A lot has been written about ebooks since Sony’s release of its ebook reader.
Most reviewers don’t see this as a revolution. David Pogue at The New York Times thinks that it’s a niche product best suited for gadget freaks and people with vast document stashes (aren’t we all like this though?). Walt Crawford at EContent also thinks that ebooks aren’t going to displace p-books anytime soon, since they “are a solution in search of a problem.”
Both reviews miss the whole point: books are just a medium for the delivery of textual content. So are newspapers and magazines – both of whose market has changed due to the internet. Books saw little negative impact (possibly even positive impact thanks to the likes of Amazon.com) because computer screens don’t fit where they are usually consumed. The paperback-sized ebook reader, with its e-ink screen changes that.
While true bookworms just love the smell of paper, it is not really the physical book that we consume. It is the content.
Now look at what happens to industries where content can suddenly be consumed in digital form. Need I say Napster?
Messrs. Pogue and Crawford mention Sony’s new digital bookshop that supplies content for the reader. However, they may not yet be aware of the millions of ebooks freely available. One need only start searching torrent forums.
In a few hours’ work you could find and download a library’s worth of books. All for free of course. Sure, that involves copyright infringement, but when did that ever bother anyone?
If the iPod is any indication of how much hardware you can sell to young people when it plays free content, then Sony should do very well indeed. Since youngsters are the most likely to share digital files, it may yet seem fortunate, from book authors’ point of view, that young people don’t read books anymore…