The evolution of all media is fascinating to follow, but today I am going to zero in on the printed word. Whether it’s the future of magazines, books, mainstream newspapers or even research & professional journals, the internet platform is causing radical paradigm shifts and there are some hefty decisions to be made/duked out for each category of the printed word. For the book, there are two massively important phases: the democratisation of the eBook and internet referencing. As beautiful as the Amazon solution has been for e-commerce, the digital reader platform is still in its nascent phase and has room to improve. Nonetheless, there are a number of exciting functionalities that make the digital book much more viable for the regular book reader. You can immediately download content through the wireless internet connection, search for the definition of word, open to a reference map, use RAM to search for words in a text, copy and clip text you want to remember, and when you go on a long trip you carry many books & magazines in one tidy place… and probably many other functions yet to be integrated. And, importantly, technology has improved dramatically, including the lighting, font sizes and definition; and the price is now accessible, especially as the competition heats up.
The two leading options at this point are Kindle 2 (from Amazon with 230,000 titles currently) and the Sony Digital Reader PRS-700BC (right). As a quick analysis of the their sites reads, it is interesting to see Kindle focusing on the content (see the video) and ease of use. Sony seems more interested in its technical specifications and the upgrading of the different products (they have already issued multiple model numbers). You have to scroll down to the very end of their site to find that they have “thousands of eBook titles available.” Based on these virtual observations, for now the Kindle (below) gets my vote for best presentation, and I love the free wireless access to wikipedia. But, there are going to be plenty of other players jumping (the more expensive Fujitsu eReader with its colour screen, the iRex Iliad with superior hackability, the BeBook from Endless Ideas BV…).
On another front [page], another battle is being waged with books, this time with Google and the referencing of book content on the Internet. Google has finally come out with its Google Books search function. Having laid dormant for some three years in the law courts, since October 2008, Google Books is now live in beta format. This function allows you to search for terms or names within a large volume of books. The site is in beta testing. Punch in your name, your brand or a specific term and you can find out where it is embedded in the database of over 7 million books.
With the settlement of October 28, 2008, the Google Books site states: “Three years ago, the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and a handful of authors and publishers filed a class action lawsuit against Google Book Search.
Today we’re delighted to announce that we’ve settled that lawsuit and will be working closely with these industry partners to bring even more of the world’s books online. Together we’ll accomplish far more than any of us could have individually, to the enduring benefit of authors, publishers, researchers and readers alike.
It will take some time for this agreement to be approved and finalized by the Court. For now, here’s a peek at the changes we hope you’ll soon see.”
The books are catalogued into two different types and, according to the agreement reached, you can either read some information on the book plus some snippets for Library Project books; or for Partner Program books, you can flip through a few preview pages, as if you were in a library/bookstore. There is a mobile version of Google Books as well that works on iPhones and Android. You can read more about the settlement here.
The bottom line is that the book — and its printed paper form — is not dead yet… but it sure is going to evolve. Apparently, book publishers had a very reasonable year in sales last year (no worldwide data is publicly available it seems as this google answer says), but it strikes me that the tsunami is out there for the book world and, as iTunes and the iPod revolutionised the music world, so will the trio of Amazon, Google and Sony change the book world. Perhaps book companies would be wise to take heed of the bloodbath in the music world to involve themselves in the changeover rather than fight against it. Bookstores should be quick to find out how they will need to change their model… perhaps stocking digital readers and preloaded USB keys (for the Sony Reader). And I will be curious to see how schools and universities move to the new e-platforms.