Guest Column: E-books: Reading Like It’s 1999
That was then; this is now. Ten years have passed and, surprisingly, little has changed. We still have numerous devices and formats, pricing continues to be an issue (as is digital rights management), and consumers are still confused about exactly what an e-book is (is it a device or is it a format?). Content providers have continued to digitize their frontlists and backlists, but many publishers’ e-book programs haven’t expanded much beyond what they were a decade ago.
That’s not to say that the e-book scene, and the market itself, has been standing still this entire time. Formats have consolidated, Web sites have come and gone, and new devices have replaced the old. But despite all of the movement, it feels like we’ve ended up right back where we were before. For example, when I look at the Sony devices, all I can think of is the Rocket eBook (circa 1998). Even the new Kindle DX reminds me of the magazine-sized SoftBook, introduced way back in 1999. All of these new devices look so much like those of previous generations that I bet if you stopped someone on the street, showed them a photo of these devices and asked them to guess which was produced last week and which was manufactured a decade ago, they’d be hard-pressed to make a decision.
And while the devices’ prices have certainly decreased (in direct proportion to the increase of their speed, thanks to Moore’s law), the overall experience hasn’t substantially changed. Even with the newer and hipper devices, such as the Cool-Er and the iRex iLiad, consumers are still merely turning virtual pages instead of holding a physical book. These may be sexier gadgets, but the real problem is that the digital experience—as it exists now—suffers in comparison when compared to the analog. Until e-books finally start to do things that physical books can’t do, I don’t see this changing.