Three Percent scares me with the Arrr, matey.

Me timbers are shivering, if only a bit:

Someone, somewhere, will figure out a way to get the content from printed page to digital content quickly and easily (Think CDs to MP3s). Scanners will get cheaper and better, and that will have unintended consequences (Think CDRs and CD burners for your computer). Someone else will figure out a way to share the stuff (Think Napster), or sharing will piggy-back on the existing sharing systems. First the nerds, then the semi-nerds (like me) will catch on and start reading these books on their computers, not minding that it’s a little less convenient than reading a physical book. Some forward-thinking entrepreneur (Think Steve Jobs) will suddenly see an opportunity and make an e-reader that doesn’t suck and that will become a must-have thing.

By then it’ll be too late and the big publishers will put together a bunch of half-ass attempts (Think the new fee-based Napster) to put the genie back in the bottle, while holding on like grim death to their not so suddenly outdated business model, and will rot from within.

I’ve teeter-tottered between enthusiastic dorkwad embracing of the idea that I could read my books on A Device, or maybe even a phone (a Google Phone (read: iPhone challenger) is in the works, apparently, and may retail for $100) and coming to my senses: come on, there’s no way it could ever be as good as holding the book.  This article, though, struck a little fear:  what if people like myself eventually are overrun by new media, as younger, more device-embracing consumers – the holders of the purse-strings – demand the e-book, either before or after the likely inevitable design of "the iPod of eBooks"?  What if I become the guy who covets books, cursing out the youngsters, like the guy who will only listen to Johnny Hartman on vinyl?  (Sadly, in this equation, I’m the digital music guy, which only deepens my existential guilt over the whole matter.)  And then, if there are e-books galore, won’t there be piracy?  So: a world where the written word is valued enough to be pirated, is that worth a world where the "book" is a rarity?

Probably just all conjecture, since people who like books like books, period, and books aren’t records.  But still, the codger in me wants to make sure my lawn remains damned-kids-free indefinitely.


4 Replies to “Three Percent scares me with the Arrr, matey.”

  1. But what if, finally, an e-book *is* developed that “doesn’t suck” and provides you with a reading experience not unlike a real book? What really then is the point of resisting? What is it about ink on paper that makes it metaphysically superior? After all, “at least they’re reading.”

    (I am not myself currently looking for this perfect e-book reader. I like printed books just fine. But that the printed book might ulimately be phased out for something just as good doesn’t seem to me to warrant that much hand-wringing.)

  2. I think that’s a separate issue – my concern is about an increasingly technology-embracing society being presented with something “better” and the negative effects, long term, on the “traditional” publishing industry. The original post at 3% goes into it more, and better.

    I’m just worried (though that may be a bit strong of a term) that if e-books become more and more popular, eventually it will reach a point where someone in marketing will decide to give the e-book format a big push by releasing something only in e-book format. If that’s successful, and number crunchers decide that there’s more money to be made from e-books… it looks too much like it has potential from there to be a slippery slope. I like the option of book/audiobook; adding e-book to that isn’t in and of itself bad, but if it is seen as more cost-effective for a struggling publisher, and is an up-and-coming option (it isn’t, yet), things could change.

  3. From a post at Scott Esposito’s site:

    This is even true for devoted bibliophiles. Blogger Levi Asher, for instance, has put himself on record many times as unwilling to pay hardcover prices. For my own part, I certainly wouldn’t own as many books as I do if I had to pay full price for them. It’s only because of second-hand-book stores (where I can get new paperbacks for up to 70 percent off) and library book sales that I have as many books as I do. If I had to pay full price for every paperback that I own–much less hardcovers–I’d have many less books.

    If people who read 50 or more books per year are willing to cut consumption in response to prices, think what people who only read four books per year would do. Taking up this point, in an article at the Huffington Post, Alex Remington makes much of the rise of trade paperback prices, speculating of a growing gap in books for “the masses” and books for “intellectuals.” He says that trade paperbacks can increase in price because they’re targeted at better educated, more cultured readers who tend to buy books despite price increases, but that this practice leaves many readers behind.

  4. And then there are those of us who don’t even have access to English-language titles without having to wait for weeks on end and pay postage fees that nearly equal the cost of the book. I am *this* close to getting an ebook reader now, but I’m trying to hold out for better prices and the improvement of the technology. (Let’s see how long I last!)

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