November 11, 2008

The Penguin Blog - Special guest post by Nick Hornby on eBooks

Original Post from July 8th 2008.

Penguin on their blog here claim to be busy digitizing their books as they believe "eBooks are coming", although they admit that they don't know how things will evolve with eBooks (at last, someone who is level headed and not blindly evangelizing one extreme or the other).

So to continue the conversation of different opinions they post a blog post from Nick Hornby ("Reader and Author") from his own blog: You can read the original post here.

Like Nick, I also think that if we try and sell eBook readers as just "another way to read a paper book", but at 50 - 100 times the price, then we're not going to get very far (or they are not very useful, to look at it from the consumer's point of view).

Ebooks need to be sold (initially, at least) on a different and strong value proposition to sustain those type of price differences versus "just buying a book". That is brought into sharp focus in his example where he walks into a book store with a pile of 4 GBPound books on one side, and a pile of 400 GBPound iRex Illiads on the other. The "buyer" looking for one book is faced with a pretty stark prospect.

The value proposition maybe clear and compelling for some applications (students who need a PILE of reference books with them plus the ability to consult definitions, cross references etc, or a repair man who needs a PILE of different repair manuals with him for every displacement, etc.) but maybe not compelling at all for your average high-street buyer of a novel to take on vacations...

Nick makes good points comparing eBooks to music. I have always argued that the iPod growth was highly leveraged on first: the sale of CD's (i.e. we all had a lot of music in a digital format already), second: iTunes Software (remember this existed long before the iPod and before the iTunes store) that gave you an easy way to get that digital music off a separate physical disk and onto your hard disk and organized and played by the software that would later connect to your iPod.

Along came the iPod, it got plugged-in and synced and you had all your music ready to go, literally... That's a very easy transition that we'd all love to mimic with eBooks but it doesn't seem easy, except maybe for all the digital content available on the web that we might like to read in a more comfortable way than via our computer.

That would include some pre-digitized books (Gutenberg etc), but more so blogs and news I think. A new point (at least for me) that he raises is that book reading (in general, not just eBooks) in idle moments (waiting for flight, bus etc) will now have to compete with iPods and PMPs playing TV series, Films, etc. There are a few other wild card factors we'll need to see how they come into play, among them the environmental impact through energy and materials waste in printed matter - but that's a complex one (which I've touched on in previous posts), plus note-taking, and others.

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