Tuesday, January 23, 2007

e-Books don't check out

An article in the The Sunday Times breathlessly reported how Google is said to be working with publishers “on plans that they hope could do for books what Apple’s iPod has done for music.” The article says:

The internet search giant is working on a system that would allow readers to download entire books to their computers in a format that they could read on screen or on mobile devices such as a Blackberry.

So? This isn’t new. Adobe PDFs have been available for more than a decade and there are versions of the Adobe Reader for PDAs. Adobe’s Creative Suite applications have design tools to help migrate content to small devices like PDAs or mobile phones.

Neither is it any big deal that Google has some 380 million people using it each month (according to the article). Okay, 380 million users IS a big deal, but not for this—the existence of a lot of potential customers doesn’t automatically translate into actual customers.

Google, like Adobe before it, has one fundamental problem: Bathtubs.

While it may be theoretically interesting to read a novel on a laptop or handheld device, no one will risk taking one with them as they soak in the bath. You drop a book into the hot sudsy water and you lose a few dollars. You drop an electronic device and you lose a few hundred, at least.

The problem is that there’s still no cheap, easily transportable bath-proof reading device that’s as easy, handy and safe as paper. There’s been work on developing various forms of plastic “paper”, essentially thin sheets that could be rolled up and even thrown away (or maybe recycled…) when the customer is finished. So far, nothing’s come of it.

I always used to say that eBooks wouldn’t take off until there was the equivalent of the data pads on “Star Trek” (newer series, thank you). Plastic “paper” would be even better. Until we have better reading devices, however, people are likely to stick with tried-and-true paper for their books, and not even Google can change that.

No comments: