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 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.