Replacing Cheap And Useful With Expensive And Limited Can Be A Difficult Sell

from the bio-optic-organized-knowledge-devices dept

For about as long as we’ve been writing this blog, we’ve pointed to stories about ebook readers, always along the lines of “does anyone care this time?” The earlier devices were expensive and crappy — which isn’t a great selling point. The latest versions, though, are getting some attention for actually correcting some of the faults from earlier versions. However, there is still a big hurdle. For most people, there’s nothing wrong with the traditional book. Ebooks don’t seem to actually solve a problem. There are some people who need to carry around a lot of books at a time — and it can definitely be useful to them. Or if you don’t have room for a large library, there may be some benefits. But, for the vast majority of people, the book works just fine and is cheap. With ebooks, you’re talking about a big upfront expense, without much benefit. They don’t really let you do anything new or different that couldn’t be done in a book (that people really value at least), and so it seems like it’s going to remain a tough sell for quite some time.

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Comments on “Replacing Cheap And Useful With Expensive And Limited Can Be A Difficult Sell”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Funny thing, there was nothing wrong with buying the traditional vhs or dvd either…

Most people would say that the ‘traditional’ method of buying a dvd at the store works just fine. Yet we’ve seen over the years a dramatic increase in movies being downloaded instead of being bought in a brick and mortar store.

Just because an Ebook reader doesn’t seem to solve a problem you have doesn’t mean it isn’t a useful and worthwhile product.

I’ve already ordered 16 of them for my family members (all of whom are avid book readers). Personally I think it’ll be one of the best things that has happened for books in a good many years.

Maybe, just maybe, if we’re very lucky it’ll get a few more people interesting in reading rather than watching horrible, mind-numbing, reality television.

wenhaver (profile) says:

you're saying that because you've never used one

I have one of the “expensive and crappy” ebook readers, and it’s my favorite gadget. In fact, when it went MIA for a week during my last move, I drove everyone insane looking for it. If you’re an avid (and fast) reader like me, ebook readers are a godsend while traveling. They’re also nice when I want to read in bed and my husband wants the light off. Not to mention, it’s much more comfortable to hold while lying on my side than a traditional book.

My trusty ebook has also served as a makeshift flashlight during several power outtages.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a MLS, and I love books. But there is a place for ebook readers. Hell, I thought iPods were pretty stupid when they came out, and now I wouldn’t trade mine for the world.

I’m hoping Santa brings me one of the new Sony ebook readers this year. I don’t think I’ve ever had tech lust quite this bad.

Darryl says:

They’re very useful, but won’t completely replace the book, not for me, at least.

It sure is easier carrying a laptop to lectures instead of several books, but in the case of long novels I find books better. I’m likely to sit still reading for hours at a time, and books are less straining on the eyes.

But for textbooks and reference books, they’re a brilliant invention.

John Bailey says:

I want one

At the moment I use my palm for e books. The screen is a bit small perhaps, but if I’m waiting around a long time somewhere, I don’t need to remember to take a book with me.

I have a bunch of pdf technical manuals that I have collected over the years. Some put together by me, some downloaded when I buy a new gadget or software, which would be very useful to carry around.

I can see Sony mucking up a perfectly good idea though. A little too much DRM, some buggy unstable Windows only program that HAS to be used to get new locked in content on the reader, and an “exclusive” pricing structure for books and reader to retain the high end view Sony’s executives think their company still projects.

Bulent Akman (user link) says:

ebooks - what can they do a PDA can't?

It’s all about complementary technology isn’t it? I enjoy real books both for pleasure and for reference but when I travel it’s handy to load a few books into my PDA (an embarassingly old one I won’t mention by name) while some of my friends, living in remote parts of the world, rely on their PDAs exclusively for text because a real book just isn’t affordably available where they live. But we all use the technology in a complementary fashion. One doesn’t exclude the other.

Then there is the issue of a rationale for a dedicated ebook. Is there sufficient demand? I’m ignorant of the statistics.

So I ask, why develop a standalone piece of kit no one (IMHO) will buy? With the new UMPC, Smartphone and PDA offerings, who is going to buy a standalone ebook?

Perhaps I’m missing some key concept that makes the ebook a saleable idea. Maybe not?

Bruce says:

Re: ebooks - what can they do a PDA can't?

Let me be the first to reply (assuming I am the first).

I have used various PDA’s as EBook readers for years. The latest one is lighter than most books. It can be read in the dark and it is always available (while I’m standing in line for something, in a waiting room or driving — just kidding).

I cannot understand the appeal of a dedicated EBook reader but I can see it as a useful function of an existing device.

For example, a video IPod could likely double as an EBook reader. Also, I’m sure some folks already load those “spoken” books (like books on tape) into their IPods.

In short, I don’t think you (or I) am missing anything but I can see why a dedicated EBook reader is unlikely to hit the “big time”.

Cool dude says:

eBook will slowly take over traditional

eBook is here to stay and take over the tranditional way of buying and reading.

None of us expected the online/electronic medium to succeed in big way in news/communication/entertainment/content generation.

I had privilege to see a prototype of an eBook from a renowned research organization about 2 years ago. They had pretty good features in that (I carry only one book at a time in my bag, but I was fascinated to ask about their time of product launch. The lab said, they were waiting to get few more things/features right before hurrying for product launch.

Anonymous Coward says:

Copy and Paste

Ebooks – on a computer at least – are in theory usefull cos you can copy and paste stuff straight out of the book, this is especially good for code snippets etc when reading programming books. However in their wisdom many of the publishers diable this feature using DRM. Hmmmm DRM making usefull technology less usefull, what a surprise.

Peet McKimmie (profile) says:

I have serious vision problems, and the idea of being able to “zoom in” on a page really appeals to me. Also, I have a huge collection of motherboard manuals in PDF form, and the ability to carry all of them in my pocket in a way that makes them viewable while the computer in front of me is in pieces is also something that I couldn’t get in any useful way with paper copies.

The Sony reader looks tempting, but at the moment it’s far too expensive. I’ll wait for Franklin to come out with a cheap knock-off… As long as it can load and display PDFs I’ll be happy. 🙂

Howard Lee Harkness (user link) says:

Music e-books

I ran into a case where e-books have a definite advantage. Public-domain violin sheet music and collections.

For about $80, I replaced about 75% of the $5000 sheetmusic library that I collected over the last 50 years, and obtained several volumes that I didn’t already have. I still have to print out whatever I’m going to use, but I only print out what I currently need.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t think ebooks will ever replace a book. But for those that are visually handicapped they might. I have a friend that for him to be able to read text it has to be in font 34. This takes one page of text and turns it into about 6. Not to mention his particular condition makes reading something backlit much easier for him. I would love to see this technology advance for the disability sector if nothing else.

Max says:

Come On...

I think Anonymous Coward was spot on when he said that there really wasn’t anything broken with the VHS experience before the DVD came. The e-book concept offers enough new features to have ‘sticky-tech’ written all over it. As usual, there are a lot of people complaining that the old way of doing it is much better, and that this will never be a hit. Time goes on, technology matures, nay-sayers are proven wrong. As usual.

Can you honestly say, Mike, that you wouldn’t buy an e-book reader if the device was decently priced and offered a reading experrience (contrast, page turn speed , picture quality etc) similar to an ordinary book? For sure, the book will never be replaced – if it has been around for thousands of years it will certainly stick around for a thousand more. But trust me, so will the e-book reader.

Nobody Special says:

nobody mentioned my hurdle

I looked at the early devices. I looked at the newer ones and would seriously consider buying. But the links to the books to buy send me away.

I refuse to pay the same price (or higher) for an electronic book they charge for its paper equivilant. I don’t know why this doesn’t get more attention. If they charged a couple bucks per book, I would have bought one of the early versions. But why should I pay for printing and distribution costs that don’t exist?

Consider where the money goes when you buy a paper book. Consider how much goes into a per book cost. There is the obvious cost of paper and press. Then add in the cost of tranporting the relatively heavy book, and don’t forget the amount of space it occupies. On a $20 book, the author probably gets less then $2. So in my opnion, that same book should perhaps cost $5 in electronic form. Lowering prices is a much better way to fight privacy then raising prices.

If a book doesn’t cost much to download, then I would be much less likely to allow others to share that book. The argument to pay the author stand much better when the author is who is collecting the money.

Daniel says:

EBooks: a problem they COULD solve

The ONE thing I’ve been waiting for for years (and suggested to every ebook reader manufacturer as soon as they released a product): a WATER-PROOF e-book reader. No I don’t mean the shower. I mean sitting by the pool, or IN the pool and reading … sitting on a beach, boating. Maybe I’m just a “water person” … but the two things that relax me the most are sitting in a pool (or hot tub) and reading, and right now the two are pretty much exclusive.

Anonymous Coward says:

i bought one ebook (kinda) just a huge pdf file. I am not all a big fan of it. it has around 350 pages +/- and artwork and stuff. i find it hard to go from one section to another, jump say 100 pages or more. it gets to be a bit much. also readoing on a computer isn’t my fancy. sure it’s fine for 10 minutes here and there is fine, but concentrating hurts my head. (light being directed towards eyes) so i’m not a huge fan of reading a complete ebook. but remember, i haven’t actually used an ereader, so…

however, selling standalones aren’t that great. first it’s a waste. you’d waste as much resources as you would in a normal book. next, the point of digital is to reduce space, not increase it. i can have close to 150 books in the space of one or two. what would be nice is a single reader, and all it has was some cardridge system. not smart media or compactflash, or something that anyone could read, something more like the old NES games, but smaller. that way, you buy that, and transfer. it’d be a bit harder to copy and redistribute. but with no HD or anything, you’d have to buy the cardridges. get the drift?

bfwebster (profile) says:

A niche market, maybe....

I consider the periodic wave of stores about how e-books and e-book readers are going to obsolete regular books to be right up there with the same periodic stories about how application generators are going to eliminate programmers.

The current ergonomics of the physical book have evolved over millennia; e-books are still mostly a fad, or of use in some niche markets. For them to make a serious dent, they have to offer compelling advantages while still providing the same cheap convenience of regular books. I think the technology for that is still a few decades off. ..bruce..

ehrichweiss says:

#1 post

The AC who had the first post has THE main reason I own ebooks, they are searchable. I used to be involved in the conversion of some magic books(I’m a magician) to PDF format and the thing I loved the most about it was once it was converted, if I knew a move in a trick, but couldn’t remember the name of the trick, I could search it without having to read the whole book to find it.

Due to this I actively search out ebooks of books I already own so I can minimize the wear on my library and increase the speed at which I can find information.

Anonymous Coward says:

No matter what anybody says, I don’t believe digital goods will ever replace good old-fashioned tangible, physical goods. To do so would be the most stupid idea ever conceived. Electronic devices are seriously prone to error. The batteries can go dead, circuitry can fail, screens can break, data can be corrupted, etc., not to mention water damage. And there’s also the factor of longevity, since formats are constantly changing, and there’s no guarantee your particular device will last any more than a few years, if even that. A printed book can last for decades, doesn’t require and power source to use, and unless you burn it or rip it up or soak it in liquid for a significant length of time, it’s pretty tough to completely destroy it.

Ebooks are a good idea for certain circumstances, depending on how accomodating they are designed to be. For example, when college students could buy their textbooks, the books could include a disc that has the book in ebook format. That way the student could load all his textbooks into a handheld device for quick, portable reference. However, this would not replace the textbooks, because who could really be comfortable starting at a single tiny little screen while studying, especially when they could have several books opened up and spread around them. This is the concept that’s pushing for multiple monitors or widescreen monitors, being able to view lots of data at once.

Electronics are nice tools, but that’s all they are, tools that enhance our existing lifestyle. I don’t think they will ever replace ordinary, tangible goods, if for no other reason than the fact that they are too limiting and too expensive. If we reach a point where the Earth becomes a utopia where there is no money and everybody works for the betterment of mankind (i.e. the world in Star Trek), then maybe it will be a different story. For now, I trust ink and paper over a battery and LCD screen any day of the week.

Solo says:

The other problem that eBooks solve is that, assuming a large enough availability of titles, you can get a wider choice, instantly, from the comfort of your home.

If the book reader was free (I mean, a good book reader, like the latest Sony), and all books were available for sale online, 24/7, would you go to the book store.

Razor/razorblade model. Game console/game model. The hardware is irrelevant, it’s the content that carries the profit.

I could use a free ebook reader myself, so I could enjoy (more practically) the free eboogs @ gutenberg.

Duodave (user link) says:

replace large books

I can see these being a great replacement for thick books, like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. And I agree about the textbooks, too – it would be wonderful if every published book was available in a digital version. Also, I can’t tell you how many applications I buy that come with a PDF manual – if I could copy all my manuals to a reader, that would be a wonderful way to organize them.

Bryan (user link) says:

Problems ... solved

If you don’t think ebooks (with high contrast displays) solve any problems …

… remember the last time you moved? Those books are heavy aren’t they?

… have a look at how much space all your books are taking up. How many times have you thrown out perfectly good books, just to make space?

… ever tried to search a p-book?

… imagine an ebook you can loan out … one that returns itself to you after 3 weeks!

… cut and paste

… order book via web, start reading in 2 minutes

…ever brought a book with you on the plane, only to fnd out it sucked? Now you can bring 5 books along. Or a hundred. can’t back up your books, in case the house burns down

Oh, and to Mark, who asked what about writing in your own book … check out the iRex iLiad!

BL (user link) says:

Books =/= vhs

To the above poster who said vhs cassettes were ‘fine’ before the dvd:

The big difference is that the dvd improves upon vhs in many aspects, most of them -very important for a video recording medium- like better quality that doesn’t degrade, smaller sized discs, etc. and all that for no disadvantages.

Ebooks aren’t such a clear cut triumph over the paper book and may even carry more disadvantages than advantages. For example, what if the company that made your reader goes out of business and five years later your reader breaks down? Bye bye, books.


More importantly, it may suffer from the same problem as internet access via the television: in peoples’ minds, computers are still intended for work applications and are hard to use, while television/books are for leisure and easy to use.

So, maybe people associate a portable screen with movie players or Gameboys instead of books?

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