Have you noticed that while book scans are as abundant on file sharing networks as other media, people in publishing industry are not really crying that much about piracy? Ok, I take that back – they do cry about it, but only when we bring up the subject of E-books or book scanning projects (like Google Books for example). Then they get as silly as movie and music distributors. I’m not sure why though.
At the moment the Book publishing industry is in the comfy area where their product is “tastiest” in it’s papery, physical analog form. Frankly speaking, e-books suck. There are many reasons for this – and only some are technology related.
For example, what is the best e-book file format out there? It seems that everyone has their own proprietary one tied to a single platform with some custom DRM attached to it. Some people distribute things in PDF format but they usually don’t bother to format the text for screen reading. Most PDF’s are designed for printing, and thus use letter sized pages which force you to scroll up and down. Personally I’m partial towards the Microsoft LIT format used by the Microsoft Reader. The format is designed for screen reading (no scrolling or zooming necessary), has built in bookmarks, highlighting and notes features. It re-pages your book based on screen size, so it still looks good on a PDA. And the files are relatively small. But the format is proprietary and only supported by Microsoft which means you wouldn’t be able to use it on your iPhone or a non-windows based reader.
Second problem is that no one really knows how to use e-books which is more of a behavioral issue. When do people usually read? In most cases it’s not when they are sitting at their computer desk. They read in their bed, in a bathtub, on the toilet, on a train/bus, on the beach, in the park, on their lunch break in the cafeteria and etc.. And it so happens that these places are actually less than perfect environments for a laptop or an electronic reader. Who is going to take their $400 Kindle or a $200 PDA into bathtub with them? Or on the beach? Until we get a reader that is very robust, very portable and very cheap, the paper books will be immensely more practical.
Besides, ask any bibliophile what he thinks about e-books and he will start waxing poetic about the sublime textile experience of actually holding a book. People enjoy silly things like the feel and smell of the book – the way you crack open a brand new volume, or the way the very old book bears marks left by previous owners. Without knowing it publishers have been capitalizing on one of Kevin Kelly’s 8 generatives: the embodiment factor.
Scanned books are abundant on file sharing networks, but despite that fact people keep buying paper versions because they are just better, more practical and nicer to handle. Personally I have several scanned in books in pDF format sitting on my hard drive – most of them are old RPG rulebooks that are long out of print now. I hardly read any of them because the are just so impractical. I also have bunch of novels downloaded from bunch of places on the internet. I don’t think I have read any of them in the digital format though. I had bunch of stuff by Cory Doctorow but I ended up buying most of it mostly because I wanted to support the guy (patronage is btw, another one of the 8 generatives). I had Card’s Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers by Heinlen in LIT format on my PDA back in the day, but at one point I just gave up and went and bought the books. Reading from my crappy DELL Axim was not a great experience.
A paper book (be it hardcover or paperback) simply provides the average customer with more value than an e-book. This is just how it is for now. This is precisely how you make money in the digital era – you provide your customer with tangible added value on top of the easily digitized data. E-books may be easy to copy, but they are not a real threat to the publishing industry, and they won’t be one for quite some time yet.
[tags]e-books, ebooks, books, publishing, kindle, ebook reader, microsoft reader, lit, copyright[/tags]