Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday '07

Well, it's the annual assault against poor store workers--many of whom are having to work obscenely long shifts this very day; all in the name of capitalism. Now don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of capitalism, but I'd rather have slept in myself.

All that's neither here nor there at the moment though, because Amazon's recent high-profile release of the Kindle has my mind on other things. Namely the concepts of an e-book reader.

Personally, I like the concept of e-books. I like the thought that I could carry my library around with me, without lugging around a few hundred pounds of paper (and yes, that's a highly conservative estimate). At the same time, I love the feel of traditional books in hand. That said, if there was a decent e-book reader I don't think I wouldn't mind purchasing at least some of the many, many books I read as e-books.

Now, Princess, when you read this, note that I said some. I would still want to buy the occasional real, physical novel, as there's something to be said about holding a book, that I doubt an e-book reader will ever catch up on.

But the Kindle has problems. First, it's tightly tied into the Amazon's Kindle purchasing system. Sure, they open up a few extra formats (HTML, Text) that you can shove a file onto the machine and be able to read, but that's just not good enough. Second, is the main reason why I've not looked harder at e-book readers in the past: my collection is in hard copy.

Consider all those folks out there with iPods; actually, let's just consider my wife. I got her an iPod for Christmas last year. It's what she wanted, and today she has hundreds of songs on the thing. Yet, how many did she purchase off of iTunes? 5? Maybe 10? Rather, she spent weeks sitting at the PC ripping all those CDs that we had. She took her physical copy of the music she had already purchased and digitized it for use on her music player. In effect, it replaced her old Discman, and saved her the hassle of actually carrying discs.

I want that capability for my book collection.

In my opinion, there's a few things that are needed for a e-book reader to truly work:

  • It's a pretty book, but how much is it? The Kindle Store's $10 price point for an electronic novel is too expensive. Sure, I understand that you've got to pay the cover artist, the editors and the author, but that $7.99 paperback pays all those people, and I get a real, physical object as well. Try something more along the lines of a per-word basis: 3 cents per 1000 words would put a 150K word novel at about $4.50 while a 50K word novel (something the size of Catcher in the Rye) would be $1.50.
  • My collection; my precious collection. This one is near and dear to my heart. There needs to be some way that all of us with physical copies of our novels can get an electronic version of those novels. I don't want to have to purchase a copy of a book, just to use it on this device. I know my wife doesn't want me to.
  • Hardcopy v. E-Copy! The fight of the season!. Which is better? Why make us choose? Give us an electronic copy of the book when you buy a hardcopy. Do note, that I didn't say to go the other way though.
  • DRM is the 3v1l!!1! I think just about everyone but the RIAA & MPAA have realized by now that DRM is pretty much useless. It will always be cracked, broken and ignored by those who want to do that thing, and in the end just creates hassles for those users who legitimately use whatever is hiding under DRM. It's always a bad business model to attack your customers; which is what DRM effectively is. In the end, I want my library to be mobile. I don't want to have to re-purchase my entire library if I switch between the Sony reader and Amazon's reader. If there's DRM involved, I'll probably just keep with my hard copys thank you.
  • I need my Wi-Fi. I want wireless syncing, over the internet between my PC and multiple e-book readers. I leave novels laying about the house. They're in the living room, beside the bed, under the couch cushions, in my desk drawer, in my truck, and in the bathroom. It's how I read. I go from book to book, based upon my current location. Why would that change because I now have electronic books? I could see me having a reader in various rooms and want to be able to access my library from pretty much anywhere. After all, the device's memory is finite, and I don't want to be caught in the bathroom without reading material.
  • Easy, breezy, nice-n-easy. Ease of use is a requirement. The device needs to be easy to set up, easy to read, easy to scroll through pages, easy to add books to the device, easy to purchase new content. Everything about it needs to be aimed at being easy for the user. If it takes me more than 5 steps to do a task, then I'm already bored and will have picked up a hard copy of my book.
  • Stop, drop and roll! I have two boys. One's just about 5 and the other is 1. They're rough on consumer electronics. Yet, they both have also inherited my love of books. In fact just the other day, we sat on my eldest son's bed, I was reading Cell, my eldest was reading Dick and Jane and the youngest was flipping through Goodnight Moon. Any e-book reader I get will HAVE to stand up to being picked up and tossed about by a child. They will see me staring at the device a lot, therefore they will want to look at it too.
  • Children are the future. Speaking of children, they are the future. To get true, wide-spread acceptance, children need to be raised using the things. That means, Fisher Price needs to be out there, and put out a toddler's e-book device that can be truly abused (above and beyond the occasional throwing described in the bullet above). Additionally, the reader will need to be able to display colored picture books for them as well. After all, what's the point of reading Where the Wild Things Are if it doesn't have the pretty color pictures?
  • Textbooks are boring. Finally, one needs to get wholesale acceptance of the university presses. College textbooks are heavy, arcane tomes, that cost way too much. Turning them into e-books alleviates so much of that. Additionally, that filters down throughout the entire schooling process. How much money could schools save, by requiring every student to have one of these things (which could be used over multiple years) and then just hand out e-books? Think about it. A textbook is on average $100. Every year, a student gets 5-7 textbooks to read through. For 1st through 12th grade that's around 70 school books. If an e-copy of a textbook is $20, that's $1400 for books for that student. Compared to say $3000 for textbooks associated to a student (on the theory that textbooks are replaced every 4 years, meaning a student has 30 "new" books associated to him and "40" used books depreciating). Sure it may not be as cut-and-dry as all that, but I have no doubt there would be a costs savings.
Now, I just have to wonder if I'm just trading in a bit of speculative fiction here myself. Are these things just pipe dreams? Probably. But there was a time when cell phones and color television were considered pipe dreams. Besides, SF authors are taking a proactive approach to determining what type of business model will exist in the future for novels, and have opened up a wiki in order to facilitate discussion on that.

Gotta love SF authors, they're always thinking.

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