(I’m also at Romancing the Blog today, talking about required reading in high school)
Like most people, I’m aware the technology I buy becomes obsolete in the mere moments between handing Best Buy my money and getting the box into the trunk of my car.
I own a Toshiba HD DVD player. Enough said about that.
But I’m still a little perplexed by the number of people who are reluctant to give digital books a try because they don’t want to invest in a device that’s going to become obsolete. Everything’s disposable nowadays.
How many of those people get new every two cellphones or spend a grand on a new computer every four years or reinvest $30k in a new car every six? I invested short money in a generic mp3 player and very quickly embraced the technology. When I outgrew it, so to speak, I asked my husband for an iPod Nano for Christmas. He surprised me with the iPod Touch, which I knew almost nothing about. In one fell swoop, not only was my mp3 player rendered obsolete, but the Palm TX I’d been using as a PDA-slash-ebook reader, as well. To be honest, it’s also put a dent in my laptop use. (I’m writing this using the Docs to Go app on my iPod. At the touch of a button it’ll sync to my desktop and tomorrow morning I’ll post it on my blog.)
Yet, if the Apple tablet had released as rumored, I’d probably be twitchy again.
Maybe the problem isn’t so much the device. We all buy devices. We bought CD players and then mp3 players. We bought VCRs and then DVD players and then Blu Ray players. We bought electric coffeemakers and then programmable coffemakers and then “instantly dispensing a single fresh cup” coffeemakers.
I donâ€™t think the core issue is technological obsolescence. I donâ€™t even think the issue is the price tag.
The problem, as I see it, is the chaos.
There is almost no way for a rookie consumer in the digital reader industry to make an informed decision.
Here’s my mathematically-challenged chaos theory:
Eleventy billion formats + eleventy billion devices + none of them having across the board comparability or compatibility + DRM = WTF.
Is it any wonder a person’s not willing to throw down a few Benjamins to ride the digital carousel from Hell? By the time you figure out which formats can be read by which devices, you’re exhausted. And then thereâ€™s the DRM horror show. And beyond the devices, people starting talking about Stanza and Calibre and…
It’s a lot easier to drop $6.99 at Walmart for a paperback. Plus you know that, even if it sits on your TBR pile for ten years, it won’t be obsolete when you finally pick it up.
When you go into Best Buy to purchase a DVD player, you’ve got choices. Brand names, price, appearance, maybe a few more bells and whistles on the high-end models. But you know that these DVD players all play those DVDs. Thereâ€™s a security in that fundamental statement: DVD players play DVDs.
You know who does that? Amazon. And I think thatâ€™s why more and more people say â€œOh, like Kindleâ€ when you mention digital books. Amazon has offered that security and they’re moving products: Hereâ€™s your device. Here are the books. Read.
The rest of the ereader market is chaos. You canâ€™t read this format on this device and you canâ€™t read this format on that device if it has DRM and you canâ€™t read all those books you bought if you change to this device and you canâ€™t get your books onto this device unless you figure out this desktop application and you canâ€™t, you canâ€™t, you canâ€™tâ€¦ Thatâ€™s a lot of CANâ€™Ts.
Asking a reader new to the concept of digital books to plunk down $300 for a chance to pull the arm on the ereader slot machine and hope she comes up with three CANs? No.
Right now you might be thinking I’m anti-digital books. I’m not. I’m published by two digital publishers. As a reader, I’ve been digital-only in 2009. Iâ€™d really like to see the market grow. But right now publishers are so busy â€œprotectingâ€ their books from readers and the device manufacturers are so busy trying to out-nifty-gadget each other (hello, can people at least get a few books on their Sony Readers before the new models are out and theirs are obsolete?) theyâ€™ve forgotten to make the technology approachable.