September 18, 2007
News & Opinion: A big push for digital books? Not quite yet...
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.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.