When my daughter was born almost two years ago, I wondered if she’d grow up reading books. After all, I do most of my reading online, and increasingly find myself reading short articles rather than whole books. Needless to say, she’s loved books so far, even if she’s shredded a few.
But the bigger surprise for me is that books–specifically e-books–have become such a hot industry. When I briefly worked for a consulting firm after grad school in 1999, my first assignment was to evaluate the e-book market. The readers then consisted of the Rocket ebook and SoftBook Reader. Needless to say, I correctly predicted at the time that the ebook-market wasn’t ready for prime time.
But the last days (and even the last 24 hours!) of news show that the e-book market is only starting to open up:
- In May, Sony, whose e-reader sales have lagged behind the Kindle, announced a partnership with Google in May in order to make copyright-free books available for free.
- Google just announced a service called Editions that it plans to launch in 2010 (by when it will have presumably settled the Google Books Settlement Agreement).
- The Internet Archive just announced the Bookserver project as “a growing open architecture for vending and lending digital books over the Internet”.
- Spring Design just announced Alex, an e-book reader based on Google’s Android operating system.
- Barnes & Noble is expected to announce an e-reader that competes directly with the Kindle and has generated lots of buzz through leaked photos.
I grew up on books, and I’m excited to see that, a decade after the initial market failures, e-books (like touchscreens) are a mainstream reality. I still worry about who will buy them, especially considering that the marginal cost of distributing a typical e-book is even less than that of distributing a 5-minute song. A quick scan of a popular file-sharing site reveals that the pdf version of bestseller The Lost Symbol takes up less than 3MB.
Still, I’ll take a moment to celebrate the progress of technology. I’ve always known that reading was cool, but now we have the gadgets to prove it!