Two weeks ago, I talked about how ebooks do not spell the end of print, only a reduction in its role. So, did anyone check out the amazing number of printers, copiers, and faxes in your favorite paperless office? Yeah, that’s a lot of paper and toner they’re using, isn’t it?
Anyway, I don’t think it’s a big surprise, though, that ebooks will become the dominant form of content delivery for publishers. That day is not here yet, but it’s closer than ever. Kindle, Sony, and, soon enough, Apple are all gathering traction. The Amazon/Macmillan flap aside, I think we’re only a couple of years away from a viable universal ebook model. Amazon’s laid some of the groundwork with Kindle. Apple will likely bring lessons learned from iTunes to the table. Rather than it being a battle, consumers will most likely drive what model dominates and what features of the others will be put into the mix. Amazon is already adapting the Kindle to compete with the iPad, and it’s highly unlikely Sony will stand still. Plus, have you ever met a media platform Microsoft didn’t like once it figured it out?
So what is it I, a consumer, want? The list below are things I think will be important to long-term ebook adoption. Your mileage may vary.
- Universal format: There has to be a standard file type for ebooks, one that will allow it to take advantage of everything these devices can potentially do. Right now, Kindle, Nook, the Sony eReader are all text devices. The iPad will bring the multifunctional capabilities of smart phones to this arena. The others will follow suit, and then the fun really begins. But the format should not be dependent on a single device or provider. I pay for it, it should be mine to keep whenever and wherever I go.
- Light or no DRM: OK, let’s get something straight. DRM does not combat piracy, only encourages it. In fact, I think it’s a moral obligation to hack anything Sony puts out on CD simply because they put spyware on their discs. Sorry, Sony, by my computer is my property. If I can’t bust into your house without a search warrant to find the hedge clippers you took last April, you can’t look at my computer without my permission. And no, buying the disk does not constitute permission. (I download my music from iTunes anymore, so this is not an issue.) If this does not work for the music industry (which deserves every bad thing that’s ever happened to it for not getting ahead of the download curve), it will not work for publishing. The customer needs to get to what he or she paid for quickly and with no hassle.
- Cloud backup – Now DRM can work nicely here, because the DRM is tied to the consumer, not the company. Cloud backup or storage of purchases are a great idea. It can render content device-independent, and that’s the key.
- Multifunctional devices – The iPad already promises this. The next generation of Kindle will have it. No one wants something that just displays books. Not in the long term. In the long term, we’re going to want something that will give us our books, our music, our phone service, our web access, and anything for which there’s an app for that. This is going to be a must have for any new media beyond ebooks.
- Cheap or free wireless service – Check your cell bill lately? Yeah, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint are really sticking it to you, aren’t they? Well, Apple wants to charge you more for the privilege, but Kindle has WhisperNet, which is carried by AT&T. Which will win? I think the iPad will force Amazon to put out a color touch screen and multiple-app capability, but Amazon will probably leave its fingerprints all over how wireless is handled, at least for media purchases.
As I said, these are what I want from ebooks in the future. You may have other wants and needs. Time will tell how it all unfolds.
Next week, I reveal my own hypocrisy and show off my Kindle! I suspect after all the rude things I’ve said about Amazon recently, I got some ‘splainin’ to do.