Web browsing is dangerous

Especially when it leads me to articles like this one: 5 Reasons Why E-Books Aren’t There Yet. Aside from the not exactly trivial question of what exactly “there” means, I’ve got to say most of the arguments were pretty specious. But I agree with his overall thesis: ebooks aren’t “there” yet. Not quite. Why?

The author is assuming that ebooks will replace paper books. They won’t. They’ll become an alternative that will probably end up being the bulk of the market, but there’ll still be a place in there for hard copy. Heck, computers are everywhere, but people still take notes using pens and paper. Ultimately ebooks will find their niche in the reading market, large or small, and go on to be what they need to be.

About the only point the author gets right, in my – of course exceedingly humble – opinion is the multiple DRM-infested formats. We’re down to two dominant formats, but that’s one more than there should be. Video cassette recording didn’t really take off until the Beta-VHS wars ended. Digitised music needed to settle on a handful of more or less open formats (speaking of which, isn’t it odd that the music companies claiming they’re acting for the benefit of musicians aren’t actually paying those musicians anything out of their drive-by lawsuits? Hm….). High definition DVDs are finally getting moving now that their format ended – and high def TVs are getting to be actually affordable.

When there’s one commonly accepted and reasonably open format for ebooks, they’ll finish moving into position. The hardware is close enough as makes no difference: e-ink provides a reading experience damn near identical to paper – better in some cases – and there are enough applications that handle ebooks to put allow just about anything that will support it to act as a reader, albeit without quite the book-ness that I get from my kindle. That never stopped me reading books on my PDA though (except the puir old beastie is really past that these days, alas. When it dies, it’s smartphone time).

Two things need to go away to make that happen. #1 is DRM. I know it’s supposed to mean “digital rights management” but anything that’s got any form of DRM is actually digitally restricted media. You can’t use it the way you want to – and worse, it adds to the cost of your ebook, because someone has to buy the encryption software and make it work, and update it every time someone cracks it, which is often. #2 is either a common format or ebooks readers all using the two main formats. Given those two factors, the prices of ebook readers and of ebooks will find their natural levels – probably close to where the small e-only and author-published ebooks are being set right now, in the 3-6 dollar range (because 70% of $3 is still a LOT more than 6% of $10, and it never goes out of print). Heck, 70% of ONE dollar is more.

So… the article is more or less right, but for all the wrong reasons – and the author of it was vehemently told so in the comments thread.


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