Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Netbook Creator to Launch Game-Changing E-Reader

By: Michelle Maisto
Asus is hoping to do for the e-reader market what it did for PCs when it introduced the first netbook. Asus, it's reported, will release one, if not two, e-reader in 2009, a "premium" version of which will feature two screens with a booklike spine.Asus is planning to enter the e-reader market later this year with at least one, if not two, device, the Times of London is reporting. The company that invented the netbook is innovating again, as the designideas it shared with the Times would surely shake up the market. Unlike the single, flat screens of current e-readers-such as the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader and Plastic Logic Reader-the Asus version would feature two screen on a hinged spine, more exactly mimicking the look and feel of a book.
Additionally, the Asus e-reader would feature full color, instead of the monocolor screens its competitors use, for a realistic ink-on-paper look.
It would also feature touch-screens and offer online connectivity. Consequently, readers would have the option of reading on one page and pulling up a Web page-with supplemental materials, for example-on the other, making it a natural educational tool. Another option, reports the Times, is for the second screen to act as an on-screen keyboard, enabling the e-reader to be used like a laptop.
A Webcam, speakers and a microphone for Skype also will be included. "Our ethos is innovation-as our brand is less well-known, we have to run faster than the competition to develop new types of products," a spokesman for Asus told the Times. "Any such product-including an e-reader-has to have the right combination of functionality and price. No one is going to buy one for £1,000." Asus is said to be working on "budget" and "premium" versions.
The premium is likely the double-screen version described above. The budget model, dubbed the Eee Reader, after the company's Eee PC netbook line, is expected to be more traditional and compete at a considerably lower price point.
The Times reports that Asus will likely try for a price of 100 British pounds, or approximately $164. In a July 29 report, Forrester Research found that the e-reader market is growing, "albeit from a very small base," according to report author Sarah Rotman. She concluded that the market will grow once prices fall. "While some will jump on board when prices hit $199 in 2010, others will hold out for a $99 device in 2012 or a $99 E Ink screen accessory for PCs and smartphones that could (and should) come out sooner," she wrote. In a Sept. 1 report, Forrester reiterated the same, forecasting that interest will rise as prices drop.
The same author predicted that e-readers won't reach the purchase numbers of MP3 players-which in 2009, 61 percent of the U.S. online population owns-but that digital cameras, which took 10 years to reach 50 million U.S. consumers, are a more likely model. If Asus can do for the e-reader market what it did for PCs, it'll be back to the drawing board for the researchers.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Media Goes Crazy over Amazon deleting '1984'

Media goes crazy over Amazon deleting '1984'
Media goes crazy over Amazon deleting '1984' from Kindle, but 99-cent ebook was illegal copy
By Nate Mook and Tim Conneally
Amazon issued a statement Friday night saying, "When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers' devices, and refunded customers. We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers' devices in these circumstances." However, the company did not touch on whether it would monitor more closely what books get uploaded as part of its self-serve system for publishers to avoid such circumstances altogether.
The press loves a juicy story, and Amazon served one up on a silver platter this morning by automatically deleting certain copies of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from customers' Kindles. But many facts were left out of this media frenzy, namely that the ebooks were essentially pirated copies sold for 99-cents by a company that had no rights to the material.
Amazon was able to remove the titles because the Kindle is configured to automatically sync up with the user's Bookshelf via the electronic book reader's WhisperNet wireless service. When the company removed the unauthorized books from customers' accounts, they also disappeared from the Kindle. Amazon then delivered a cryptic e-mail about what happened: "We recently discovered a problem with a Kindle book that you have purchased. We have processed a refund to the payment method used to acquire this book.
The next time the wireless is activated on your device, the problematic item will be removed. If you are not in a wireless coverage area, please connect your device to a computer using your USB cable and delete the file from the documents folder." Naturally, the media went wild. Amazon deleting books remotely? And the book in question being 1984, the dystopian classic where deep surveillance and censorship is the norm? It could only get more ironic if it was Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451. David Pogue at The New York Times hopped on the story early, claiming that "the publisher changed its mind about offering an electronic edition," and stated that Amazon "electronically deleted all books by this author." Pogue asserted that "Amazon...caved" on the matter.
The normally-reliable Harry McCracken at Technologizer wrote, "The books' publisher decided that it wasn't so hot on the idea of electronic rights after all." TechCrunch went so far as to compare Amazon's action to burning books, writing that the retailer deleted "perfectly legal versions" of 1984 and Animal Farm. "Big Brother is in your Kindle. Watching," TechCrunch's MG Siegler wrote. According to the NYT's Pogue, "it's like Barnes & Noble sneaking into our homes in the middle of the night, taking some books that we've been reading off our nightstands, and leaving us a check on the coffee table." Oh, give me a break. Whatever happened to a little fact checking? I guess we don't bother with that when a juicy story can be used to drum up comments and pageviews. I hate to be a party pooper ("Kindles" is now a top trend on Twitter with comments on this nearly every second), but let's get some facts straight before we compare Amazon to Big Brother: The two books in question were published for the Kindle by a company called Mobile Reference, which offers public domain books for around $1. Mobile Reference did not have the right to sell Orwell's novels because 1984 and Animal Farm are still under copyright protection in the United States.
They were not legitimate or "perfectly legal" copies of the books, but rather illicit copies that should not have been sold in the first place. Contrary to what the New York Times reported, the publisher did not change its mind, nor did Amazon cave to pressure. Rather, Amazon was notified that copyrighted material was being sold on the Amazon store without permission and it removed said material. In addition, the NYT's claim that Amazon deleted all works by this author is incorrect. In fact, there are still multiple copies of 1984 still for sale on the Kindle -- just not for 99-cents from a company that had no rights to do so. Other ebooks published by Mobile
Reference that do fall under public domain are also still for sale.
This is not the first time such an event has happened. Amazon has had to perform widespread recalls from the Kindle at least two other times in the past, and the company sent out the exact same notification. Ayn Rand's books were put up on the Kindle Store without consent from the Ayn Rand Institute and had to be pulled down, while unauthorized copies of Stephenie Meyer's popular Twilight series had to be removed as well. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was reportedly offered for sale for a few hours on Monday, even though electronic versions of the books have not been authorized. Of course, those titles don't invoke the delicious irony of Amazon lurking inside your Kindle and deleting 1984.
That's not to say that Amazon's actions were completely justifiable. The two ebooks may have been illegal copies, but they were purchased by the customer. In the real world, if you purchase stolen goods, you don't get to keep those goods, but you're also properly informed of the situation. This is where Amazon messed up. Instead of being honest about what happened -- that it sold unauthorized ebooks and has done so in the past -- Amazon only told customers that there was "a problem." While removing such titles from a customer's Bookshelf and in turn deleting them from the Kindle may be standard policy, a lack of communication about what actually happened has led to a media firestorm that will surely last through the weekend. Amazon also could have offered customers a legitimate replacement copy of 1984 or Animal Farm and footed the difference, because in the end, this was Amazon's mistake. Perhaps most importantly, this case and the others before it highlight a major problem with Amazon's Kindle Store.
The retailer shouldn't have been selling copyrighted material in the first place, and it needs to take a serious look at its acceptance policies to prevent such occurrences in the future. By comparison, Apple has stringent reviews of all applications submitted to its iPhone App Store. So is Amazon going to come take legitimate books off your nightstand because a publisher changed its mind, or even burn down your library as TechCrunch implies? No. But hopefully it will put policies into place on the Kindle Store so it won't need to recall unauthorized ebooks in the future.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

What Makes the ebook Experience Potentially Viable

Kindling eBooks
by Peter Brantley
With the Amazon Kindle ebook reader announcement increasingly looking like it is imminent, and with a review at Ars Tecnica of the latest generation Sony ebook reader ready to stoke a smoldering fire, it is an interesting time to speculate about the future direction and utility of ebook readers.

Booksquare today had an interesting muse about what makes the ebook experience potentially viable, and it is not the kind of DRM-laden entrapment that many vendors are providing now. Rather, the model should be that developed in other content areas, such as video.

[Start] with the expectation that media -- whatever kind -- will be accessible on demand. For my money, no matter what cool this or that is launched by major entertainment media, it's the YouTube model that exemplifies today's environment. Love it, hate it, don't understand it, YouTube works. You don't have to do anything special to access programming. This "just works" ability is what today's consumer desires ... and it's the base level expectation of today's youth.
The blog's authors observe how potentially capable the Apple iPhone is as a platform for ebooks, with its native support for reflowable text (including, potentially, IDPF's ebook format, .epub). But with Amazon pushing Kindle hard, how much attention is being paid to alternative channels, such as the iPhone, or the not-quite-here-yet promise of Google's open stack, Android?

Quick show of hands: how many publishers out there are actively engaged in discussions with Apple to ensure that the iTunes store stocks and promotes ebooks? Making sure that the iPhone has the right technology to facilitate reading ebooks? Or heck, any other kind of text? How many of you are making your voices heard when it comes to making certain that iPhone customers are able to download and read books on their phones?
With the bevy of press starting to ride herd on the new generation of dedicated readers, I've begun to try to think through how I feel about their potential success or failure, with the inevitable comparisons to the iPod and the music industry. (Alert! Speculation rampant below!).

I think, on reflection, that the comparison between audio (and video?) and book acquisition is less apt than it might seem at first glance. Given the extant media packaging within each sector, there was innately a higher barrier to the goal of acquisition and use in the music -- compared to the book -- industry, with the possible exception of a few select publishing markets. With growing digital options, the "LP album" as a compilation of tracks quickly became an obviously inefficient, undesirable bundling of content, screaming for disaggregation; perhaps the closest counterpart in the publishing industry, reference works including cookbooks, travel lit, dictionaries, and encyclopedias, have similarly and thoroughly escaped their legacy bounds; in these cases the conversion to print was not merely literal, but transformative.

In contrast, when one considers long form narratives, whether fiction or non-fiction, there is less of an impetus to migrate from print use except for the possible advantage of portability and more extensive support for visually handicapped readers; on the flip side, there exist some non-trivial barriers (drm, format wars, etc.) to electronic access. Exceptions to this equation tend to be concentrated in areas where consumption modes are inherently mass-market, and where volume exists in transactions; Harlequin may well be the single most successful ebook publisher in the market today. Replicating their striking success through niche markets, or across smaller-impact imprints, is likely to prove difficult.

One might argue that until text-based book production, as a creative process, turns more mixed media, and lends sufficient scaffolding for user generated content, re-use, and re-publication, the appeal of any dedicated, standalone device will be weak. Instead, it will be easier to generate marginal cross book-sector penetration with mixed-use devices (iPhone/gPhone) in which reflowable text/html formats (such as epub) are a straightforward application.

Not coincidentally, it is these same devices that will most readily support the envisioning and enactment of new forms of creative expression, ranging from discursive texts which mutually engage authors and readers; location-sensitive rich-media manga with self-selected forking plots; narratives with multiple entry points and randomized outcomes; hybrid reality games where communication, collaboration, and interaction occur in a combination of physical and the digital spaces; and artistry that we cannot yet imagine.

Maybe the Kindle and Sony devices will be successful; if so, I think it is likely to be a short-term success, a last gasp of a long-enduring form of socially constructed content packaging rendered anew in digital form. Unfortunately, current ebook manifestations lack the emotive sensitivities of the old, without taking advantage of the opportunities of the new, both in terms of consumer experience and in their power to inform and entertain. How we read will be transformed as much as what we read.

Intrinsically, what will ultimately make devices a success is their openness to hacking and experimentation - although content publishers and distributors might not want to hear it, that is ultimately what will make the market.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

NYT's 10K subscribers on Kindle: The start of something bigger?

NYT's 10K subscribers on Kindle: The start of something bigger? The Nieman Journalism Lab

One other important note from that internal New York Times memo my colleague Zach got a hold of: The company reports it has "more than 10,000 paid subscribers" to an electronic edition of the newspaper on Amazon's Kindle ebook reader. To my knowledge (please correct me if I'm wrong), that's the first time a major newspaper has released numbers on how it's doing on Kindle - a platform lots of newspaper execs are eager to see turn into a saving grace for their industry.

Given that the electronic Times costs $13.99 a month, that would mean the NYT Kindle edition is generating in the neighborhood of $1.68 million a year. How much of that goes to NYT Co. and how much stays with Amazon is unclear.

Amazon has been tightlipped about how many of the devices it has sold, which has led some (including me) to think it might be a smaller success than some had hoped. (TechCrunch claimed in August it knew the number: 240,000.) If we do some highly crude back-of-the-envelope calculation, that would mean The New York Times has a penetration rate on the Kindle of around four percent.

Not bad, considering the Kindle is the first incarnation of that dreamy aspirational future of newspapers: no physical distribution costs, plus a steady revenue stream that comes from news consumers, not advertisers.

This also provides some guidance in how other newspapers might be doing on the Kindle. Amazon publishes rankings of its newspapers' sales: The NYT comes in second behind The Wall Street Journal, but ahead of the papers you might imagine (The Washington Post, Financial Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune). Amazon's sales-ranking systems are famously inscrutable - just ask any author who tries to track how his book fares hour to hour - but I'd guess the Journal is generating Kindle revenue numbers similar to the Times', since they sell their edition for only $9.99 but have more subscribers. My suspicion is that there's a pretty steep dropoff in Kindle sales numbers after the NYT, then a much steeper one after the FT - I'd be curious to see numbers from a major metro like The Boston Globe or The Denver Post. The early-adopter crowd that is currently buying Kindles is, I suspect, more interested in a national news product than their local daily.

I've been at a number of conferences recently where newspaper people point to the Kindle (or at least Kindle-like devices) as a major source of industry salvation - arguing that the Kindle will have an adoption slope similar to the iPod's, and that they'll soon be seen in every park and subway around America. And since Kindle users pay money for content, there may be a business model for newspapers after all.

I'm not yet sold on that vision. I think for the Kindle to reach mainstream success, it'll have to shift its focus from being an ebook reader with a junky mobile web browser to being a great mobile web browser with an ebook reader attached. It'll have to become something more like the iPhone with a bigger screen and better battery life. (There are signs the iPhone might already have the ebook-reader lead over the Kindle, although without the business model attached.)

And when that shift happens, it'll become trivially easy to read newspapers' (free) web sites on the device - which I suspect will undercut Kindle newspaper subscriptions just as it undercuts print newspaper subscriptions. But the NYT's numbers are among the first public signs that people - at least some people - are willing to pay to get news in the electronic format of their choice, even when they can get it on the web or their phone for free.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Esquire magazine unveils cover with electronic ink

Esquire magazine unveils cover with electronic ink
AP Business Writer

Although readers keep shifting to the Internet, Esquire magazine's editor is sure print isn't dying, and he aims to prove it Monday by unveiling a 75th-anniversary issue with a cover that features electronic ink.

"For the last couple of years I've been in search of ways to do something that shows that print is a particularly vital product," said Esquire magazine's editor-in-chief, David Granger. "I really do think that print is the most exciting and rewarding medium there is."

A 10-square-inch display on the cover of Esquire's October 2008 anniversary issue flashes the theme "The 21st Century Begins Now" with a collage of illuminated images. On the inside cover, a two-page spread advertising the new Ford Flex Crossover features a second 10-square-inch display with shifting colors to illustrate the car in motion at night.

The displays, which Granger said have boosted advertising in the issue, were developed by E Ink Corp., a Cambridge, Mass., company that also supplied the electronic paper technology for the screen of Amazon's Kindle e-book reader.

The technology for both products uses micro-capsules of ink that are controlled by an electric charge. Unlike the Kindle, the magazine's display is not linked to a wireless network, so it cannot be updated.

Scott Daly, a Dentsu America Inc. executive who oversees media buying for Canon, Toyota, and other companies, said the concept is a needed shot in the arm for the newspaper and magazine industry.

"A lot of people will say that there isn't that much excitement in the magazine world, but this proves that there can be," Daly said.

In the first half of 2008, newsstand sales of U.S. magazines fell more than 6 percent, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Meanwhile, the economic slowdown has exacerbated a decline in advertising revenue for newspapers and magazines' print editions. The Publishers Information Bureau reported that magazines had roughly 8 percent fewer ad pages in the second quarter of 2008 than the same period a year earlier.

Ad pages for Esquire, a general-interest magazine targeting higher-income men, were down 5.7 percent in the first half of 2008, according to the Magazine Publishers of America.

Esquire's circulation gained slightly compared with 2007, according to the ABC.

"If we want to keep print vital, print advertising has to be just as vital as print editorial," Granger said.

So far, he said, the electronic display has been a strong draw: The October issue has the most ad pages of any issue in his 11 years as editor-in-chief of Esquire.

Granger wouldn't disclose the extra cost of printing the electronic display or its gain from Ford's ad buy.

"Flex is a breakthrough product for Ford, and the Esquire opportunity offered us the chance to show the vehicle in a way we could never previously have imagined," Jim Farley, Ford's group vice president of marketing and communications, said in a written statement.

Esquire is printing 100,000 copies of the October issue with the special cover, which will sell for $5.99 - $2 more than the standard $3.99 cover price - at Borders and Barnes & Noble stores and certain newsstands. Without the e-paper cover, single copies of the anniversary issue will sell for $4.99. Esquire's total monthly circulation is roughly 725,000.

Esquire first approached E Ink about a collaboration more than seven years ago, but the technology was not yet ready for magazines. In the summer of 2007, Esquire and parent Hearst Corp. again contacted E Ink about creating a display for the anniversary issue. The biggest hurdle, Granger said, was packing the six batteries and two computer chips needed for the displays into the magazine's cover. The batteries are guaranteed to last 3 months but expected to work for more than 6 months.

"It was a very difficult process because at every step of the way, nobody had ever done this before," Granger said.

Granger predicted that Esquire will someday include e-paper displays linked to a cellular network or radio frequency, which will allow the magazine to add updates to stories during the month an issue is on sale.

"It could be a year away, it could be three years away, but it will happen soon," Granger said.

E Ink has an exclusive agreement with Hearst through June. Granger said he hopes to use an electronic paper display again in the magazine during the first half of 2009.

"We're already in meetings about what we can do at Esquire and throughout the Hearst magazine division to really take it to the next level and show what this technology is capable of," Granger said. Hearst Magazines' titles also include Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping and SmartMoney.

Granger believes e-paper is the technology to finally usher magazines into the 21st century.

"I treasure the magazine experience of, like, going into this little world that's been prepared for you by somebody else," Granger said. "It's not like the Web, where there's just this constant cacophony of noise."

E-paper, Granger said, can incorporate digital technology into magazines without making them unrecognizable. "It preserves that experience but then it adds a little something else," he said, "a little incentive to spend even more time with your magazine."

Monday, June 09, 2008

U.S. News Loses Weekly War as Sector's Ad Pages Plummet

U.S. News Loses Weekly War as Sector's Ad Pages Plummet
Biweekly Will Focus on Franchise Rankings, Cede Space to Time, Newsweek
By Nat Ives

NEW YORK ( -- U.S. News & World Report, the longtime No. 3 weekly news magazine, is dropping to a biweekly frequency starting next year, effectively ceding its troubled category to larger rivals Time and Newsweek.

Source: Media Industry NewsletterAll three traditional newsweeklies have already taken steps such as cutting paid-circulation guarantees as competition has increased and the news cycle has gone into hyperdrive. U.S. News has already trimmed its frequency to 36 issues this year from 46 last year. But the move to publish issues only every other week -- with additional specials on occasion -- provides the strongest signal yet that the ground has permanently shifted under the old newsweeklies. "'News' and 'week' becomes an oxymoron," was how Brian Kelly, editor of U.S. News, described the effect of always-on media last week. "It's a very smart, strategic move," said Brenda White, senior VP-director of publishing activation at Starcom Worldwide.

"When you think about it, what their brand stands for is the rankings: the 100 best hospitals. There is a franchise there, and they capitalized on it." "They're really embracing change," Ms. White added, "vs. fighting or just thinking about it."

It's probably helped focus everyone's mind that ad page sales are suffering this year under the added weight of a recession. Ad pages so far have fallen 23.7% at Newsweek, 27.2% at Time and 32.7% at U.S. News, according to Media Industry Newsletter. Around in five years?At a panel last week, media critic and provocateur Michael Wolff suggested the newsweeklies' challenges would only get worse. "If Newsweek is around in five years, I'll buy you dinner," he said.

(Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham sees a different future: "I like steak," he told Ad Age later, "and look forward to dinner.") But there's no getting around the fact that demand for the print versions is dwindling. Time reported average paid circulation of nearly 3.4 million for the second half of last year, down 17.6% as it drastically cut its guaranteed circulation; newsstand sales declined 19.4%. Newsweek's average was flat at 3.1 million, including a 16.3% decline on newsstands; its rate-base reduction did not take effect until January. U.S. News also reported flat circulation, at just over 2 million, as newsstand slipped 7.9%; it, too, cut its rate base in 2008. The newsweeklies are investing heavily in their websites, where they expect to find future audience growth. The new idea at U.S. News is to let the web do what it does best -- provide instant news updates and vast stores of reference material -- so the print edition can publish less often.
"Because we're able to provide our audience with much more current information on the web, it frees us up to do some better storytelling in print," Mr. Kelly said. Websites for all three are, in fact, turning in growth, but Time and Newsweek are faring much better, in part because of their collaborations with other players including CNN and MSNBC. Time's site averaged 4.5 million monthly unique visitors last year, up 34% from the year before, according to Nielsen Online.

Newsweek's 6.5 million average unique visitors represented a 38% gain. U.S. News averaged 1.3 million unique visitors for a gain of 6.5%. Redesign in storeU.S. News executives are turning away from the old category battles. "We're definitely less concerned about the broader issues for the newsweekly category," said President William D. Holiber. "We're more concerned about focusing in on how we can connect our users and readers with our advertisers. The direction that we're taking puts us in a position to do that."

U.S. News is also revealing a redesign next month which will play to print's strengths, such as the capacity to engage readers with that better storytelling Mr. Kelly mentioned earlier. It is refocusing its editorial efforts on providing "what it means to me" content in health, education, personal finance, public affairs and opinion. Its online offerings will include expanded e-mail newsletters, themselves a relatively recent arrival, and a new opinion area later this month. The brand is also creating a U.S. News Media Group to house and market its print edition, the companion site, its popular rankings of colleges and other institutions, the Rankings and Reviews site introduced last year, and newsstand specials such as "Secrets of the Civil War."

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Bits, Bands and Books

Bits, Bands and Books
Do you remember what it was like back in the old days when we had a New Economy? In the 1990s, jobs were abundant, oil was cheap and information technology was about to change everything.
Then the technology bubble popped. Many highly touted New Economy companies, it turned out, were better at promoting their images than at making money - although some of them did pioneer new forms of accounting fraud. After that came the oil shock and the food shock, grim reminders that we're still living in a material world.
So much, then, for the digital revolution? Not so fast. The predictions of '90s technology gurus are coming true more slowly than enthusiasts expected - but the future they envisioned is still on the march.
In 1994, one of those gurus, Esther Dyson, made a striking prediction: that the ease with which digital content can be copied and disseminated would eventually force businesses to sell the results of creative activity cheaply, or even give it away. Whatever the product - software, books, music, movies - the cost of creation would have to be recouped indirectly: businesses would have to "distribute intellectual property free in order to sell services and relationships."
For example, she described how some software companies gave their product away but earned fees for installation and servicing. But her most compelling illustration of how you can make money by giving stuff away was that of the Grateful Dead, who encouraged people to tape live performances because "enough of the people who copy and listen to Grateful Dead tapes end up paying for hats, T-shirts and performance tickets. In the new era, the ancillary market is the market."
Indeed, it turns out that the Dead were business pioneers. Rolling Stone recently published an article titled "Rock's New Economy: Making Money When CDs Don't Sell." Downloads are steadily undermining record sales - but today's rock bands, the magazine reports, are finding other sources of income. Even if record sales are modest, bands can convert airplay and YouTube views into financial success indirectly, making money through "publishing, touring, merchandising and licensing."
What other creative activities will become mainly ways to promote side businesses? How about writing books?
According to a report in The Times, the buzz at this year's BookExpo America was all about electronic books. Now, e-books have been the coming, but somehow not yet arrived, thing for a very long time. (There's an old Brazilian joke: "Brazil is the country of the future - and always will be." E-books have been like that.) But we may finally have reached the point at which e-books are about to become a widely used alternative to paper and ink.
That's certainly my impression after a couple of months' experience with the device feeding the buzz, the Amazon Kindle. Basically, the Kindle's lightness and reflective display mean that it offers a reading experience almost comparable to that of reading a traditional book. This leaves the user free to appreciate the convenience factor: the Kindle can store the text of many books, and when you order a new book, it's literally in your hands within a couple of minutes.
It's a good enough package that my guess is that digital readers will soon become common, perhaps even the usual way we read books.
How will this affect the publishing business? Right now, publishers make as much from a Kindle download as they do from the sale of a physical book. But the experience of the music industry suggests that this won't last: once digital downloads of books become standard, it will be hard for publishers to keep charging traditional prices.
Indeed, if e-books become the norm, the publishing industry as we know it may wither away. Books may end up serving mainly as promotional material for authors' other activities, such as live readings with paid admission. Well, if it was good enough for Charles Dickens, I guess it's good enough for me.
Now, the strategy of giving intellectual property away so that people will buy your paraphernalia won't work equally well for everything. To take the obvious, painful example: news organizations, very much including this one, have spent years trying to turn large online readership into an adequately paying proposition, with limited success.
But they'll have to find a way. Bit by bit, everything that can be digitized will be digitized, making intellectual property ever easier to copy and ever harder to sell for more than a nominal price. And we'll have to find business and economic models that take this reality into account.
It won't all happen immediately. But in the long run, we are all the Grateful Dead.

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