July 28, 2004
Gizmodo on the Future of the eBook
Gizmodo today has a long article on the future of eBooks.
Co-existence of paper and electronic books is a great point — think of all of the paper formats we have: books, magazines, newspapers, each evolved to server a specific purpose. If anything, eBook devices are ideal for reading newspaper and (non-pictoral) magazine content.
I think at this point, the technology exists, the only remaining hurdles are form factor/interaction model (which will be solved through a few iterations and some innovation) and content, which appears to be the major obstacle.
There seem to be at least two distinct and important interaction models: one for recreational reading and a second for reference. A machine for recreational reading would require limited interaction with the user. The trick will be finding the most natural mapping of the printed page to the eBook screen, with minimalist controls for flipping pages, switching books/chapters, and saving your place. I think many eBook devices thus far have been overburdened with features like dictionaries, search, and note taking. When was the last time you searched within a newspaper page or took notes in the margin of a magazine?
For reference, an eBook device with more power for searching, bookmarking, annotating, etc. would be required. I could see this machine being adopted in medical situations, where PDA reference works are already in wide circulation.
With either model it will come down to sufficient content being made available to reach critical mass for a target group of users. Once it becomes tried and true in a smaller circle it will quickly spread.
There’s a great promotional tie-in waiting to happen here, chains (Starbucks, Borders) that already offer wi-fi access could offer free subscriptions to various content — you just have to bring your eBook device into their store and get it updated (while you order your Grande Cafe Mocha with whip).
Another wacky idea to solve the no-ripping conundrum — what if paper books had a one-time-use code hidden under a scratch-off panel that would allow the purchaser to register their ownership of the book and download a digital copy… Not exactly the anonymous equivalent to ripping a CD, but…