e-books: not a threat to real books any time soon

Am I in the minority here? Most people I talk to seem to think that e-Books are great and ordinary books are going to go the way of the dodo in the next 5 years… e-Book readers do seem to be getting better and better, but here’s why real books are going to be around for the foreseeable future: they just don’t offer enough over real books to justify the price. And if technology history tells us anything, it’s that technically better products don’t always win in the marketplace. VHS won over Betamax. MP3 continues to win over pretty much every other music format. And e-Books don’t have much hope of winning against real books any time soon.

The advantages of real books over e-Books:

  • Battery life.
  • Display contrast and viewing angle.
  • Price. It’s around $300 for the reader, plus the cost of the e-Books themselves.
  • Open format.
  • Availability.
  • Flexibility of page format and non-text display.

The advantages of e-Books over real books:

  • Portability. Kinda. 80 books in the space of one book, but you better look after that one!
  • Ease of publishing.
  • Search facilities.
  • Built-in lighting.
  • Ability to do other things besides read books.

So what do e-Books offer over real books? Portability – but when do I need to carry more than one or two books around? Search facilities – almost no use to a typical reader of novels or popular non-fiction. Built in lighting may be handy for bedtime reading and not waking up the SO. But it’s a small plus weighed against the significant minuses listed above.

Ability to play music or do other things? Well I’m all for convergence, and this could be useful to some, but the fact is that most multi-function devices are jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Nokia may be the world’s largest maker of digital cameras, but nobody (let alone photographers) uses their cameraphone for actually taking pictures they intend to keep. Or take the PSP – games, music, and film. It might have had a chance if it was just a games machine (although the DS beats it handily). But it’s a poor music and film device compared to oh, say the iPod and a 40″ TV.

e-Books also suffer from the lack of a decent target market. College students would be a good market if textbooks were available in e-Book format and if students had any money. But the intersection of gadget fans and book fans is not that big. What we need are e-Book package deals: reader plus some collected works of e.g. Isaac Asimov, Terry Pratchett, Stroustrup/Knuth/Meyers, for example. That might actually enlarge the early adopter market and break the chicken-and-egg problem of availability.

2 Responses to “e-books: not a threat to real books any time soon”

  1. kinepela says:

    yeah, while it's neat and all, i still like curling up with a good book.

    (http://livejournal.com/users/kinepela)

  2. elbeno says:

    Don't get me wrong – I don't think eBooks are a bad idea. They are just very poorly executed at the moment. Which is a shame, because there is so much potential.

    (http://livejournal.com/users/elbeno)

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