September 18, 2007

News & Opinion: A big push for digital books? Not quite yet...

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 1:53 PM – Filed under: Innovation & Creativity, Publishing Industry

There was an article in last week's issue of BusinessWeek called "Amazon Does Downloads, Sort of: Why its push into digital delivery of books, movies, and music seems halfhearted."
Here at 800-CEO-READ, there is an ongoing discussion about, you guessed it, whether digital will eventually take over the book industry and books as we know them will go away. We all agree that the physical book will never go away - it's too bound up in our culture, and it's still the most portable way of carrying ideas around with us, not to mention the fact that experts overwhelmingly agree that reading printed matter is easier on the eye than reading a screen. But we are seeing more and more cool technology when it comes to books. Todd and Dylan got to see a prototype of an electronic book at the Tools of Change Conference, in June.
The author of the article, Scott Kirsner, looks into the e-commerce side of the digital debate. Despite the fact that Amazon has acquired Mobipocket (an online, digital- book-seller), and even though it is expected to open a downloadable music service, sell an e-book device called the Kindle, and offer NBC TV shows through Unbox, a movie-download service, Amazon has been awfully timid in venturing too far out into the possibilities of selling digital content.
"Amazon's toe-in-the-water approach may seem odd, considering how it helped pioneer online shopping in the mid-1990s. You might think that fulfilling orders for digital media would be more efficient than pulling CDs off shelves, boxing them, and handing them over to UPS for delivery. But as long as digital music and e-books come with heavy restrictions on how and where consumers can use them, the market will be limited and rights holders will have the power to shake down sellers. That's O.K. if you're Apple Inc. and see music as a "door opener" for iPod and iPhone sales. But for Amazon, there's still much more money to be made shipping real stuff."

Yes, heavy restrictions will continue to make downloadable content more difficult to acquire--and whether it should be is another conversation--but the last two words of that passage stuck out to me. "Real stuff." Not only do many industries still depend on real stuff--for manufacturing, packaging, shipping, stocking, and so on--but buyers have shown that they still want tangible, material objects for their money.
I suspect, however, that Amazon's plunge into selling digital content isn't too far off. And it's more likely to be a swan dive than a belly flop.