Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

E-Reader mania and the death and rebirth of books

Posted on | December 23, 2009 | 1 Comment

The gift-giving buzz this year is all about e-readers, which in the short run will wind up like so many Razor Scooters, but in the long run will turn out in the long run to be very useful devices. In the meantime, the disruption the very thought of this platform is causing is intriguing.

Rupert Murdoch’s HarperCollins Publishers is the latest to delay selling e-books at a time when publishers are thinking that selling titles on a digital platform for $10 when they could be getting $30 in hard cover is maybe not so smart. No one knows at this point how elastic the demand is for digital books. Will a lower price make it up for publishers on volume?

Bet the wrong way, and publishers and writers will end up like the music industry, which is to say eating through a feeding tube.

Thinking Different

But are they thinking creatively enough about the situation and the potential? Many publishers and writers seem to view e-readers as a digital version of books only a lot less lucrative. But why not look at it as what it is, something completely different. The e-reader, at its heart, is a multimedia device, which means the content can be rendered in a number of ways in addition to text. Talk about the potential for a rich-media experience.

Why can’t a publisher, for example, take a manuscript about, say, some historic whaling expedition (or whatever) and package it together with a documentary and sell it on an e-reader as a package? Maybe there’s an album of historic songs from that period that could be packaged up as well.

Technology always dictates content. Single songs were hits when small 45 rpm vinyl was king because they could hold a couple of songs. When big albums came into play, all that recording space led to album concepts, instead of just single tunes bunched together. That’s now fallen by the wayside in the iTunes era.

The New Concept Album

People have tried packaging CDs and the like with books and magazines, but the beauty of an e-reader is that it can conceivably handle more than just text and create a holistic entertainment experience. You can do this now through your PC but it’s incredibly time-consuming, the user interface isn’t designed for it, and the PC really isn’t the platform for this kind of kick-back content consumption.

Artists get a new channel and visibility, publishers get to charge a little more and maintain some semblance of relevance. Instead of e-readers holding books (or multiple RSS feeds) they become vessels for information albums.

It’s a thought. Paper books will always be there. That’s an experience unto itself. But it’s not something that should be replicated one for one on a digital platform.

Here’s a list of the hot e-readers today. If you’re thinking of me for Christmas, wait until next year. I’m holding out for the as-yet un-released Plastic Logic Que (pictured), just because it looks cool and it’s got a big form factor. It’s getting its premier early next month at CES in Las Vegas.

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One Response to “E-Reader mania and the death and rebirth of books”

  1. Loring Wirbel
    December 25th, 2009 @ 10:06 pm

    A further enhancement of the concept-album thought: When I was compiling my list of 2009 best music this week, I noticed that more than 40 had “bonus editions” with extra music and videos. In the case of U2, they came out with seven different versions of their latest albums, priced on a sliding scale. Imagine how that idea could be expanded for e-readers, with four or five different digital versions of the newest books, with price based on extra content. You’d have to figure out a way to play with the rarity aspect so popular with CDs and vinyl – only 1000 watermarked digital-file versions of this expanded version will ever be offered! etc. etc.

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