Ebook Detractors Live On

Frequent correspondent Derek sent me this link to an article stating that ebooks are doomed. I suppose I could do some point by point contrarianism, but nine years after I left my job at Intel to go work at an ebook startup I just don’t have that much energy for a real comprehensive job of that. I’ve had the same arguments so many times that it wears on me. In fact, I made a lot of these points just a few months ago. I will dispute this one in particular:

Likewise, do people want to “curl up” with a battery-operated plastic screen?

The obvious answer is no.

And that’s the simple reason why e-books will never even come close to replacing paper books.

The end.

The answer is not obvious to me. I’m a bibliophile and a book collector, and I have no problem curling up with an electronic device. I’ve done it many times. This is perhaps the single most common argument in the anti-ebook camp. I’m only surprised that Mike Elgan did not mention reading in the bathtub.

I’d love to have one of those e-ink devices and would not be the slightest bit bothered by its singleness of purpose. My main problem now is price and value. There is no chance I will pay $700 for one of those. When they are $100 and are open enough to easily allow any open format documents to be placed on them, then we’ll talk. I will admit that I have been tempted by the eBookwise 1150 multiple times and in the right mood, I might have already bought one. If the device used a more common memory card it would be a lower hurdle to a purchase in my opinion, but these guys are playing the hand they are dealt. These devices are what Gemstar was selling when they drove their business in the ground.

I also find the article’s discussion about price points to no longer be a compelling point. My use of any such device would not involve buying $10 versions of what is out in paperback. It would be reading books from Project Gutenberg, ones freely given out by people like Doctorow and Stross, or sold multi-format and open from Fictionwise or Baen Books. I find the experience of reading on a device highly agreeable and have read dozens of books that way. Back before my old Handspring device took a dump for the final time, that was my primary use for it.

I don’t think the received wisdom of the death of ebooks is correct. I’ve been hearing it for a decade now, and while the industry hasn’t advanced much, neither has it gone away. However this always seems to be from the perspective of the media industry who try to sell ridiculously priced electronic editions as protectionism for their paper versions. That’s a model that will not work, I agree. However, I think the value in ebooks is not and never was in that crap. It’s in the things outside of the big media machine, public domain books and such. I just want you early adopters to buy some e-ink devices, so either the prices come down from the volume or so there are used ones I can buy off of you for cheap.

5 Replies to “Ebook Detractors Live On”

  1. concur dave – some folks simply resist change no matter what…

    ebooks today are definitely for early adopters – though the prices should start to come down, the sony reader i own is still the original $350 – but it is e-ink based and rocks…

    i wouldn’t be surprised to see cellphone industry like subsidizing start to occur for ereaders soon – just a thought…

  2. I don’t think anyone wants to read off of electronic devices. I mean look how poorly blogs and Yahoo news and forums have done. Really, if you think about it, the whole reason the Internet thing never caught on is because there is so much reading involved. YouTube is the only reason the darn thing still exists.

    And curling up with electronic devices….YECH! That sounds like using a PSP or Gameboy or Ipod or cellphone and God knows, nobody curls up with those.

  3. I’ve read a number of books in an ebook reader on my PSP, and find it more enjoyable that actual books. The light is built in, and turning pages requires a single button press.

  4. mike, I think in essence that’s what the eBookwise readers are. They’d be more expensive on the open market, but they are cheaper because they want you to have them to read their books.

    James, that’s another way to put it.

    Jer, if I could get a really cheap PSP, that would be reason enough for one. I found reading on my color Handspring pleasant for just the same reason.

  5. I own an ebookwise 1150, and I concur that it’s main benefit is reading the public domain books you can download for free away from your computer. Its 2nd most attractive feature is you can have a lot of books without taking up much shelf space. Thirdly, you can hold the book and turn the page with one hand, so you can eat and read at the same time if you want to.

    Obviously one of its disadvantages is worrying about ruining an expensive device compared to ruining a cheap book, or even a brand new $25 hardback.

    Before buying one, you might want to consider insead a text to mp3 program so you can listen to your e-books on the go, albeit via an electronic voice.

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