OPINION

Raise a Toast to the Stubborn

Most of us hit our heads against a wall and learn, quickly, that it hurts. Some people never learn, but those people just might be the ones to take the Internet to the next level.

Take, for example, the e-book crowd. On the surface, it seems clear that these people just don’t get it. It has been two years now since Stephen King tried his e-book experiment, only to find that the honor system is inherently flawed. And since then, e-books have all but fallen off the map.

Sure, e-books got a modicum of recognition when the National Book Awards decided to include them in its annual recognition of the best books. But other than that, they’ve pretty much been a major bust.

E What?

I should know. I’m a reader, and the thought of reading an electronic book still makes me cringe, even though it has been roughly five years since the idea first gainedrecognition.

Yes, there are still technological advances to be made that might help e-books succeed. Flexible computer screens that could be rolled up like magazines would be a huge advantage. Of course, you’d also need a flexible power source and electronic ink that doesn’t get destroyed when you sit on the e-book in your back pocket.

But all of that is more than doable. It’s being done in R&D labs all over the place, and it won’t be long before such products hit the market, assuming there’s a demand. This is where the people who just won’t learn come in.

Open-and-Shut Case

Right now, for instance, is the middle of Open eBook Week, a creation of the Open eBook Forum, a consortium of electronic book publishers. You might not have been aware of the occasion, but you can get discounts and the like if you search around.

Microsoft, Simon & Schuster and others are all taking part, providing new incentives for the wired generation to read e-books. The new Ethan Hawke novel, for instance, is being released in e-book format this week.

According to the director of the forum, the electronic publishing industry is thriving. But that comes as a major surprise to me. I can’t recall the last time I saw anyone reading an e-book.

But the important thing is that e-books aren’t going away, no matter how much they are marginalized. Whether future e-book innovations will be enough to make people think they must own electronic books is still open for debate. But at least that debate can be had on more than theoretical terms once the right hardware is in place.

Time Will Tell

So far, though, e-books have had a checkered past. The King experiment, in which the author intended to sell installments of a novel with a voluntary payment model, was a black eye for the industry. After all, King is one of publishing’s champion horses, good for a few million books a year. If he can’t make a go of e-books, who can?

Until now, the answer has been that thousands of lesser-known writers have sold e-books with pretty good results. E-books have found their niches in the self-help area, for instance. Romance novels — whose readers churn through them at an alarming rate — seem to be a natural fit for the medium as well.

But moving from niche to mass market is a requirement if e-books are to matter in the long run. And breaking through that barrier will require continued persistence. Who knows? Maybe in a few years, every week will be e-book week. If we ever get there, we’ll have those crazy, dedicated people with the laser-beam focus to thank for it.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.


Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


2 Comments

  • "…moving from a niche to a mass market…" may not in fact be key to future e-book success.
    If romance novels, or whatever those things in the checkout lanes are, are a "niche," I need to recheck my dictionary.
    And even if they are, perhaps success for the e-book, as in other information technology, will be the diversification of the monocultural mass market into a richer ecology of diverse audiences for diverse literatures.

  • I prefer reading on paper but living in the UK face a delay of sometimes years before American books appear over here. So I download the electronic version at about a fifth of the cost and then a year or two later, if I really like it, buy the British edition in paper. Sometimes of course publishers just don’t want to sell overseas so the electronic version is our only choice.
    There are advantages for writers and publishers – they can sell an electronic version at a fifth the cost of paper and still make more profit. See the e-books site at http://www.baen.com for a full analysis. I have read dozens of their excellent e-books, many of which are by famous living authors. I also have dozens of paper books from the same publisher, they are not mutually exclusive.

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