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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The ebook is not ready

     The ebook is not ready. There's no denying that the ebook is something that everyone wants to work, but it's not there yet. There are a lot of problems with ebooks that people are struggling to figure out how to answer.
     Tops on my list is the format. Ebooks have a variety of formats, and have for years. There's no doubt in my mind that a few more formats will emerge in the near future, too, as more and more people are struggling to get into the ebook market. The leaders of the pack thus far: Kindle and Nook. Amazon and Barnes & Noble have the majority of the market with their excellent devices, but the difficulty with formats remains. Both formats are proprietary. It's necessary to own each device in order to read their books. Even given that software applications emerge for various computers, phones, and tablets, this means that ebook libraries will be kept separate, making for an inconvenience at the last, and a burden at most as people will have to own multiple devices to get the ebook experience they truly want.
     Ebooks need an open, unified format in order to work. Mp3s proved just how great a unifying format can be. There are dozens of mp3 players on the market, and those devices that attempted a more restrictive format quickly found that the mp3 was king of audio formats. After more than ten years the mp3 is still king despite the emergence of "better" formats. Mp3s are small, portable, and have a good quality for what they do. Certainly they don't represent a full orchestra with accuracy, but they convey a music experience that is excellent and portable.
     Ebook formats, well, don't really have an advantage over one another. They display text on a screen, formatting the screen to the text. There's really not much to it, yet all ebook readers have a format they favor over another, and it's difficult for consumers as there's simply too much confusion about what works on what. For the vast majority, reading should be an activity that has no confusion. Grab a book, open, and read. The end. Having to deal with issues of what book format is compatible with which device is a hassle best left skipped.
     The hardware is another issue. While I could go into interface issues, and the process of buying books via the reader, I consider those less important. I'm talking about reading. I played around with a Nook and Sony eReader (a disadvantage of the Kindle is there's no place to actually demonstrate it to the public) and found that the time it took to load a book and turn pages was exceptionally slow. When in the throes of a good book, I don't want to wait 15, 10, or even 5 seconds for a page to load properly. I want to spend that time reading. Nor do I want to wait up a minute for a book to load after I select it from my library. I may not have a minute. If I want to get in a quick reading, I don't want to spend my time waiting for the book to load instead of reading the book.
     Navigation, too, becomes a large issue. It's impossible to search through ebooks with any kind of speed. In a regular book, I can flip through dozens of pages in less than a second. Quickly scan, then keep searching through to find the section I want. Trying to skim just a few pages through an ebook was sheer torture for me. I couldn't even get through the table of contents to the book proper in less than a minute, even after the book itself loaded. Ebook readers need to have an instantaneous refresh to allow something closer to the present experience of reading a book.
     Pricing is another point a little tough to swallow at present. A book is something tangible. It has a shape, presence, and weight. Paying the same for an ebook as a print book is hard to swallow since there's none of those things to the electronic format. Essentially data is being bought. Not even a program, just data. The book can't have the same cost as a print book as, wel, there's no print. The physical substance of a book, a good portion of a book's cost by publishing accounts, is missing, so how can the cost be the same? Personally, I'm one of those that likes to buy the cd then rip the music to my media player. I like to have the physical back up at hand for whatever reason the digital format doesn't work. It's impossible to do that with books (well, not unless someone has a scanner and a lot of free time on their hands). Given the choice of the physical media, or a piece of data for the same cost, I will go for the actual book. Ideally I would like to see a bundle pack where consumers can buy the book, and for a few (2-3) dollars more, they get the ebook as well whether downloadable or on physical media such as a miniature optical disc or flash card.
     These are just a few of the problems that plague the ebook format. There are many otres, but I'm sure that these are the problems that will keep it relegated to a curiosity instead of taking its place as a full-fledge option to replace (or supplement) physical books.
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