The Trillion-Dollar Web Question

So, Sports Illustrated takes a second shot at doing an e version, one that will pass Apple’s Section 3.3.1.

It’s superior to the first.

But if this is HTML5 — basically a tarted-up website — and not something that’s downloaded to a device to keep … how do you turn that into money?

This is the web’s trillion-dollar question.

Because here comes the newsflash for eBooks: they’ll be just like this too.

Within 3-5 years, there won’t be a Kindle app, an eReader app, an Aldiko app, or any other kind of eBook app. I don’t think there will even be a need for Ibis Readerwhich itself lives on the Net — except to access what will then be considered legacy ePub books.

A combination of factors will drive this.

  • Abuse by gatekeepers (pioneered by Apple)
  • The rise of tablet devices
  • The fall of eBook devices
  • The collapse of traditional print publishing
  • The collapse of ePub

Tools for CSS/HTML5 will become better. They will become simpler. And they will win.

In my Links posts, I’ve linked to demo after demo of astounding things that are being done with CSS3 (at one point, I will have to do a compilation post). Liza Daly is switching over the buttons in Ibis Reader from JavaScript to CSS3! That says something.

And today there was this significant post: An Open, Webby, Book-Publishing Platform

I’ve argued for a blog-like interface as the best way for writers to create digital books. But that was when I thought ePub would prevail as the electronic publishing method. Now I think ePub is destined to fail.

Aside from the crap that ePub hampers publishing with, it’s a set of shackles on writers.

  • It requires specialized reading software
  • If that software doesn’t exist for a device, a reader is SOL (hello, webOS)
  • It’s a way for gatekeepers to sprout like zombies
  • And then there’s DRM and its issues

There’s a generation out there growing up with the idea of ownership meaning access. Look at Club Penguin and sites like that. For people older, think of Second Life! And then there’s Disney’s — and now Sesame Street’s — web-based digital books.

All of those things require only a web browser. An application that every device has — and will have.

So why should something as basic as, say, an all-text fiction book require the torment that is ePub — and a specialized app for reading?

This post is all words. Even the video! The video is nothing but an embedded link. Anyone can see this on the Net. There’s no gatekeeper here (despite the fact I’m using the WordPress service; and that will change at some point too).

And this is the future of the book too.

Stop to think: Just about every writer has a website or blog. Why should we have to leave that writer’s site or blog and go to a gatekeeper for that writer’s work? Why should that writer have to give up a portion of his income to someone else who will never care about the book as much as that writer?

Amazon, Fictionwise, eReader, Barnes & Noble, Borders, the iBookstore, Smashwords, Feedbooks, et al, are all temporary marketplace aberrations — based on the sole fact that someone once decided books should be placed in a container that could then be sold as downloadable objects.

All of these eBookstores are nothing more than the web portals of the past: Lycos, Excite, and the rest. They all believed they could corral the Internet for their own private profit.

Where are they now?

They are gone.

But we see the spirit of portalism live on today. It goes under the new name of “curation.” They believe they can corral all of the books.

That’s a nice formula for Portal FAIL 2.0.

And don’t kid yourselves: so-called “curators” will be as abusive as any of the current gatekeepers. That’s human nature.

The future is not a corral set up by an outsider to capitalize on others.

The future is writers being independent.

But how is that future turned into money so writers can keep dreaming, so people can keep reading?

I don’t yet have an answer. But I think ease of buying has to be part of it. It would make a difference if devices of the future could incorporate a wallet from which payments were made. That would prevent financial corralling such as this:

13 responses to “The Trillion-Dollar Web Question

  1. don’t kid yourself.
    Future is corporations
    controlling the internet just like radio, TV, etc.

    Only reason they want iPad, so they can have
    a controlled environment in order to replicate that onto the web. Music company had
    the same notion for ipod.

    As long as Apple makes a better device.
    They will do just fine. Don’t cry for them.

  2. I don’t have the answers either because there are a few more things muddying up the waters.

    First of all there is the fact that the HTML5 story isn’t started yet. There’s little to no attention being paid to security issues by the current standards effort and all the added features aren’t just adding capabilities to web apps or web pages, but also enabling a potential new generation of malware.

    I work for an antivirus co (hence my bias towards worrying about security) and I’ve been reading some of the research notes the devs have been writing up for the upcoming scanning engine and the things they’re finding out about javascript, PDFs and Flash worry me a lot. As I tweeted this morning:

    “A common theme running through most discussions online on HTML5, Chrome web apps etc. is Web devs pushing for laxer security restrictions.”

    “The current security story for HTML is bad enough. If you add capabilities (as is done in HTML5) you have to tighten, not loosen, security.”

    “If we’re not careful, in five years’ time the web experience will be like that of using an un-patched Windows XP machine with no firewall.”

    If epub manages a better security story while adding interactive design features (CSS3, video) then that could be a point in its favour.

    In any case, the business models for future web-books, ebooks, epub or the like will be the same as today. Some will be sold directly (pay X for book), some will be a part of a subscription (get all of the books for $X a year), some will be free to promote some other product or thing. The exact mix will depend just as much on how the economy evolves over the next few years as it does on the effectiveness of each tactic.

    You also need to bear in mind that design contexts matter a lot. The design context and expectations of the design are completely different on the web than they are in a different context, such as either an offline web app or ebook.

    I don’t know how it’ll go. I’m just convinced that it’s going to be completely and utterly disastrous from a security perspective.

  3. So if you are a writer, how do you make money? Please don’t tell me it’s with ads! I liked what SI originally did because I thought it was the best of both worlds: a paid-for file delivered digitally each week/month that wasn’t HTML, so it wasn’t dependent on a web browser yet it contained photos, links, video and it didn’t need ad dollars to survive. I’d pay for that.

    The demise of the book may be premature, but I want to read without marketing in my face. Internet news, sure, it’s fine. But please don’t make me suffer through flashing weight loss ads while reading a Jack Higgins thriller. Kinda takes the thrill out of it.

  4. Mike, you keep writing great stuff.

    That O’Reilly post has been sitting on my brain for about 5 months. I have another one, I’ve got lined up but have not done yet, based on twit post of mine … that was, I think, inspired by something else that you wrote:

    “The distinction between “the internet” & “books” is totally totally arbitrary, and will disappear in 5 years. Start adjusting now.”

  5. This is a very prescient post. However, I think you were a little optimistic (pessimistic?) in saying that eBook apps won’t exist in 3-5 years. I think it might be longer than that before they’re replaced with websites such as you described, but I do think this is a very plausible vision for digital books of the future. I daresay publishers will not like it.

    With, of course, a way to handle some local storage, because it will take longer than 3-5 years before the infrastructure and pricing will make always-on web access a given everywhere.

    I’d go as far as to say that if this vision is correct, then it’s rather good actually for authors. It should make it easier, not harder, to forgo the “gatekeepers.” Accessing books within a writer’s blog site seems so natural. As you’ve said many times, readers buy books for the authors, not the publishers.

    Generally, being connected is a good thing, too. It’s so much easier to do so many things when the user is connected as opposed to offline:

    Being connected is better than making copies and having to worry about unauthorized redistribution.

    Being connected makes it easier to verify the user, and allow access to works that have been paid for. This sounds like a paywall, doesn’t it?. As you mention, it’s the Disney Digital Books model. And Disney has brilliantly started trying to condition kids to understand and expect this model. It’s brilliant, ’cause most teens and adolescents today are already used to getting content on the Web for free, so they will be a harder sell.

    The future you describe is also going to provide interesting opportunities for platforms that authors can use to accept payments for their works and identify readers who have paid for and should get access to specific works.

    These are all interesting but relatively easy problems to solve.

    I think the hardest part of making money will be to create the compelling content and experience that gives people a reason to buy instead of expecting it for free. And that’s the challenge to which writers must rise.

  6. >>>So if you are a writer, how do you make money?

    That is *the* question. And, like you, I don’t want to see ads in books.

  7. Pingback: The Trillion-Dollar Web Question « Mike Cane’s iPad Test at Электронные книги

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  9. Pingback: Writing Roundup, May 21 « Uncategorized « Jen's Writing Journey

  10. Nomis Nosretap

    You must be the most ignorant person I’ve half read. You have absolutely no idea about how books are made, marketed and consumed. Anybody who reads this should remember that this guy is clueless and to do their own research.

  11. Ah, yes, you just devastated me there, Bunky, with your superior knowledge of the book business. Wow, you made everybody’s day. We will all follow you now. Wait — who the fuck *are* you?

  12. I’ll have to look at that later. Seems interesting. Thanks.