Are e-books hitting the tipping point?

Take the recent announcement of the Kindle 2 by Amazon, last holiday’s shortages of the first generation device following Oprah’s endorsement; mix in Google’s immense effort to digitize the world’s library of copyright-expired books; throw in a ton of OEM interest in eInk and other e-reader screen technologies; blend in a bad economy and the simple math that e-books are half the price of their tree-killing, backpack straining ancestors; add a little something called the iPhone and an Amazon app that makes Kindle format books readable on that hip little device; bless with a patent infringement lawsuit by Discovery Channel over some copy projection system in the Kindle; now see Sony do a deal with Google to make half a million free books available to owners of Sony’s stylish reader ….

I’m not going to write the paper book’s obituary, but it feels like, as one writer put it yesterday, e-readers/e-books/whatever-you-call-em are poised to become the iPod of the literary world very soon.

It feels like a classic format/standards war is about to break out. Sony is the master of dumb moves when it comes to copy protection and file formats. Anyone who bought one of their post-Walkman music players knows they had an approach to DRM that was right out from behind the Iron Curtain – what one would expect from a content company that also makes devices. Amazon, who gets credit in music for pushing DRM-free tunes before Apple did the same, is not a veteran of the format wars. You want someone who has gone to the mat at Microsoft, Adobe, etc. when you arrive at a file-format fight. Google knows formats and open systems better than anybody, so my perfect world would be this:

  1. The Kindle file format extends to all new devices with no royalties back to Amazon.
  2. Sony ends the division and signs onto the Kindle format as well.
  3. Google makes its content device-agnostic (which it should given its waltz with the publishers)
  4. Amazon discounts the heck out of the Kindle on a spring promo and gets it down to $100 – I know lots of non-techie people who are NOT early adopters who want a Kindle bad but have no way to justify $350 in this market. Indeed, coupon zealots like me and let us throw the discounts to the people we want to share books with.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

3 thoughts on “Are e-books hitting the tipping point?”

  1. What is nice about what Sony does is that they have a software reader for my laptop so you don’t need the actual hardware device. If only Amazon would do the same proving software to read Kindle files on the laptop.

  2. in a moment of weakness I ordered the Kindle 2 (it’ll never pay for itself, I know) and while I love its look and feel and find the reading experience very pleasant and far better than laptop reading (not withstanding the need to keep clicking next page much faster than I would have to turn pages reading a book), I hate having to search for “content” online. Browsing for new books in a bookstore is far more satisfying and productive exercise than scrolling down Amazon’s best sellers list (mostly crap) or trying to drill down into sub-categories (“literary fiction” includes some clunkers that would never make a school syllabus) only to find the title is not available on Kindle (case in point: Rabbit Run).

    Since I already get home delivery of the paper NYT and read most of it online before the delivery guy gets to my house I’m reluctant to pay to subscribe on Kindle too, but it may come to that. Ditto for the NYer.

    Wish there was a way to subscribe once and read it anywhere: laptop, Kindle, phone…

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