pocket for personal use and a blackberry for corporate use and now an ereader under the arm? The acid test is the plane journey or holiday where you now have to often prioritise what you take, and don’t forget each comes with its own transformer and accessories!

An interesting opportunity from the current download ‘buy to own’ is ‘rent to read’. As libraries of works become permanently available why would you want to own digital books, which are hard to share and offer little other than convenience? Why not rent on demand? It doesn’t stop the consumer buying perpetual access, or a physical digital bundle; we merely question why you would buy a download that could be as obsolete as an 8 track in only a short time? The file could be read online with rich functionality, reference linking, multi media materials such as podcasts, videos and even games tied in. Imagine you want a quick read and log on via the mobile, you continue your read in a café via a laptop, then at a friends house via their PC and finally to bed with the physical book itself. The digital access control is not in the device but the centre making it friendlier.

If library can offer digital books for free, why buy them anyway? Now is that wise?

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