Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Future of Books

The Electronic Frontier Foundation asks, What happens if the Kindle succeeds?"

Skeptics should remember that it wasn't long ago that many predicted that CDs would never replace vinyl, and later that MP3s would never replace CDs. You can still find great record stores that specialize in vinyl, but the trend towards digital music has been steady and unstoppable. And the music industry has paid a huge price for their failure to embrace the new technology. After first ignoring new technologies, they then proceeded to try to sue innovators, restrict users with DRM copy protection and then punish fans with indiscriminate lawsuits, none of which did a thing to stop online sharing of music. Sales are down, illegal filesharing is up, and no one has found a way to unite the industry around monetizing the sharing of digital music (though EFF has suggested a Better Way Forward).

Will the same thing happen to the publishing industry as books become digital? If the trend continues, with better devices promising longer battery life and better screen resolution, digital books will become a force to be reckoned with. Are we doomed to watch the publishing industry run through the same gamut of bad decisions that have plagued the recording industry for the last few years?

As much of a tech junkie as I am and as much reading as I do on my computer, I still prefer the feel of a book in my hands. Oh, to be sure, I have no problem reading on a computer screen and I would even think about getting an e-reader if I found one I liked (definitely not the Kindle in its current incarnation), but nothing beats the feel, the smell, the experience of leaning back in a comfortable chair with a good book in your hands and being transported away.

I own several hundred books and I intend to keep purchasing hard-copy books until the day I die. I may end up having digital copies of all of them, but they will never replace my dead tree copies.

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