eBooks: The False Dilemma

Guy LeCharles GonzalezBy Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Chief Executive Optimist, Digital Book World

People will continue to read printed books for a long time, just as some people still watch movies on VHS. But the printed book will be “dead” in a few short years in the sense that the bulk of the adoption curve, the pragmatic majority, will have moved on.

–Arvind Narayanan, “The death of the printed book is closer than you think

Narayanan’s post is the latest addition to the tiresome “print is dead” meme, and like the vast majority of digital evangelists, he presents a false dilemma, posits a zero-sum scenario, and evokes the tired and largely irrelevant example of Radiohead to make his point. By his “logic”, it could be argued that POD and podcasting should have already killed the publishing industry, and eBooks are simply dancing on its grave.

Ryan Chapman offered a much more pragmatic and realistic take on where the current eBook format fits in the big picture, A Brand, A Plan, A Channel: eBooks and Mass Market, noting: “After the digital transition, we’ll find that certain books fit an eBook audience, while others are meant for print.”

It really is THAT simple, and all else is linkbait blather and much punditry about nothing.

My two cents? Books are not LPs or CDs, and eReaders are not (and will never be) iPods. No one is ripping and sharing copies of Chapter 16 of The Lost Symbol, and the appeal of carrying more than 3 books around at once is limited to a niche audience of gadget freaks and heavy travelers.

If anything, eBooks are a great opportunity to expand the market, especially for novellas, short stories and anthologies of all kinds, as well as custom publishing of textbooks and how-to content, both of which several publishers are already experimenting with successfully, including Pearson and F+W Media (my employer [and DBW’s corporate parent]). Plus, the same way TV evolved past televising radio broadcasts into its own unique format, there’s huge potential for digital books and mobile apps that incorporate audio, video, kinetic typography, geolocation, databases, etc. — formats that can no longer appropriately be referred to as “books”.

Like the majority of readers, I’m neither a Luddite nor an early adopter; I love books and will likely always prefer the printed “artifact” over the “digital manifestation”, but with the right user experience– from discovery, to purchase, to formatting and shareability — I can see myself fully embracing eBooks for certain types of content.

The fact of the matter, though, hype aside, is that eBooks and eReaders simply aren’t ready for primetime.

Yet.

[This post was excerpted from eBooks: The False Dilemma at loudpoet.com]

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez is the Chief Executive Optimist for Digital Book World.

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