The ebook revolution we’ve all been told is coming seems to be sputtering out before it can even begin, all because of fear and greed, which is probably what stops most revolutions.
Read this very informative story at Wired: Why Book Publishers Are Still Dragging Their Heels on Selling You E-Books. It’s a depressing statement of how competition stifles innovation these days.
Here’s the juicy center:
Some of the problem stems from tradition. The people drawn to publishing as a professional are, by and large, book lovers, and as such, often as attached to books’ physicality as to their text. More is paranoia: unlike music, whose digital age developed largely in response to an already thriving pirate industry, book publishing has held back, waiting for reliable DRM that seems unlikely to materialize….
The technology of digital publishing is awkward and inconsistent. The closest thing to a single file standard, e-pub, is still far from platform-agnostic and notorious for destroying formatting elements, which limits what writers and designers can do structurally if they’re planning for digital.
And that’s just for text-based books. Options for visually intensive publishers are narrower still, and even more platform-dependent. Formatting highly visual material takes resources and technical savvy that can make the process cost-prohibitive for smaller publishers. Rapidly changing technology, varied platforms, and lack of standards makes digital development a risky investment even for larger publishers.
…any publisher who wants their books available on, say, iBooks, Kindle, and Nook will be facing three different formatting standards, not to mention content restrictions—and, often, entirely new economic models.
Hesitant participants, battling corporate behemoths, and format wars. It’s no wonder we’re not making any progress.
It’s easy to blame the hesitant publishers, because they’ve been so fearful that they’d “sell” ebooks to the public but not public libraries. Their arbitrary policies have obviously been the result of fear that they will lose either money or control over their ebooks.
Eventually they’ll realize that they can’t control the end product. Apple and Amazon and Adobe and all the publishers think they can lock down everything but it’s just not possible. For every lock, someone will create a key.
But the rate events are moving, this whole process could take a decade or more. Apple and Amazon are two giants who could potentially fight an ebook proprietary war for generations
Just as it’s easy to blame the publishers, it’s easy to sympathize as well. They’re slowly entering an emerging future where they’ll have no power over anything except delivering ebooks to big vendors and hoping the vendors price them high enough someone can make money.
For the publishers it’s their entire world. For Amazon it’s a loss leader. Not exactly a free market.
Besides the understandable library revolt against unfair publishing policies, the revolt I’m waiting for is from the customers who have now purchased millions (billions?) of dollars of proprietary ebook licenses when they thought they were buying books.
Eventually a lot of those people are going to want to do something with their books besides read them in their proprietary formats. That’s possible to do now, just not legally. At some point breaking the DRM on ebooks will become as mainstream as it became for music, and then something will have to give.
In the meantime, what a mess. Libraries have been doing a pretty good job of educating patrons about why they can’t get all the ebooks patrons want, but despite all the grief for libraries, this is a battle they’ll be but a small part of.
By the time the ebook battles are over, the fiction readers who buy and check out so many new books will probably have moved on to Internet fan fiction and we’ll have discovered all the fuss over ebooks was for nothing.