Ebook future

I just came across an article in the Wired(link) stating that Amazon will almost certainly unveil a new ebook reader with larger screen size. While the article goes on to talk about possible tablet device from Apple as being a heavy competiton on the ebook market compared to the text-centric ebook devices, my attention span more or less stopped with the mention of the new ebook device on the horizon. It’s not just a new ebook device that’s about to come out. It’s a larger screen ebook device specifically targeted at the academic textbook market. Apparently Amazon want a share of the 9.8 billion textbook market(link) (and that’s just U.S.), and I say it’s about time. I can still feel the phantom pain imposed on my back by years of carrying around textbooks that are heavy enough to be used as a decent weapon (and accroding to this picture many people agre with me:pic of someone hitting other with a book:game?). It would be great to be able to finally carry a bookbag that weighs less than the standard combat gear of most armed forces around the world.
I’ve been an avid ebook user ever since I learned about existence of those wonderful devices and the myriad of texts available on the web for free use, like the extensive collections in wikipedia(link), various blogs(link boingboing), and the project gutenberg(link). I had my first encounter with ebook devices a long time ago before Kindle made it cool to carry around ebook devices. In fact, as far as I know the ebook reader I use, the Sony Reader PRS-500 (wiki-link) might be the first dedicated ebook reader in North America that uses e-ink display. This device is certainly the oldest dedicated ebook reader device with e-ink display in North America (redundant) and it’s been a trust mobile library by my side for the past two or three years. Even before purchaing this dedicated ebook reader, however, I was using old discarded palm pilot devices (so old that they stil had this ‘volatile memory.’ It was a memory scheme used in palm devices before the advent of all-too-familiar flash memory. If the device ever ran out of power all the data stored on the device would be lost, thus the term ‘volatile memory’) to read ebooks on the go, most of them reformatted webages I made using a handy Palm utility program called ‘plucker’ that had a capability to turn any webpage/archive format into a palm-ready ebook. Later on I’ve also used my Nintendo DS as a dedicted ebook reader (instead of playing games like a good kid) burning multitude of memory cards with whole repository of text and HTML formatted ebooks I found through my sojourns on the net.
I love my paper books as much as anyone, of course. And even now, with my extensive ebook collection (most of them surprisingly DRM free) I always make a point of buying paper books now and then. Some people stock up on weapons and emergency supplies for the inevitable zombie apocalyse. I stock up on paper books for that one day when I won’t be able to recharge my digital book-reading devices anymore, and my vast library is lost within the magnetic patterns etched upon my external hard drives. However, there is an unavoidable allure to being able to carry around twenty to thirty books of my choosing in a slim and light package that weighs as much as my hard drive ipod. The fact that I’m a rather fast reader only adds to the attraction of ebooks and ebook readers. Before I came across ebooks how my luggage would be filled with books whenever I traveled far away from home, and I happen to travel often. It really made for quite a workout, carrying those bags all over the place. With ebooks, I just need to carry the little device and its charger for my casual reading needs, with a hardcover or two just for those tight spots when I’d need to study instead of read. Many people still debate the need for having a dedicated device for reading digitally formatted books, and they are right. having an ebook reader will not change your life if you don’t read in the first place. In that light dedicated ebook readers are certainly niche devices, intended for use by the relatively smaller portion of the population would would buy books through digital distribution channel and who would be willing to pay for a device that goes into the hundreds of dollars just to be able to read more. The two things I’ve just mentioned might sound insignificant hurdles to most people who consider themselves to be internet savvy, but when we think of the reading population as a whole whose members come from various walks of life and are at various stages of life, those are some significant barriers for entry to the ebook world. Yet Amazon’s Kindle demonstrated clearly what a few dedicated gadget community members knew all along. People actually read, and many of them are willing to pay to support their habbit, as the multi-billion dollar publishing industry would attest (and this is just in U.S., and quite frankly, this isn’t the most reading-intensive country in the world).
Reading the article from the Wired, and listening to conversations related to ebooks on and off the net, the ebook question seem to be moving from ‘will people bother to read on machines’ to ‘will people bother to purchase dedicated readng machines.’ This is a good sign I think. The market’s beginning to awknowledge that people are willing to take time to read things and even (gasp) pay for them, which means larger selection of stuff to read and things to read that stuff on in the future. However, the answer to the question of whether we need to have an ebook reader instead of making people read on their cellphones is a thorny one. It’s a question of how far people are willing to go to support their reading lifestyle. How many people are willing to cough up close to $400 for a dedicated ebook reader that you will later have to pay more to load content onto it? When we simply look at the Kindle as the only ebook reader of choice, the answer is obvious. Not so much. I’m a self-confessed ebook enthusiast who regularly dig through the net for that obscure script to traslate microsoft proprietary LIT format to Sony proprietary BBeB format. But even I am not willing (or rather, able) to pay more than a month’s living expense on student budget to buy an ebook device. So are dedicated ebook platforms doomed? Not quite. We must remember that there are still myriad of companies out there that manufactures cheaper ebook devices, some of them more hgih profile then others (Sony isn’t a low profile company). Add to them the quirky yet ambitious enterpreneurs of the East, who seem to be jumping into any and all kinds of electronics market with vigor and goods of varying qualities. I got my own Sony PRS-500 for about $50 dollars in a promotional offer. I get most of my reading materials purchased through limited DRM free channels or through public domain, and they usually don’t cost much, certainly not as much as their printed cousins. Unlike what people think, ebook reading devices themselves aren’t really that expensive. Dedicated ebook device is basically an electronic device with two features. E-ink display capable of displaying basic HTML-like formatting along with a few more conventional formats like PDF, and a cable to connect it to a computer so the end user can load content into it. Simply put, it’s a glorified USB thumbdrive with big E-ink screen along with some buttons. While Amazon’s Kindle is a notch or two above the rest with its fancy whispernet technology and over the air delivery system, those things are not absolutely necessary to an ebook device. I mean, these devices are capable of holding 20~30 ebooks each going a few thousand pages. You probably don’t have to constantly buy new content before you go home from wherever you are at the moment (besides, if you can chug through that much content before you get to a computer with internet and USB connection you deserve to buy yourself a $400 reading device). The real issue that will either make or break the future of ebooks is not with introducing newer devices with more features (though I would certainly like to see existing feature set get better), but with software. The DRMS and ebook formats. I can manage quite a different number of file formats and DRMed formats on my single PRS-500 device only because of the collective action of the volunteer ebook community, some of whom managed to code indispensable piece of cross-format software like libre(link). Many people can’t. DRM leads to limited distribution, since investing in DRM of a specific platform or corporation means that you trust that platform or corporation to exist ten or twenty years from the date of your book purchse. Which is prepsetrous to anyone with a working mind. Average lifetime of a corporation in America is about ten or fifteen years (cite:link), and that’s assuming they are successful, and that they will continue to maintain and support whatever the DRM scheme they came up with up until the very last moment. You can browse through your old books ten and twenty years from now on, and your children and children’s children will be able to read or sell those books send hand, ensuring certain degree of propagation of the written content. With DRMed books, it’s highly unlikely for your own children to be able to access your book, and whether you yourself will be able to read your favorite passage years from now will be decided by a boardroom composed of people who don’t know you and quite possibly don’t care whether you want to read or not. Even when we don’t consider faraway scenario like this, the dangers posed by DRM on the general propagation ebook into larger market is obvious, owing to the simple fact that DRMed ebooks will impose limits upon its own market and distribution. The first thing most people encounter whenever they browse to an ebook store that is’t Amazon is this: Name of the book:LIT, PDF, BBeB, MOBI and etc etc… When users somehow manages to find the book they want to purchase (despite the severely limited selection in most of those stores) they are faced with multitude of options as to the format of the book, most of them incompatible with each other. From what I know of people who are not familiar with ebook formats, this is the step when most of them will just give up and go buy a paper book in local bookstore for only slightly more, or maybe even less than the DRMed digital copy if the user knows how to shop around on ebay. Even larger scale distributor like the Amazon, with its almighty capacity to push their own content into their own platforms, is basically playing in an uneven field. the reality is that people will inevitably ask questions about the future of their books and all Amazon can do is to cross their fingers and wish that doesn’t happen anytime soon. Limiting their own source of income and praying for only good things to happen in the future is not a valid business strategy.
The valid business strategy in near future would be to get rid of the DRM scheme entirely. For everyone. Even giant like Amazon is hedging for uncertain bet with DRM restriction in their ebooks. Smaller distributors like Sony ebook store doesn’t stand a chance. Just sell ebooks like you sell books. Let the market grow and let more people get hooked on using ebooks on ebook reader devices. There are cellphones and laptops, sure. But the reality is that they don’t comapre to dedicated ebook readers in terms of providing a valid reading experience. Cellphones are supposed to make calls and laptops are for computing, and no one will burn out their batteries on those devices and risk their bill-paying work just to read more books. Once the quantity and quality of DRM free ebooks reach a critical mass there will be cheaper ebook readers on the market. That’s the time for Amazon to introduce their new and improved Kindlets. Why go for generic, cheap ebook reader when you can get the same content on far better machine with awesome battery with life-saving features and innovative interface? Only way to achieve this end with DRM still in the picture would be to either open Amazon DRM specifications to other manufacturers which defeats the purpose of having a DRM in the first place, or having a unified standard DRM for all publishers/distributors that’s compatible across variety of devices. That would require deal making and engineering of ungodly devotion, and I doubt even Amazon will be able to pull it off on their own, especially considering that there are markets outside of U.S. as well, especially when it comes to reading materials both traditional books and ebooks.

I just came across an article in the Wired stating that Amazon will almost certainly unveil a new ebook reader with larger screen size. While the article goes on to talk about possible tablet device from Apple as being a heavy competition on the ebook market compared to the text-centric ebook devices, my attention span more or less stopped with the mention of the new ebook device on the horizon. It’s not just a new ebook device that’s about to come out. It’s a larger screen ebook device specifically targeted at the academic textbook market. Apparently Amazon want a share of the 9.8 billion textbook market (and that’s just U.S.), and I say it’s about time. I can still feel the phantom pain imposed on my back by years of carrying around textbooks that are heavy enough to be used as a decent weapon. It would be great to be able to finally carry a book-bag that weighs a lot less than the standard combat gear.

I’ve been an avid ebook user ever since I learned about existence of those wonderful devices and the myriad of texts available on the web for free use, like the extensive collections in wikipedia, various blogs, and the project gutenberg. I had my first encounter with ebook devices a long time ago before Kindle made it cool to carry around ebook devices. In fact, as far as I know the ebook reader I use, the Sony Reader PRS-500 might be the first dedicated ebook reader in North America that uses e-ink display. This ebook reader  had been a trusted mobile library by my side for the past two or three years. Even before purchaing this dedicated ebook reader, however, I was using old discarded palm pilot devices (so old that they stil had this ‘volatile memory.’ It was a memory scheme used in palm devices before the advent of all-too-familiar flash memory. If the device ever ran out of power all the data stored on the device would be lost, thus the term ‘volatile memory’) to read ebooks on the go, most of them reformatted webages I made using a handy Palm utility program called ‘plucker’ with ability to turn any webpage/archive format into a palm-ready ebook. Later on I’ve also used my Nintendo DS as a dedicated ebook reader (instead of playing games like a good kid) burning multitude of memory cards with whole repository of text and HTML formatted ebooks I found through my sojourns on the net.

I love my paper books as much as anyone, of course. And even now, with my extensive ebook collection (most of them surprisingly DRM free) I always make a point of buying paper books now and then. Some people stock up on weapons and emergency supplies for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. I stock up on paper books for that one day when I won’t be able to recharge my digital book-reading devices anymore, and my vast library is lost within the magnetic patterns etched upon my external hard drives. However, there is an unavoidable allure to being able to carry around twenty to thirty books of my choosing in a slim and light package that weighs as much as my hard drive ipod. The fact that I’m a rather fast reader only adds to the attraction of ebooks and ebook readers. Before I came across ebooks how my luggage would be filled with books whenever I traveled far away from home, and I happen to travel often. It really made for quite a workout, carrying those bags all over the place. With ebooks, I just need to carry the little device and its charger for my casual reading needs, with a hardcover or two just for those tight spots when I’d need to study instead of read. Many people still debate the need for having a dedicated device for reading digitally formatted books, and they are right. having an ebook reader will not change your life if you don’t read in the first place. In that light dedicated ebook readers are certainly niche devices, intended for use by the relatively smaller portion of the population would would buy books through digital distribution channel and who would be willing to pay for a device that goes into the hundreds of dollars just to be able to read more. The two things I’ve just mentioned might sound insignificant hurdles to most people who consider themselves to be internet savvy, but when we think of the reading population as a whole whose members come from various walks of life and are at various stages of life, those are some significant barriers for entry to the ebook world. Yet Amazon’s Kindle demonstrated clearly what dedicated gadget community members knew all along. People actually read, and many of them are willing to pay to support their habit, as the multi-billion dollar publishing industry would attest (and this is just in U.S., and quite frankly, we aren’t the most reading-intensive country in the world).

Reading the article from the Wired, and listening to conversations related to ebooks on and off the net, the ebook question seem to be moving from ‘will people bother to read on machines’ to ‘will people bother to purchase dedicated reading machines.’ This is a good sign I think. The market’s beginning to acknowledge that people are willing to take time to read things and even (gasp) pay for them, which means larger selection of stuff to read and things to read that stuff on in the future. However, the answer to the question of whether we need to have an ebook reader instead of making people read on their cellphones is a thorny one. It’s a question of how far people are willing to go to support their reading lifestyle. How many people are willing to cough up close to $400 for a dedicated ebook reader that you will later have to pay more to load content onto it? When we simply look at the Kindle as the only ebook reader of choice, the answer is obvious: not so much. I’m a self-confessed ebook enthusiast who regularly dig through the net for that obscure script to translate Microsoft proprietary LIT format to Sony proprietary BBeB format. Yet even I am not willing (or rather, able) to pay more than a month’s living expense on student budget to buy an ebook device. So are dedicated ebook platforms doomed? Not quite. We must remember that there are still myriad of companies out there that manufactures cheaper ebook devices, some of them more hgih profile then others (Sony isn’t a low profile company). Add to them the quirky yet ambitious enterpreneurs of the East, who seem to be jumping into any and all kinds of electronics market with vigor and goods of varying qualities. I got my own Sony PRS-500 for about $50 dollars in a promotional offer. I get most of my reading materials purchased through limited DRM free channels or through public domain, and they usually don’t cost much, certainly not as much as their printed cousins. Unlike what people think, ebook reading devices themselves aren’t really that expensive. Dedicated ebook device is basically an electronic device with two features. E-ink display capable of displaying basic HTML-like formatting along with a few more conventional formats like PDF, and a cable to connect it to a computer so the end user can load content into it. Simply put, it’s a glorified USB thumbdrive with big E-ink screen along with some buttons. While Amazon’s Kindle is a notch or two above the rest with its fancy whispernet technology and over the air delivery system, those things are not absolutely necessary to an ebook device. I mean, these devices are capable of holding 20~30 ebooks each going a few thousand pages. You probably don’t have to constantly buy new content before you go home from wherever you are at the moment (besides, if you can chug through that much content before you get to a computer with internet and USB connection you deserve to buy yourself a $400 reading device). The real issue that will either make or break the future of ebooks is not with introducing newer devices with more features (though I would certainly like to see existing feature set get better), but with software- the DRMS and ebook formats. I can manage quite a different number of file formats and DRMed formats on my single PRS-500 device only because of the collective action of the volunteer ebook community, some of whom managed to code indispensable piece of cross-format software like calibre. Many people can’t. DRM leads to limited distribution, since investing in DRM of a specific platform or corporation means that you trust that platform or corporation to exist ten or twenty years from the date of your book purchase. That is preposterous to anyone with working mind. Average lifetime of a corporation in America is about ten or fifteen years, and that’s assuming they will continue to maintain and support whatever the DRM scheme they came up with up until the very last moment. You can browse through your old books ten and twenty years from now on, and your children and children’s children will be able to read or sell those books send hand, ensuring certain degree of propagation of the written content. With DRMed books, it’s highly unlikely for your own children to be able to access your book, and whether you yourself will be able to read your favorite passage years from now will be decided by a boardroom composed of people who don’t know you and quite possibly don’t care whether you want to read or not. Even when we don’t consider faraway scenario like this, the dangers posed by DRM on the general propagation ebook into larger market is obvious, owing to the simple fact that DRMed ebooks will impose limits upon its own market and distribution. The first thing most people encounter whenever they browse to an ebook store that isn’t Amazon is this: Name of the book:LIT, PDF, BBeB, MOBI and etc etc… When users somehow manages to find the book they want to purchase (despite the severely limited selection in most of those stores) they are faced with multitude of options as to the format of the book, most of them incompatible with each other. From what I know of people who are not familiar with ebook formats, this is the step when most of them will just give up and go buy a paper book in local bookstore for only slightly more, or maybe even less than the DRMed digital copy if the user knows how to shop around on eBay. Even larger scale distributor like the Amazon, with its almighty capacity to push their own content into their own platforms, is basically playing in an uneven field. the reality is that people will inevitably ask questions about the future of their books and all Amazon can do is to cross their fingers and wish that doesn’t happen anytime soon. Limiting their own source of income and praying for only good things to happen in the future is not a valid business strategy.

The valid business strategy in near future would be to get rid of the DRM scheme entirely. For everyone. Even giant like Amazon is hedging for uncertain bet with DRM restriction in their ebooks. Smaller distributors like Sony ebook store doesn’t stand a chance. Just sell ebooks like you sell books. Let the market grow and let more people get hooked on using ebooks on ebook reader devices. There are cellphones and laptops, sure. But the reality is that they don’t compare to dedicated ebook readers in terms of providing a valid reading experience. Cellphones are supposed to make calls and laptops are for computing, and no one will burn out their batteries on those devices and risk their bill-paying work just to read more books. Once the quantity and quality of DRM free ebooks reach a critical mass there will be cheaper ebook readers on the market. That’s the time for Amazon to introduce their new and improved Kindlets. Why go for generic, cheap ebook reader when you can get the same content on far better machine with awesome battery with life-saving features and innovative interface? Only way to achieve this end with DRM still in the picture would be to either open Amazon DRM specifications to other manufacturers which defeats the purpose of having a DRM in the first place, or having a unified standard DRM for all publishers/distributors that’s compatible across variety of devices. That would require deal making and engineering of ungodly devotion, and I doubt even Amazon will be able to pull it off on their own, especially considering that there are markets outside of U.S. as well, especially when it comes to reading materials both traditional books and ebooks. The market is moving on, and publishers should move along with it instead of trying to hold back the tide.

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