Tuesday, December 06, 2005

When will eBooks fly?

The technology is there. The killer apps? Not quite.

eBooks and eMagazines make my life easeir when it comes to reading. I love them. But not many people do, yet. eBooks have been around in various formats for more than 15 years, but they didn't quite catch up with the general public to become a mainstream medium. They will, but only when their features become too useful to miss. This is when:

We have universal access to our eBooks
I need to reach my ebooks wherever I am, like I reach my photos on Flickr and my favorites on del.icio.us. We are not quite there yet.

Now I have to have a local copy of all of my ebooks, at the office, at home, on my notebook, on my pocket pc. It is a lot of work to keep an updated copy of everything on all devices. And it doesnt always work, as some formats limit the number of 'activated' copies you can have, for copyright protection.

The best attempt at this I have seen is O'Reilly Network's Safari Bookshelf, which gives you an easy way to rent books, put them on your personal bookshelf, and access them from any web browser. Its main drwaback is that it's largely limited to technical books and is mostly focused on books published by O'Reilly.

Part of ubiquitous access is being able to annotate and tag my books and magazines and access those annotations from anywhere. To my knowledge, this is not available yet (Safari let's you just create bookmarks), and it will make a good difference when it happens.

I also want ubiquitous access to all version of my ebooks; see next (except for the paper version, of course :-) , that's the disadvantage of paper!).

We only need to buy a book once
When I own a book, I want to own all versions of it (paper, ebook, audiobook) at no additional cost. This makes a lot of sense, since the medium shouldn't matter. I am buying the content, and I should pay for it once without having to pay for each medium separately!

Amazon has recently announced Amazon Upgrade: digital access to books purchased through Amazon. It is not clear yet how this will work or when it will be available. It's also not clear whether you will have to pay extra for this. I hope they do it right!

Universal search
I want to be able to search all my books and magazines, in different foramts, from different vendors, from one location. That's not too much to ask given todays search state of technology.

Magazines too!
Zinio has done a good job with emagazines. I read all my mags on Zinio, from PC Mag to Business 2.0 to Architectural Digest. It is very convinient, except for lacking universal access.

What's next?
We are moving there, slowly but surely. I beleive that within 10 years paper books will be going out, and convinient, instant, global access and search will be in.

Many people are emotional about paper books. They say "books cannot be replaced", and they mean paper books. However, I remind them that the medium (stone, papyrus, paper, electronic) is not the book, and I do agree that books will never disappear from our lives, but not necessarily on paper! The shift that's happening right now from physical to digital books has far greater impact than when we shofted from stone to papyrus to paper!

1 comment:

Dave Zinman said...

Thanks for mentioning Zinio in your blog. I work for Zinio and we appreciate the attention. We agree with you that e-paper and e-books have a big future. In fact, we launched a site for selling digital textbooks in August. You can get some of McGraw-Hill's most popular higher education textbooks at textbooks.zinio.com. Check it out and let us know what you think. And thanks again for showing interest in e-books and Zinio!