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February 6, 2009

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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.

Posted February 6, 2009 at 3:36 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Briefly Noted, Object Culture, Recommended, Technosnark


What was that line of Steve Jobs' in an interview not so long ago? The interviewer was asking about e-books and e-readers, and he basically just scoffed, & said something along the lines of: "People don't care about books."

Which makes me wonder: How many DVDs are sold in the U.S. every year, and how many books are sold? I literally have no idea if DVDs are roughly equivalent... or 2X... or 10X!

Deserves some googling.

It was just about a year ago. This was the exchange:

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”


At the time, I said that "if Jobs' vision of Apple is to make an increasingly large number of devices on which we can watch Zoolander, I find myself much less enthusiastic about that vision or that world." And I still feel that that's true!

Yeah, I have to keep reminding myself: It's not about books. It's not about books. It's not even about *text*... it's about... I don't know, what *is* it about? A different kind of screen optimized for a different set of things, I guess. And when you talk about it that way, the current book-buying habits of the American public really aren't relevant.

Short figures: U.S. sales of DVDs are about $15 billion. (Rentals add another half that.)

Book sales are about $35 billion.

So it's almost exactly the opposite. The book industry is roughly twice as big as DVDs.

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