Publishers Fighting the Future

Yet another story, this time via NYT Bits, of the publishing industry copying the mistakes made by other content industries. In this case, trying to game the release of titles in different formats due to fear of one cannibalizing the other.

Nick Bilton, the article’s author, I think nails exactly why this reasoning is so deeply flawed.

…these are people who love books so much that they want to carry a collection of them around on a single device and want to interact more deeply with them (such as looking up words in a built-in dictionary, sharing content with others and taking notes about what they’re reading).

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I love my print editions, especially my hard covers, and am not planning on stopping buying them any time soon. However, if I could purchase a combined edition, a hard cover bundled with a download link, I would be even more likely to buy and pay extra for that premium.

Nick goes on from there to discuss many more reasons that ebooks have a powerful attraction with the potential to invigorate reading, not curb it. I encourage you to read the entirety of this piece since he puts it all so well.

As many, many others have said, new media flourishes where existing media fails to function. Stifling innovation isn’t going to put the genie back in the bottle. Rather it is going to exert a stranglehold on both. How hard is it to understand that the simple key to success is combining the complementary strengths of the old and the new to the mutual advantage of both?

Cory’s Speech, “How to Destroy the Book”

Cory has been sharing this thought experiment, recently, this notion of how books hold a privileged place and that the publishing industry is in the process of undermining that. He touched on this a little bit on his recent interview on my podcast and has been expanding the idea with each iteration.

He just posted a link to the transcript, made by Jade Colbert, from the speech he gave at the Canadian National Reading Summit which focused exclusively on this idea.

We are the people of the book. We love our books. We fill our houses with books. We treasure books we inherit from our parents, and we cherish the idea of passing those books on to our children. Indeed, how many of us started reading with a beloved book that belonged to one of our parents? We force worthy books on our friends, and we insist that they read them. We even feel a weird kinship for the people we see on buses or airplanes reading our books, the books that we claim. If anyone tries to take away our books—some oppressive government, some censor gone off the rails—we would defend them with everything that we have. We know our tribespeople when we visit their homes because every wall is lined with books. There are teetering piles of books beside the bed and on the floor; there are masses of swollen paperbacks in the bathroom. Our books are us. They are our outboard memory banks and they contain the moral, intellectual, and imaginative influences that make us the people we are today.

This certainly describes me. The rest of the speech raises my hackles for fear of how my admitted bibliophilia may become endangered. This very threat has led Cory to espousing a seemingly odd counter-intuition. Copyright must be protected and preserved, specifically the rights it grants to use as people of the book. I have been following this trend of publishers trodding on these rights, with increasing interest since Cory has put this bug in my brain.

Follow the links and read the full text transcription. See if it doesn’t send a chill down your spine, too.

Affordable DIY Book Scanner

One of the barriers to wide spread file sharing of books is the slow and labored adoption of ebooks by the industry and the cost, both in terms of labor and material, for digitizing print editions. As publishers experiment with committing the same mistakes that the music industry made before them with disproportionately high pricing of digital editions and crippling DRM, do-it-yourselfers are expressing their frustration by just routing around the problem.

Wired details one such case, a student who has cobbled together a workable book scanner for about $300. It still involves some manual effort, it doesn’t include any means to automatically turn pages. But it overcomes the limitations of the other commodity option, using consumer grade flatbed scanners. According to the article, there already seems to be a growing community around Reetz’s design so solutions for automating page turning may yet be suggested along with countless other improvements.

Appropriately enough, the Wired piece also has a bit of legal analysis. UCB professor Pamela Samuelson contends that the project should fall largely under personal fair use. She also considers how this may affect competitive electronic book offerings from publishers, hopefully for the better.

Periodical Publishers Announce a New, Common Platform

Well, actually, they have done little more than announce their intention to develop such a platform (thanks to The Register). This announcement contains a whole lot of ho-hum in my view, bland statements about interoperability, rich design, and “a rich array of innovative advertising opportunities”.

There is one “oh dear” in there, though, according to John Squires, the interim director of the project:

Once purchased, this content will be ‘unlocked’ for consumers to enjoy anywhere, anytime, on any platform.

This fairly shouts DRM to me. Granted, there just isn’t a lot to this announcement but my gut feeling on this is that they want to develop yet another closed system where the publishers maintain control and merely allow others to participate, let alone innovate.

It seems to me that if they wanted to create something new and open, they’d just get to the business of creating it and let the work in progress draw the interest. You know, like those book publishers who are putting titles out in ePub format.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of some of the content produced by outfits party to this announcement, in particular those parties that are already offering content in an open format, the web, and experimenting with advertising and other models. Ars Technica, which was recently bought by Condé Nast, serves ads and just recently launched a subscription service that does appear to be trying to provide value for dollar spent.

There are ways already for periodicals to participate in the new ecosystem of portable devices like the iPhone, Android and the Kindle. I just don’t see the need for yet another large scale initiative like this when small scale experimentation would yields better results, more quickly, and would truly better serve the needs of the readers.