Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Digital--Not As Easy As It Seems

An argument for and against digital text books--mostly against. Some parts of this same argument could also include the publishing e-books in general.


Comments please!


Scott Jensen said...

In response to the article's points...

1) What's the break-down on the $70 for the digital version of the mentioned textbook? Is it inflated to make the print version not look so bad? No details are given. Also, what independent respected accounting firm has ever audited such numbers? Without such, the publisher could easily use Hollywood accounting to pump up the cost of the digital version. On this point, the article completely fails the reader.

2) This is what happens with new technologies. This was what happened between 8-Track and audio cassette, VHS and Beta, laser disk and DVD, and the list is long and ancient. At one time in the US, there was different gauge railroad tracks. Each railroad having their own rail width. Eventually a standard gauge was adopted so trains could easily travel on each other's railroads. A more recent standards fight was between HDTV and BlueRay. BlueRay won that one ... but now it is looking like that was a shallow almost-meaningless victory since it presently appears downloads are the future of video.

And then there are textbooks that can be put up as multi-page websites. These can be most easily read by computers, laptops, and cellphones since these devises already can handle webpages. Right now this is the route I'm looking to go with my sci fi novel. If this wins the standards fight, ebook readers will die in their toddler years. I think this is the likely future since I believe the driving force behind this will be the VERY powerful cellphone.

The cellphone that has proven to be a great multi-taskers and has already killed off PDAs, pagers, dayplanners, and many other task devises. The cellphone is presently the digital camera of choice for those under the age of 35, the digital video camera of choice for those under the age of 25, the alarm clock of choice for those under the age of 21, and is presently killing off the wrist watch. A nephew of mine last spring counted how many of his fellow high schoolers wore wrist watches. He wrote down the names of the students that did. Out of a student population of over 4,000, he found only 52 wore wrist watches. That's 0.013%! Presently, I think the cellphone is becoming the biggest paradigm changer. Even bigger than the desktop/laptop computer. In fact, as cellphone's computers become more and more powerful, monitor sizes increase, and thumb keyboards more commonplace on them, the cellphone might even replace the desktop/laptop computer in the not-so-distant future.

3) This is the best argument for free ebooks. With free ebooks, there will be no recall or expiration dates. They will be simply given away free. Made downloadable as PDF files and other types of files. Made available as website pages. The central issue is how to turn a profit with ebooks. I believe that is with advertising ... which the article didn't make a SINGLE mention as a future possibility.

[Its] CONCLUSION: It was spotty at best. It didn't address the issue of advertisements in textbooks, textbooks available on websites, the impact of cellphones, and a number of issues. I'd give the article an "F".

Joni said...

The arguments for and against e-books becoming the future of publishing has certainly required a good deal of e-reading by me in order to catch up with the e-debate.

The subject of ownership which the linked article mentions is an important one. My library has textbooks not just from the classes I took but also from the ones I didn't. Both sources are invaluable references.

When I look further into my library and see my beloved fiction titles and think of what life would be like if they were only rented...eek! What do you mean I have to re-purchase "Gone With The Wind" in order to read it again. My soul is craving the salve only Scarlett O'Hara can provide now. Not when I can afford it again.

The one thing you can always count on technology to do is to fail you at some critical moment. Imagine your battery dying just at the moment when Harry Potter faces Voldemort for the final time. Or, some clever hacker has attached a virus to that free novel you downloaded and now every digit in every text has been increased by ten. That same hacker might just find himself working for a clever marketer who replaces all appearances of the word "coke" with "Pepsi" even when the subject happens to be coal.

No, technology lets us down too often to allow us to rely on it for such an intimate relationship.

Have you ever noticed that often while reading a paperback, you can drop it and not only does it survive, it mysteriously re-opens itself to the page you were on? Now that's a friendship you can count on!

Melissa said...

I find this topic very interesting as the state of CA (or rather the govenator) has been discussing this idea to save money. I must say that I agree with almost everything that your linked article states in relation for college textooks, but from a fiscal standpoint for K-12, it makes a lot of sense. Here's a recent program on the debate.

As to college textbooks, I'm currently in a graduate program, and most of my reading has been journal articles which are either free from my college library's database or posted by my instructors as PDF files. This post by Seth Grodin sums up my feelings.