Shannon Stacey

Technological obsolescence or chaos theory?

(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 don’t think the core issue is technological obsolescence. I don’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 there’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. There’s a security in that fundamental statement: DVD players play DVDs.

You know who does that? Amazon. And I think that’s why more and more people say “Oh, like Kindle” when you mention digital books. Amazon has offered that security and they’re moving products: Here’s your device. Here are the books. Read.

The rest of the ereader market is chaos. You can’t read this format on this device and you can’t read this format on that device if it has DRM and you can’t read all those books you bought if you change to this device and you can’t get your books onto this device unless you figure out this desktop application and you can’t, you can’t, you can’t… That’s a lot of CAN’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. I’d really like to see the market grow. But right now publishers are so busy “protecting” 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?) they’ve forgotten to make the technology approachable.

11 comments to “Technological obsolescence or chaos theory?”

  1. Charlene
      · September 14th, 2009 at 8:54 am · Link

    Agree. I love ebooks, but I still buy paper most of the time if it’s available in both options just because I don’t have to deal with the hassle. I want it to be easier. And we’ve seriously discussed buying a Kindle just for the ease factor.

  2. Emily
      · September 14th, 2009 at 9:06 am · Link

    LOL! I LOVE e-books. However, all the e-books I have read have been on my desktop. My hubby and I are waiting to get an e-book device until it seems everyone can get their crap together and have a format/device friendly app across the boards. I think though, my hubby likes NOT having to build more bookcases/shelves than he already does. (yep, we homeschool, so yea, I have a double whammy book buying addiction.) Have a great day!!!

  3. Karen Templeton
      · September 14th, 2009 at 9:25 am · Link

    I’m not even awake yet, so probably shouldn’t be commenting :gaah: , but not EVERYONE is gadget-crazy. Obviously enough people are for the widget makers of the world to make a lotta moolah, but it depends on the gadget and if the potential market sees that gadget as giving them something they don’t already have. Leaving your all-too-true Chaos Theory aside, for people who don’t travel or don’t buy huge numbers of books, there’s really little advantage in buying a gadget on which to read those books. You can’t watch a DVD without a DVD player, but you can read a book without an e-reader.

    And if you lose your e-reader, even if you have the ability to replace all those books, you still have to replace the e-reader. :(

    In any case, this is not a gadget-crazy household. For one thing, we can’t afford to plunk down $$$ for every newfangled toy that comes on the market (our Verizon bill is killing us as it is), so we drive our cars until they disintegrate, still don’t have a flat-screen TV, and I wouldn’t know what to do with an MP3 player. And the coffeemaker is a Mr. Coffee cheapo model. I only need it to make a cup of coffee, not do my taxes for me. The kids all have cell phones, sure, but they’re pretty basic (well, #1 got a Blackberry Storm to take to Iraq, only it’s coming back ’cause it doesn’t work). It kills me that my less-than-2-yr-old laptop is probably going to have to replaced soon. :crazy:

    But for another, I find having to learn how all this stuff works exhausting. I just feel as though I can’t keep up. And the thing is…I don’t want to. (Maybe I was a Quaker in a previous life? All about keeping it simple? :shrug: ) So if what I’ve got still works, and my needs are being met, I’m totally good with that.

    Which is not to say I’m anti-ebooks, either. If it’s another method by which books get into people’s hands, I’m all for it. I’m just not the target market as a consumer.

    And I’m totally good with that, too. :nod:

  4. mlove0723
      · September 14th, 2009 at 9:42 am · Link

    90%+ of my reading is digital and has been for a long time. (I read on Palm handhelds for years, and now mostly read on an iPod touch.) I have already invested a lot in books with the eReader (Fictionwise/B&N) format so theirs is the only DRM I personally deal with. All my other digital books are HTML.

    It used to be easy to talk to people about digital books – once they got over the fact that I could “read on that tiny screen”. The discussions mostly covered the fact that yes, that was a “whole book” on the handheld and wow, look at how many of the whole books I had with me. Some would then get excited when they saw the dictionary integration, search function and how I could change the font and colors.

    Now, it’s not so easy. Most people have heard of the Kindle, and they get that – buy device/buy book/start reading – but when I explain how different readers use different formats, I usually get, “Why would I want to bother with that hassle? I’ll just buy the (print) book.” :gaah: :shrug:

  5. Lisa J
      · September 14th, 2009 at 10:23 am · Link

    This year when Borders had a $100 coupon for the Sony PRS-505 I made the leap. I had been reading on my laptop and netbook but my eyes were always tired. I love my e-reader and wouldn’t trade it for the world. Having 450 books at my fingertips wherever I am – it’s a beautiful thing. I know the new Sony models came out, but it doesn’t bother me. I figure by the time I am ready to buy a new one they may have color e-ink available.

    As for format, I only buy PDF so I can read on my computer at work. Also, I never mess with DRM files. I love Samhain, EC, LI, and others because they sell DRM-free files.

  6. azteclady
      · September 14th, 2009 at 10:26 am · Link

    Can I have your babies?

    Okay, I don’t really want more babies, but thank you for summarizing it so neatly for me: make technology approachable, people!

  7. Melissa
      · September 14th, 2009 at 12:48 pm · Link

    I’ve had an e reader for about 3 yrs now. And I’m dying to upgrade!! I probably will for Christmas. BUT it took me a while to embrace this. I can’t tell you how many e books I bought and PRINTED out because I thought I HAD to have that print copy in my hand. Think well over 100…..I think for alot of us it is just getting over that mental hump that we have to see, feel, touch and smell the book for it to be real. But when I realized all the AMAZING books that were out there that could ONLY be bought in e books, I caved. I couldn’t keep missing out on all these wonderful stories. But there are SO many out there who are scared of anything new or different, or that they think they won’t be able to master. And while I don’t have a Kindle, I have serious Kindle mainly because of the ease of use. Hopefully readers like this that are simple and don’t require lots of techno savvy will pull alot of hold outs over the hump!!
    I take every opportunity I can to tell people how much they’re missing out on by not reading e books.

  8. DuchessGlencairn
      · September 14th, 2009 at 1:00 pm · Link

    I own a Kindle…for me it was one of the best purchases as I was reading eBooks on my computer for years. I also embrace new technology and am willing to try things, but eBooks give me something that the other technology does not…instant gratification. I spend about $500.00/month on books, and my Kindle has allowed me to discover more authors and put my money where my eBook mouth was.

  9. Bev Stephans
      · September 14th, 2009 at 6:35 pm · Link

    I have read a lot of ebooks on my computer and have even printed some. I have come close to purchasing an ereader a few times. What held me back was the gobbledy-gook involved in downloading the ebooks. Kindle sounds the easiest, but I don’t want to be tied to Amazon. I just don’t like their marketing strategies and buy very little from them.

    I guess that I’ll just wait and see and continue to pull books from my TBR pile and read the ebooks on my computer.


  10. Rhonda
      · September 14th, 2009 at 7:53 pm · Link

    After months – seriously months of debate, this is why I broke down and got the iPhone – I can have all the e-reader apps in one place and I didn’t have to choose which dedicated e-reader to buy. I needed a new phone & I was already reading on the old phone – but iPhone is much better with lots more choices of format. sign

  11. Natalie J. Damschroder
      · September 14th, 2009 at 11:31 pm · Link

    Very well said, Shannon. As others have indicated or alluded to, it’s one of many obstacles against growth of the market.

    For me, there are some of the basics: I’m on a computer all day, I don’t want to read on a screen; I don’t think the flat e-readers will be comfortable for my hand; I balk at spending $300 for a reader when that’s 3/4 of my entire book-buying budget for the year.

    But for me, it’s also the experience. Just like watching a DVD even in my home theater doesn’t compare to the experience of going to the theater, smelling the popcorn, seeing the previews, and living the movie, downloading a book to my computer doesn’t compare to yesterday’s trip to Borders where I browsed, touched a lot of books with gorgeous, rich covers, bought a mocha in the cafe :), and came home with a hefty bag of escape. Oh, and saved 10% and 25% and donated some of what I spent to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation. It stands alone.

    So. What did you think of tonight’s game? :wtf:

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