February 6, 2009
The Inevitability of Electronic Reading
Many of you have probably read John Siracusa’s insightful, entertaining, and long anecdotal history of e-books at Ars Technica. Still, with Amazon set to make a big Kindle-related announcement early next week, it seems like a good time to highlight this sample:
In 2003, Apple started selling music for the iPod through its iTunes music store. Apple sold audio books as well, through a partnership with Audible. Perhaps unknowingly, Apple had just positioned itself perfectly for e-book domination.
It was all happening right before our eyes. First the device, already far past the minimum threshold for screen size and legibility, and rapidly gaining market penetration. Then the digital distribution channel, accessed via a desktop application used by every iPod owner. Then the deals with content owners—not just the independent labels or the scraps from the big table, but all the top record labels, and for their most popular content…
The e-book market was Apple’s for the taking.
And then a funny thing happened: Apple never took it… The iPod sold in numbers that made the PDA phenomenon look quaint. And still Apple didn’t move. No one moved. The entire e-book market was stalled.
These were the dark times for the e-book market, akin to the five years during which Internet Explorer 6 had over 90% market share and received no major updates. Here was this technology that had so much potential but was not making any substantial progress in the market because the players who were motivated to drive it forward had failed or been rendered powerless by larger forces.