I have a break in my busy-ness today and get to do a post that describes the major change in thinking I’ve had recently. It’s sheer serendipity that on the same day this opportunity occurs, someone releases a big report that verifies my own thinking.
First, let me get this out of the way. Digital books from Apple will not happen. There is not going to be any version of iWork that will create Vook-like digital books. What I described here is obsolete. If you bought iWork on that basis, I hope you will enjoy it as iWork and nothing more.
Second, the thingness of things is going away. Although music via CD, movies via DVD, and books via print still predominate, the inevitable and inescapable trend is downward. Just ask all of the newspaper publishers. Look at your own life and answer this question: When was the last time you printed out a picture you took with a digital camera? I haven’t printed one in years. And even for those people who do print, I’d bet it’s a negligible number when compared to the total population of photos they have that exist solely on their computer’s hard drive (or achived to CD-R, DVD-R, or the Cloud). I can’t think of an object — a “thing” — that’s more personal and valuable to anyone than a photograph. Yet the thingness of those has vanished.
So, with thingness vanishing, it’s clear that even the thingness of electronic books will disappear too.
What’s been keeping me busy recently is moving a ton of archived CD-Rs to a new terabyte hard drive. A collection of six years of material I’ve been rushing to cram into a hard drive with some sort of order.
I’ve drawn several conclusions from this endeavor:
1) I hate doing this. It takes up valuable time I’d rather use another way.
2) I collected a lot of crap. As I watch the filenames zoom by (at USB 2.0 speeds — I am so ready for USB *10* speeds right now!), I just know that maybe as much as half of this stuff will eventually be deleted.
3) All current file types are rotten. I have about 30MB(!!) of text files I must eventually go through to see what’s important and what’s obsolete. Aside from very short and cryptic names, and an extension of TXT or DOC or RTF, I haven’t any clue of the contents of these files. There is no way to attach metadata.
3) It’s simply not possible to organize things without multiple metadata systems. One text file could easily fit under multiple categories. The same with music and video files. But there’s simply no way of doing that because the files themselves lack instrinsic metadata capabilities. Without metadata to organize things, the possibility of later finding something based on a specific idea or image — or whatever — drops to near-zero.
4) I shouldn’t have to worry about the longevity of this material. What if my drive crashes and eats my GBs of photos? Do I really want to carry around GBs of photos in an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad or other future device? I have over 16 GBs of photos right now — these are ones I took myself. I’m not even counting the several GBs of images I’ve culled from the Internet! Should valuable portable storage capacity be used for that?
5) Despite all of these files being ephemeral digitalia, I still feel the weight of their thingness. Things bring with them the unspoken questions of, “What do I do with this thing? How do I take care of it? How do I store it? Where do I put it so I can get to it later? How do I keep it safe?” When you have thousands and thousands and thousands of these things on a hard drive, it’s like being poked over and over and over again.
And all of these problems become severe when money is involved. Imagine if those GBs of photos were ones I had paid for — with money, not just out of my passing time. I’d have the additional worry of losing that investment, of possibly never being able to recoup it or rebuy it.
And that’s where it gets down to electronic books too.
True readers amass libraries. I’ve had near 1,000 printed books in my time. I’ve read a multiple of that number via public library loans (God bless and preserve the NYPL — donate money to save it!). Right now, just with legitimately free eBooks alone, I have well over 1,000 (thank you Smashwords and various publishers). If those somehow become inaccessible, then I’d have to spend money to replace them.
But there are already people who have spent money and amassed huge e-libraries. These are owners of the Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook, and others (with iPad now coming onto the stage).
It’s simply ridiculous that books as printed things should become electronic things.
Especially since these electronic things are not universal things. They are proprietary things: ePub with one or another flavor of DRM (Adobe DRM for Sony and most devices and a specific Adobe DRM for Barnes & Noble) or Kindle format. A Sony Reader cannot read a Nook ePub. A Kindle cannot read any ePub.
This is insanity.
People should not have to:
1) Worry about their money being lost
2) Use a specific device in order to read
3) Deal with the complexity of file organization, storage, longevity, and device synchronization
And people wonder why eBooks are not a huge business yet?
And there are really people who truly think that if only a specific device gets down to X-price point (which is sometimes $99 but yesterday I saw someone say $49 — make up your damned minds!), that will spread the Gospel of eBooks far and wide.
Get frikkin real.
Files are things. Things are on the way out.
We already have something that can be accessed by all devices and can’t be corralled by any single company. It works wonderfully and is improving all the time.
It’s called the Internet.
Look at what sabotaged the early lead of the Sony Reader. It wasn’t cable syncing. It was lack of communication capability. Amazon came along with a similar device that could communicate — with the Internet — and bam! Success (relatively speaking, for that small market).
This is the big report released today that backs up all my thinking here: Full Analysis of iPhone Economics – it is bad news. And then it gets worse
This is the quote that should make your head explode and wake you up:
How many phones have a ‘real’ web browser, yes using HTML. That is 2.8 Billion phones.
You lot are going to ignore a potential device population in the billions for what — maybe three or four million worldwide eInk devices? (As I was typing this, Apple announced it has just sold three million iPads. Stop! The iPad is not an eBook device — it is an Internet Device. Do you think Steve Jobs understands something you do not? That is why there will never be an iWork that creates digital books.)
You want people to have to buy another device, in addition to their phone, and also remember to carry it around? Another device that is a thing and comes loaded with all those unspoken questions that every thing brings with it (see above)? And then you want to further burden those people with all the complexities of managing the electronic book things they must download and store?
Stop being silly.
All of this is nothing but friction.
Ask all the people who use Netflix. What’s happened to their DVD purchasing? Do they worry that they’ve transferred their allegiance from things to on-demand non-things? No.
And remember what I pointed out about people and their digital photo collections.
It’s not about files — it’s about access.
Access is what the Internet is all about.
The Internet is beginning to grow up with CSS and HTML5. It’s moving towards a state of sophistication that is simply not possible given the state — and slow so-called progress — of ePub.
Look at what Ibis Reader has just added. It’s an Internet application for reading electronic books.
But if you really want to see a glimpse of the future, I return to Vook. And not Vook as downloadable thing for the iPhone an iPad, but as non-thing residing on the Internet.
It’s still the best UI I’ve seen for an online book.
The trouble is, it’s all done in Flash. Which destroys it for mobile devices. Vook needs to recreate it all in CSS and HTML — because they have the beginning of the future for electronic books right there, right now.
Books will all reside on the Internet. Where no one has to worry about losing them or organizing them or feel the weight of their thingness oppressing them.
Ownership is access. This is what the Internet is creating.
All of you book publishers rushing to try to cash in on this transient eInk/iPad device craze — stop! You are wasting time and money that should be used on the Internet.
The Internet is permanent. Devices and files are not.
And a final note: It’s only books on the Internet that can enable the creation of smart books. That’s simply not possible by using standalone, downloadable files. That is how publishers get to add their value and build their wealth.
And another final note: I brought up Netflix. People rent with Netflix. Books on the Internet bring up the possibility of rentals. Some people just want to read, not collect. How many Netflix viewers want to buy a movie they’ve just watched? Does Netflix care if they buy?
And a final, final note: Publishers, get busy, or someone will will create a Netflix for electronic books and all you will move from being slaves of Amazon and Apple to slaves of “Bookflix.” In fact, the hour might be later than I think. I’m still waiting to see what Google Editions will bring. If it’s “Bookflix,” every publisher in is real, real trouble.