technology

How Different Are Books Digitally?

Martyn Daniels has a good piece over on his Brave New World Blog about why books differ digitally from other forms of content. The nub of his case is (if he’ll forgive me quoting such a chunk – I’d encourage you to go read it):

Whatever the route taken the stupid thing would be to continue to merely pour the same content into a digital container. This logic is flawed as it not only creates competition where competition is not needed and can be counter-productive, but it fails to understand the technology, the cultural changes that are happening and the opportunities that are available for the two that matter – the author and the reader.

via Brave New World: HELLO! Books Are Digitally Different.

I hear this a lot from folks, that ebooks are a misunderstanding of the innovative capacity of digital creation and distribution. I may even have written something that touches on that territory in the past (cf: this piece*). I think this viewpoint misses two crucial issues.

First, that readers and writers have found these crippled tools to be “good enough“. And they think them so “good enough” that they account for 30% of the market. That’s a pretty compelling argument for viewing ebooks as the right technology at the right time.

The second is whether anyone is looking for such innovations. The question those seeking to make more exciting and innovative products from books have to answer is straightforward; will those new products entice ebook readers away from ebooks, entice print readers from print books when ebooks didn’t do so, or entice new readers to read where ebooks and print books didn’t?

I think it’s possible but unlikely that ebook readers will be interested, improbable and unlikely that print readers will have their heads turned, and simply unknowable if non-readers will suddenly turn to reading in  clever and innovative new guises. It is far more likely that content from beyond the book world will succeed in eroding the attention time devoted to books (of all forms) in established markets than books** will, in any form, colonise the attention time currently devoted to other content forms (I wrote about the impact of this in the Irish trade in The Irish Times last weekend).

To counter that trend, we will need to find new ways to market ebooks and digital reading to existing print readers in the coming years and that may involve new forms, as Martyn suggests, but one wonders just how much can be done to change reading before it becomes not reading, but something else and whether given the “good enough” nature of ebooks for so many, we need to do so.

When viewed through this lense, ebooks are the heavy infantry at the front lines of the battle to protect and grow the overall attention time devoted to reading, not a mistake or a failure of imagination.

Eoin

 

 

*In my defence, I’d argue that the line was one intended to spur publishers to action, and is, in any case, four years old an eternity in ebook terms!

**Spotted today, by way of Benedict Evans, this rather interesting piece of news about how mobiles are changing reading in the developing world an area where many of the factors I commented on above will be less relevant and where there is a good chance that reading can actually gain serious traction in digital form, even in the face of competition from other forms, though ultimately as incomes there rise I would expect other forms to gain back attention time.

My Piece For FAQ | Silicon Dock: Are there any spill-over effects for the Irish publishing scene?

I wrote a piece for the Frankfurt Book Fair’s FAQ magazine this quarter about whether or not there was an impact being felt amongst traditional publishers in Ireland from the presence of large tech companies who have made Dublin and Ireland a base of operations in Europe:

The web forms a core part of their businesses in a way that is not yet true of traditional publishers. While they are growing their e-book segments, the latter still do most of their business in paper and print. This crucial difference might be the reason why traditional publishing has not felt much direct impact from the tech firms. Most traditional publishers have little interaction with them and, while the newer and smaller innovative publishers might use their platforms, services and tools, there is not much they can give the tech giants and not much the tech giants can give them.

‘I don’t see that the presence of the large new media and tech companies has had any particular impact on the domestic publishing industry,’ says Ivan O’Brien from The O’Brien Press. ‘They don’t really interact with us, and they inhabit a multi-national space, generally dealing with companies with a whole lot more money than we have!’

via Silicon Dock: Are there any spill-over effects for the Irish publishing scene? | Frankfurt Academy Quarterly

Go Read This | Moonshot

Really great piece this from Horace Dediu at Asymco:

Incidentally, timing is the other element that is key to success. It might seem that timing really is a matter of luck. But timing can be informed by the same conversation with the customer. As you observe adoption you can also measure how long it take for a technology to be adopted. You can do A/B tests and see what is faster.

The most reliable method of breakthrough creation is not the moonshot but a learning process that involves steady iteration. Small but profitable wins.  A driver-less car might be achieved but first a driver-assisting car might teach the right lessons. An electric car might be achieved but first a hybrid car might teach the lessons needed. A delivery drone might be achieved but first a programmable UPS truck might be a better way to learn.

via Moonshot |.

Go Read This | Automation Anxiety | Wilson Quarterly

So much in this I just don’t know where to start, but it has much to recommend it (also, a Joyce reference!):

More than a century has passed since that now-celebrated day in 1904 when Joyce’s creation crisscrossed Dublin, and for most of that time technology and jobs have galloped ahead together. Just as Bloom observed, technological advances have not reduced overall employment, though they have certainly cost many people their jobs. But now, with the advent of machines that are infinitely more intelligent and powerful than most people could have imagined a century ago, has the day finally come when technology will leave millions of us permanently displaced?

Judging by the popular press, the answer is yes, and there is plenty of alarming data leading some people to support that view. Between January 1990 and January 2010, the United States shed 6.3 million manufacturing jobs, a staggering decrease of 36 percent. Since then, it has regained only about 500,000. Four years after the official end of the Great Recession, unemployment is still running at a recession-like rate of around 7.5 percent, and millions of Americans have given up even looking for work.

via Automation Anxiety | Wilson Quarterly.

Go Read This | Apple should be breaking new ground – not the law | Books | The Observer

That James Bridle is such a smart fellow:

The literature industry’s fear of technology is what really sits at the centre of this debate. There have always been two complementary and effective ways of countering Amazon’s dominance, and neither has been taken up in the (English-speaking) publishing world: these are investing in building national ebook stores, as has been done in France, Germany, Scandinavia and elsewhere; and relaxing the ferocious demands of Digital Rights Management, which make purchasing an ebook from anyone but “verticals” like Amazon and Kobo a virtual misery.

via Apple should be breaking new ground – not the law | Books | The Observer.

Go Read This | The Technium: The Post-Productive Economy

Great and interesting post from Kevin Kelly about economic growth and where we are at with it

The main accomplishment of this 3rd Industrialization, the networking of our brains, other brains and other things, is to add something onto the substrate of productivity. Call it consumptity, or generativity. By whatever name we settle on, this frontier expands the creative aspect of the whole system, increasing innovations, expanding possibilities, encouraging the inefficiencies of experiment and exploring, absorbing more of the qualities of play. We don’t have good measurements of these yet. Cynics will regard this as new age naiveté, or unadorned utopianism, or a blindness to the “realities” of real life of greedy corporations, or bad bosses, or the inevitable suffering of real work. It’s not.

via The Technium: The Post-Productive Economy.

Bait ‘n’ Beer | A blog about books, publishing and their intersection with technology. Among other things.

Don’s right on the money here and it plays nicely into the theme I was getting at with my last link too. Read this and think about these things after Christmas:

For example, it’s great to have new discovery tools, but for better or worse, actual book sales (both print and digital) still rely on identifiers and other metadata to facilitate an actual transaction. Subscriptions and rentals require the ability not only to ingest and display titles and the accompanying metadata, but also to serve content in multiple formats, to interface with accounting and royalty systems and to provide a data mining tools for publishers, among other things.

Direct-to-consumer businesses, both on the sales side and on the self-publishing side require skills not typically found in book publishing businesses, including customer acquisition, understanding the lifetime value of customers/users, customer service and the ability to deal with many small transactions rather than a relative handful of larger orders from more traditional wholesale and retail customers.

via Bait ‘n’ Beer | A blog about books, publishing and their intersection with technology. Among other things..