Thursday, November 29, 2007

Random Rant: Another ebook push

So, we're back to the ebook push again with the launch of two new readers from Amazon and Sony. I've made my feelings on ebooks pretty clear in the past, but with the launch of these new readers, I dutifully made the effort to check them out.

I first looked at Amazon's Kindle, and much to my surprise, I was actually kind of impressed with it. No, I don't believe I would like it as much as a real book, but, at least from the shots of it on the site, this looks like the most readable reader I've ever seen. The screen looks very much like a real book page, and with the cover they offer, you could almost hold it the way that you hold a book. I thought this might be worth at least checking out. Then I got to the price -- $400. After I put my eyes back in my head, I cruised on back over to the regular book section of the site. No thanks.

I next took a look at the Sony E-Reader. It looks a little less clunky than the Kindle, but, at least from the images I've seen, the screen doesn't look as easy on the eyes. Again, though, there's a $300 investment up front. That will buy a whole lot of traditional books.

Putting aside that I love my dead tree books and the fact that I hate the way the electronic format makes books somehow feel disposable, these readers, while the best we've seen so far, still have a lot of challenges. The biggest I believe, as I pointed out above, is the price. To your average person who doesn't have money to blow, a $400 upfront investment doesn't make a lot of sense. Most new releases that I've seen in ebook format cost $9.99. That's more than the average paperback, and not a whole lot less than what you can usually find the hardcover for online. (Not to mention the fact that, if you don't want to keep it, you can resell the hardcover or paperback, pass it along to a friend or donate it to a book fair. Things you can't do with the electronic copy.) It's a price point that I don't believe a whole lot of people are going to be willing to pay -- possibly only techies and hardcore environmentalist types who will feel better about themselves because they're saving trees. That's not a big audience, and not enough, I believe to push ebooks mainstream.

Then there's the fact that the software for these machines is proprietary. Want to download an ebook from the library onto your Kindle or E-Reader? Too bad. The only way to get the book you want is to purchase it from either Amazon in the case of the Kindle or Connect in the case of the Sony. I bristle at proprietary formats anyway. It's the reason that I have an MP3 player that's not an iPod -- one that allows me to load music from many different sources and from many different services. I'd say very few bibliophiles buy every single book that they read brand new. If we did, we certainly wouldn't have $400 to drop on a reader. This cuts out those of us who like to save a few bucks by buying used or going to the library.

So I hear the same argument building from some quarters that the music industry has already used on us. Authors deserve to get paid for their work and reselling or sharing a book with a friend is wrong. *sigh* I'm a writer. I hope to one day be a published writer. You can bet your ass I believe authors (and musicians) deserve to get paid for their work. When I am published, though, I will be delighted if someone likes my book well enough to pass it along.

It's an argument that's never made much sense to me. Someone that's not familiar with your work is much more likely to give it a shot if a friend passes the book along than they are to drop $10 on it at the store. I don't know how many times a friend has passed along a paperback, and I've liked it enough to go out and buy all the author's work. I don't know how many of my favorite bands I was introduced to by someone handing me a dubbed cassette (those are the little plastic things with wheels and actual tape in them for my younger readers.) I've literally spent thousands of dollars on authors and musicians that I took a chance on because they were handed to me for free.

Back to the subject at hand, I'll admit that these new readers have my attention, and that's quite an accomplishment considering my love of real books and my mindset about ebooks. But they've still got a long, long way to go. For right now, I still don't think they're ready for prime time and that little paper, ink and glue loving part of me smiles at the thought.

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