Originally Posted by Brian
While I agree with many of his points, I would argue that as people become more accustomed to consuming digital content online, a trend that is leading to declining newspaper and magazine circulation, e-books and digital magazines are on the verge of going mainstream.
This is nowhere near on the verge. I say that for a couple of reasons, which I'll explore by analogy.
Music was an easy transition to digital downloads and portable players. Think about it: you *always* had to have an electronic device to listen to music that wasn't played live in front of you. (And even then...) You always had to turn something on to play your 78/45/33/open reel/cassette/CD. Playing tunes on your computer is just another variation on a theme, and a portable music player is just another variation of a walkman that people already knew and were comfortable with.
People have never had to have electricity to read a book, except after dark. It's relatively permenant. You can read a book published 100 years ago without having to worry about whether or not the file format is obsolete or will play on your current device. Books have an insanely high resolution. They handle color and black and white graphics with ease. Near-instant random access. Just open the cover, and look.
Think about newspaper and magazines and two factors show why web content is hurting them. First, the content usually has a relatively short shelf-life. Secondly, the content comes in small bites. A magazine article is rarely more than a few thousand words. The shortcomings of reading at a computer are irrelevant given the nature and time involved.
I doubt you're going to see anything approaching mainstream acceptance of electronic texts until two things happen. First, you need an ubiquitous file format that takes that issue out of the equation. In the music world we do have ogg vs mp4 vs wma, but to the mainstream its all mp3 and that is an effective baseline, the least common denominator. Everything can play it.
Second, you need an iPod. You need a device with a high battery life, that is easy to use, weighs little, and doesn't get in the way. The screen has to be big enough to be comfortable to read.
Once those two are in place, you need the missing link, which is something like iTunes Music Store.
The big chink in this scenario is this: if you already have music content, converting it to work on your portable music player is a non-event.
Converting you existing books and magazines into an electronic format is a real pain. Even some commercial publishers have trouble doing it properly. It takes time and effort, which consumers won't spend.
Even if all this is wrong, I'll throw one last comparison out there. Portable music players solved a problem: I want to listen to my tunes in my car. In the park. On the beach. In my office. They solve this problem in a big way.
EBooks doesn't solve a problem for most people. They can already take their books to the park, the beach, the office, and unfortunately in their car. People don't need to carry 1,000 books in their pocket because it takes more than 3.5 minutes to read one. While some people do have four or five books going all at the same time, most people I know read one or two at a time.
A lot of people will disagree with me here, but I ask the e-book pundits this: what is your personal driver for eBooks? Are you using the technology to solve a real problem (to answer that, think about what you would do differently if ebooks did not exist at all), or is it really just that the technology is enticing for its own sake?
(I can plead guilty to that.)