The history of the internet is littered with failed experiments to shoehorn print online. From PDFs simply stuck online, to ‘turn the page’ user interfaces, to a dump of reams of text into HTML, simply trying to replicate print online misses the point of what makes digital different.
Slowly though, momentum is building for digital print. Let’s look at some of the main reasons for this:
1) The relative success of the Kindle. While the reported 250k+ Kindle 1’s sold is not huge, it does demonstrate that there is a market for e-books delivered over a well designed device, even at an early adopter pricing point. The Kindle 2 will only advance this. Now we are even starting to see newspapers and magazines available in the Kindle store.
2) Related to the point above, the advances in e-book technology, seen in the Kindle and the Sony Reader (among others). I was somewhat cynical until I actually got one in my hands a couple of weeks back and yes, it really does look like paper. Flexible e-paper is also on its way.
3) Google and Amazon’s combined weight. Amazon announcing its intention to put all books into e-book format, Google putting 1.5m public domain works online and its settlement with publishers over out of print but in-copyright books.
4) Public domain works. From the complete works of Shakespeare in an iPhone app to the Canterbury Tales in a blog, Chaucer’s Tales, there are numerous ways that innovators are experimenting with delivering out of copyright public works.
5) The environment. Books are beautiful objects and remain my preferred reading format, but it’s a powerful argument to remove the physical print and distribution costs from the equation through an e-book.
6) Mobile. While reading a book on an iPhone is a far from ideal experience, it can be a convenient way to dip in and out of text when it’s difficult to lug around multiple books. Again I was previously a cynic until having the Complete Works of Shakespeare available to me via the iPhone app has helped me get back into old school texts and rediscover some of the Sonnets while stuck on The Tube.
Books are wonderful objects that are here to stay, but they are going to have to co-exist with e-books as the reading experience, search functionality and storage capacity of digital print starts to make an impact.