Jeff Bezos is right, both in substance and as a promoter of his new product, to say: “we knew we would never out-book the book…We would have to take the technology and do things the book could never do.” (The Guardian)
He may change the whole scenario, because he and Amazon have shown they can climb mountains, but so far and still:
- The e-reader is uncompetitive on price with the print book – To pay out for e-reader hardware at current prices and then the texts themselves, also generally on current prices, is a non-starter in mass-market terms.
- The e-reader is uncompetitive with other new media technology – Laptops have add-ons and features that e-readers don’t even get close to.
- The e-reader and e-book still threaten the system of copyright – The owners of the print book system will not let control of the information system slip into a free-for-all digital distribution over the Net.
For all the above reasons and plenty more, the e-reader has not (been) developed with anything like the speed or with the commercial/technological commitment/vision of other new media technology (the word processor through to the iPod).
There are many cultural arguments against the e-reader. For many, reading is a cultural not a commercial process. For the print book lover the e-reader is a product brought to us by philistines. Yet Anglo-American publishing, with a few exceptions, has almost always been based on commercial factors not cultural considerations*.
* The much vaunted first copyright act, the Statute of Anne, came about first and foremost as a result of a commercial battle between copyright holders and only became an “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies” by chance developments not design.