This year has been predicted to be the year of the ebooks, when the ebooks would go mainstream. I think it’d really happen (at least in the US), but if we want a long term result we need to converge on formats.
There are way too many e-readers out there with their own proprietary formats, each one incompatible with the others: Apple with .ibooks and .epub, Amazon with .mobi, Barnes and Nobles with .epub and others) - with a very few exceptions (.pdf).
How to innovate
The first step is to find a standard which is not controlled by one company, it has to be the standard and_every device must _be able to open it1.
Then a proper e-readed should not only provide a great reading experience, it also has to be much better than paper books to convince most of the aficionados who are still reading hardcover books to make the final switch.
Amazon has reached a very high standpoint with the kindle, which provide a built in dictionary, bookmarks, notes and a great sync feature .
That’s one of the key feature that must be implemented on this new format as readers wanna be able to read from every device they own and they expect them to sync the reading position (and as the race to the cloud has already begun)xxxx. It needs to be simple and it has to ‘just works’ as it does with the kindle.
E Ink VS Retina Display
Another key point of a reading device is the screen.
The fight between eink and retina display has started since the retina display came out on the iPhone 4 in 2010.
(Here I’m making the assumption that the next iPad would have a retina display)
Both of them has its advantage and disvantages. The retina display has so many pixels that you can’t distinguish one from another, but you can clearly see that it’s a digital screen.
The eink display seems a real printed page, but it’s not backlightened.
I think it’s all a question of needs. If you need a device for browsing the web that is also capable of being a good ereader take the iPad.
If you really want an ultimate reading experience with no distractions pick up the kindle.
Update: Few days ago Apple has rejected a book by Seth Godin only because it contained a link to Amazon:
I just found out that Apple is rejecting my new manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams and won’t carry it in their store because inside the manifesto are links to buy the books I mention in the bibliography.
Quoting here from their note to me, rejecting the book: “Multiple links to Amazon store. IE page 35, David Weinberger link.”
And there’s the conflict. We’re heading to a world where there are just a handful of influential bookstores (Amazon, Apple, Nook…) and one by one, the principles of open access are disappearing. Apple, apparently, won’t carry an ebook that contains a link to buy a hardcover book from Amazon.
Gruber agreed with Apple saying that everyone would have done the same thing, but even if it was right, that’s not an excuse. It’s a wrong behaviour, I agree with Marco Arment this time. If you go to a physic bookstore you can find book published by anyone, no matter if you’re in a Mondadori store or in a Feltrinelli one (two publishers in Italy).
Another huge deal, expecially for indipendent writers is the .99$ pricepoint, the price most indipent authors’ books (on kindle singles) are sold.
The problem with it is that it’s not enough to run a business if you only sell 100 books (or even less) - and this is the average for an indipendent writer.
Another problem with it is that once a customer get used to a lower price point it’d be difficult. For example if we consider the Appstore where .99$ apps are everywhere people are reckless to buy more expensive app (prices at 5/10 bucks), but even worst they are also reckless to buy those .99 apps because there are many free apps and then they buy a 4$ coffee at the Starbucks just around the corner.
The test of time
The biggest challenge for the digital content would be the future, to keep up with the test of time. Paintings can eaten away by humidity or other difficult conditions, but digital data stays forever unless the hard drive fails. But we solved that too with backups years ago.
The only friction that remains is the format of this informations, if they’re stored as plain text we can be sure that even decades from now they’ll still be available, but if they’re stored in a proprietary format we have no guarantees. We might wake up one day not able to open up the pictures of our 10th birthday - another reason to unify all the differtent formats.
Talking more deeply of books, now i have my physical library with hundreds of books and i can access them anytime (but not anywhere); my digital library is on my kindle app on amazon’s servers, they can be access anywhere at anytime, but i don’t own them, there is no guarantees that amazon will provide this same service 20 years from now.
The Internet Archive’s first target is to create a physical archive to preserve paper copies of every book ever made, impressive.
The government of Canada has also tried to digitalise its national history; this effort is failing, but it was a good try.
The matter will become more and more relevant while we shift everything from analogic/physical into digital. When the time comes we have to be ready.
If you want to read more on this check these out:
- The New York Times has a deep insight on the archives.
- If you want to read more on “Paper Books VS ebooks” from an objective source you should read thisgreat article on the verge.
Now it seems they’re focusing on .epubs, but it has to be adopted by every single company in the market to become a standard, expecially by Amazon and Apple. ↩