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Old 09-16-2005, 12:15 PM   #1
Brian
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E-books: Man's second-best friend

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." -- Groucho Marx

In an interesting article about e-books by Joshua Fruhlinger on the IBM developerWorks website, he uses this quote to start a discussion about how e-books are currently being accepted only by the early adopters, compares paper books with their digital equivalents, and raises several common criticisms of e-books:
  • E-books can be physically uncomfortable to read (whether you're sitting at a desk looking at a monitor or squinting at a tiny PDA screen).
  • They're not portable if you have to read them on a desktop computer; if you read them on a laptop or PDA, you can't read if you run out of power.
  • There's a number of often incompatible formats that the files come in.
  • And the user's ability to access the book's content is often restricted by various digital rights management technologies. (It's notable that the Baen Free Library, one of the more successful e-book outfits, gives away books that are DRM-free -- and, for that matter, free as in beer. I guess it's easy to be successful when you don't expect anyone to pay you!)

You can read the full article here.

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.
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Old 09-16-2005, 12:54 PM   #2
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I really like ebooks, but I think he has some valid points. Right now you can just buy a book or pick one up at a library and the trouble involved is primarily the trip. Trade that off with an ebook for pdas that requires a computer and internet connection, and the pda, and a charged battery, and knowledge of what books will work with your reader software, possible requirement of an online purchase and/or site registration and password to keep track of, debugging the problem if it doesn't go smoothly, etc.

For a geek like me, all that tech part goes almost unnoticed, and so the whole thing seems convenient for me when I consider that I don't have to get in my car. But for a "normal person" it might be pretty intimidating compared to a trip in the car, or borrowing a book from a friend.

But the times will change and those tech parts will become easier and like second nature to the general public in time.
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Old 09-16-2005, 01:24 PM   #3
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But the times will change and those tech parts will become easier and like second nature to the general public in time.
Especially for the generation growing up consuming all sorts of digital content, while in school where computers are in classrooms and libraries (which are increasing embracing e-books), and at home while on the computer doing homework, chatting with friends, etc.

Books are man's oldest form of media, and there will be resistance, especially for the older generations and non-tach savvy. But as we are seeing first hand, Gen X and Y are growing up with technology and digital information, consuming less traditional media (newspapers, magazines, books, TV, radio) and getting more and more media and content online and on digital devices (MP3 players, PDAs, phones, etc).
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Old 09-16-2005, 01:42 PM   #4
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I think too it will become easier, but there needs to be a much more open standard that is accepted by all ebook readers. Shoot, having the books in some secure XML format that can be downloaded to any reader, but unlocked only from that reader's 'store' seems like teh best solution to me. Its one less step that everyone would have to deal with, and a signifiant one.

The power issue is going to be an issue unless OLED, fuel cells, or something better comes that makes 12+ hr runtimes the norm.

I agree also with the point that ebooks have to offer something 'different' but familiar for them to catch on here in the US. People just in general dont want to be bothered with tech (I blame laziness) and so it has to appear simple and seemless to those folks while offering something better than War and Peace's thick sidewalls and compelling typeface.
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Old 09-16-2005, 02:58 PM   #5
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I think only pda lovers like ebooks. Everyone else including geeks and early adopters who aren't into portable devices hate ebooks.

I thought even Star Trek book readers would like them but no. They are very mean anytime someone mentions ebooks. Even when we are talking about a ebook only series like S.C.E. they get upset.

Here is a link. Take a look.
http://www.trekbbs.com/threads/postl...t=&Board=UBB17
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Old 09-16-2005, 03:20 PM   #6
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Quote:
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.)
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Old 09-16-2005, 04:47 PM   #7
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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?
Ouch and well said.
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Old 09-16-2005, 05:38 PM   #8
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Yes, rmeister0, very well stated. I don't believe I've seen that part of the discussion discussed before. very interesting way of looking at the debate.
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Old 09-16-2005, 05:56 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Brian
(It's notable that the Baen Free Library, one of the more successful e-book outfits, gives away books that are DRM-free -- and, for that matter, free as in beer. I guess it's easy to be successful when you don't expect anyone to pay you!)
A couple years ago at Penguicon, there was a talk about just this.

The free (as in beer) eBooks were basically the first of a series or some of a certain author. The idea was that many people didn't want to pay for a paperback only to find out that they didn't like the author/story. If you give the first one away, you give the readers a taste and, if they like it, they would be willing to pay for the rest.

Well, they were right. The talk told about one author who hadn't written anything new had called Baen wondering why she was getting royalty checks again. Well, they scanned a few of her books, put them up and a whole generation of people who hadn't read them when they were first published started reading them and they liked them. Enough to generate interest in a reprint of her paper books and, hence, more royalties for her.
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Old 09-16-2005, 06:08 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by rmeister0
Once those two are in place, you need the missing link, which is something like iTunes Music Store.
Actually, this will kill eBooks faster than anything.

iTunes Music "Store" doesn't sell music. It rents it. You have no control over the content it "sells" and it can change the rules of your "purchase" at any time.

Perhaps something like Fictionwise is a better choice.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rmeister0
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.
I would argue that if you already have text files (which we do) converting them to work on your favorite PDA in your favorite format is almost a non-event. I routinely convert text files into eBooks. I'm backlogged on eBook reading for the next couple of years.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rmeister0
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.
I would disagree that it's a real pain. Take 1 HTML file, add Sunrise and, viola, you have an eBook for your favorite PDA. No muss, no fuss.

But I agree that the average consumer won't do that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rmeister0
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?
1. I am one of those people who are reading several books at once. It's much easier to carry several books on my Palm. Also since my Palm is on my person at all times, it's much easier to snatch a quick read at the long traffic light, standing in line at the store, etc.

2. I am getting access to content that I never had access to before. Project Gutenberg and Fictionwise has offered me content that is long out of print and that I never read before. Tarzan, for example. More stories by Jack London than I could ever find in print. And more.

I'm also getting "teaser" content from places like Baen so I can experience authors that I've never read before with no cost to myself.
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Old 09-16-2005, 06:56 PM   #11
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With regular books, can you:

1. Carry around all of Wikipedia?

2. Carry volumes of research and technical information?

3. Conduct keyword searches on indexed information to help you find exactly what you're looking for?

4. Carry all of your textbooks (for students) or your entire library?

Once people learn that e-books could offer them these capabilities and conveniences, and some of the issues are worked out like open/standardized cross platform formats, optimal devices with excellent paper-like readability (e-paper) and great battery life, and content providers offer a simple and affordable delivery system, in my opinion e-books will really take off. I said e-books are "on the verge of going mainstream" because some of these things are starting to happen or are in the late stages of development.
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Old 09-16-2005, 08:42 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rlauzon
iTunes Music "Store" doesn't sell music. It rents it. You have no control over the content it "sells" and it can change the rules of your "purchase" at any time.
Actually, the iTune store does sell music; they are not a subscription service. Buy album. Download album. Burn to CD. Yours to keep forever. Re-rip into MP3, Ogg, or whatever. Play in your car. Play on your computer. Apple can't stop you. Ever.

My point was that you need a convergence of three things: a convenient display device, a convenient content provider, and a seamless integration of both, as well as the fact that eBooks solve a problem most people don't have.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rlauzon
1. I am one of those people who are reading several books at once. It's much easier to carry several books on my Palm. Also since my Palm is on my person at all times, it's much easier to snatch a quick read at the long traffic light, standing in line at the store, etc.

2. I am getting access to content that I never had access to before. Project Gutenberg and Fictionwise has offered me content that is long out of print and that I never read before. Tarzan, for example. More stories by Jack London than I could ever find in print. And more.
Again, you are not representative of the mainstream; remember that many people don't even own a PDA.

While we're on the topic of content: Tarzan is easy, but what about Burrough's Carson of Venus stories? I'm still hoping that Moorcock's Eternal Champion stories come out in electronic editions because the American White Wolf printings are getting scarce on the ground. I've got dozens of paper books stacked up that aren't available electronically, anywhere.

eBooks have the potential of eliminating the concept of "out of print", but it hasn't happened yet.

I'm also getting "teaser" content from places like Baen so I can experience authors that I've never read before with no cost to myself.[/QUOTE]
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Old 09-16-2005, 08:50 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian
With regular books, can you:

1. Carry around all of Wikipedia?
I don't need to. My need to access a Wiki would occur either at home or at the office; in both instances I am connected.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian
2. Carry volumes of research and technical information?
See 1 above.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian
3. Conduct keyword searches on indexed information to help you find exactly what you're looking for?
All the technical books I own have this little thing in the back called an "Index". I just wish the rest of the people in my company would learn how to use them

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian
4. Carry all of your textbooks (for students) or your entire library?

Once people learn that e-books could offer them these capabilities and conveniences, and some of the issues are worked out like open/standardized cross platform formats, optimal devices with excellent paper-like readability (e-paper) and great battery life, and content providers offer a simple and affordable delivery system, in my opinion e-books will really take off. I said e-books are "on the verge of going mainstream" because some of these things are starting to happen or are in the late stages of development.
Again, you are talking a specialized application that will apply to some people more than others. I disagree on the last paragraph though - I think most of the technical issues are still little more than vaporware. The Libre was a good proof of concept but the business went nowhere. Really good battery life is still a ways off and we've been promised on that one for years. You will never, ever get an open standard as long as profits are at risk; remember that the success of mp3 as a file format was not because it was sold to consumers as the next big thing in music but was a grass-roots adoption.

The sad thing is I already have a device that matches the 'ebook iPod' description I made, and that's the eb-1150. It has a phenomenal battery life, a display sufficient for text, is light-weight, and reasonably sized, and works with the ebookwise site very smoothly. But won't natively display any file formats other than its own, can't handle graphics, has poor library management, and involves too many steps to port custom content to.

Understand that I'm not saying eBooks don't have their advantages; they clearly do. But I stand by my point - they don't solve problems most people are wrestling with. They're like Tablet PCs (another technology I like; Hey Steve Jobs, where's my OS X tabler?) - very successful in certain vertical markets but a relative failure in consumer and most business markets. Why? Because they solve a problem most people don't have.
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Old 09-16-2005, 09:43 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rmeister0
Understand that I'm not saying eBooks don't have their advantages; they clearly do. But I stand by my point - they don't solve problems most people are wrestling with. They're like Tablet PCs (another technology I like; Hey Steve Jobs, where's my OS X tabler?) - very successful in certain vertical markets but a relative failure in consumer and most business markets. Why? Because they solve a problem most people don't have.
I agree with you that at this point in time, e-books don't solve problems for most people, but that doesn't mean that they couldn't have mass market appeal.

I'll use your mention of the Tablet PC and an OS X tablet as an example. I agree with you 100% that Tablet PCs, as they are currently designed and marketed by Microsoft today, are most appealing in vertical markets, healthcare, and with the early adopters, of course. Steve Jobs sees the (Microsoft) Tablet PC struggling to gain adoption, and won't offer an Apple OS X "PowerTablet" until the mass market is ready for it, or when Apple creates appeal for the mass market by solving problems the current Microsoft Tablet PC implementation does not. What might Apple offer that Microsoft doesn't that would appeal to mass markets?

A digital lifestyle tablet.

A tablet device that offers not just pen input in the traditional sense (thinking inside the box), but finger input. For what? To use a tablet as a portable media playback device (think Apple's version of Location Free TV when the iTunes Movie Store is up and running) in addition to a touch screen remote control tablet to control your audio and video playback around your home. Wouldn't such a device also be well suited to reading? Do you think all of the magazine and newspaper publishers who are losing subscribers in droves would love to have such a device for their content?

If you think this is such a far out idea, take a look at Apple's tablet patent(5/10/05) as well as their job posting(8/11/05) for a handwriting recognition engineer:

Quote:
Do you strongly believe that using a stylus and a tablet is the way to interact with computers?
My point is that innovation and offering compelling "lifestyle" features can create mass market appeal. Just because current devices don't offer solutions to problems doesn't necessarily mean that other devices won't come along and solve the right problems.
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Old 09-17-2005, 07:06 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rmeister0
Actually, the iTune store does sell music; they are not a subscription service. Buy album. Download album. Burn to CD. Yours to keep forever. Re-rip into MP3, Ogg, or whatever. Play in your car. Play on your computer. Apple can't stop you. Ever.
That's what it is today. They also reserve the right to change those rules whenever they see fit.

Their business model - since it's based on Digital Restriction Management - is renting music.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rmeister0
My point was that you need a convergence of three things: a convenient display device, a convenient content provider, and a seamless integration of both, as well as the fact that eBooks solve a problem most people don't have.
I understand your point. But you forgot one thing: no more restrictions than what we have today on physical books.

When I buy a physical book, I can:
  • Let a friend borrow it.
  • Re-sell it.
  • Quote from it.
  • Re-read it as many times as I want.
  • Read it anywhere I want when I want.
Let a friend borrow it.

DRM takes most of those rights away from me, locks me to a device and makes me have to prove (with artificial means - like a credit card number) that I am authorized to read the eBook.

iTunes = DRM = unacceptable restrictions on the content that I have (supposedly) purchased.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rmeister0
Again, you are not representative of the mainstream; remember that many people don't even own a PDA.
But I am representative of the group of people that publishers (actually, authors) target: those who read lots of books.

I am the person who buys new technology, makes it work and shows all the non-techie people how to use it.

It's a misconception to think that I am not the person the ebook people need to please. Because without support from people like me, eBooks will fail. I am the type of person that they need to please right now.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rmeister0
While we're on the topic of content: Tarzan is easy, but what about Burrough's Carson of Venus stories?
I have a few of those, but I don't remember where I got them. Because of our illegally extended copyright time limits, too many works that should have gone into the public domain are still only available in print (if you have a good used book store in your area).

Quote:
Originally Posted by rmeister0
eBooks have the potential of eliminating the concept of "out of print", but it hasn't happened yet.
And as long as copyright keeps being extended and publishers protect their outdated business model with laws and DRM "out of print" will continue to exist.
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