E-books

6/15/2005 9:35:04 PM

E-books

I blogged about e-books in the past in which I noted that one .NET author has lately been moving away from traditional books and producing selling a lot of e-books in Amazon.

More and more, I am beginning to think e-books will emerge as a significant development in the future from some profound changes that I am seeing in society and technology. I did read a consulting report in 2000 that predicted e-books would break out by 2005 and generate strong sales that have yet to materialize. I was skeptical it would even take off at all.

Now, I feel that e-books may be a sleeper—a future success that slips under the radar for a long time but then becomes all the rage. Electronic books are more malleable, easier to repurpose, than their printed cousins—the way DVD outshines video; they are searchable and annotable. CD-ROM took a decade to take off until Windows 95; I see current trends leading to a similar path for e-books.

Let me first, as all good journalists do, report any conflict of interests. I am not exactly an independent bystander, but I don’t exactly profit from e-books either.

I am an early adopter. I have hundreds of e-books are my computer and have purchased some e-books in past, one for $50. The product that I am developing could indirectly accelerate the adoption for e-books.

Also, in my MBA program, I worked within a couple of group projects in two different courses to forecast the growth of market for e-books--one on product management and the other on strategy in the digital economy. In product management, the aim was to uncover the various issues facing an emerging technology at different levels (political, behavioral, economic, social, technological) from three different perspectives (company, industry/ecosystem, infrastructure) and then to predict the success of that technology using a Bayesian Huygins network. In digital strategy, we analyse how the technology could be brought into market through a beachhead analysis. (My MBA papers and presentations are here: beachhead analysis, final presentation, final paper. I admit that they aren’t of the highest quality.)

As of now, e-books are currently being sold by Amazon.com and individual companies. Both Adobe and Microsoft supply standard formats and software such as Microsoft Reader and Adobe Acrobat. Microsoft has paid $400 million to settle a patent lawsuit with Intertrust over rights management—an important issue for e-books. There are also dedicated e-book devices that are selling today.

I do see some traction for e-books going forward.

Clearly, the world is becoming more digital over time. The migration towards broadband is accelerating. Some DSL prices are now lower than dialup—SBC charges $15 for DSL versus $23 for AOL. The digital lifestyle is becoming more of a reality for mainstream America.

Social Changes and Producers

From an economic and social standpoint, a number of favorable trends are emerging to encourage the sale of e-books as the world becomes more digital.

The Internet is introducing “Long Tail” economics, where it is possible to buy or sell low-volume items. Amazon sells an order of magnitude more books than a retail book store can. Both eBay auctions and Google AdSense allows sellers of specialty items to find customers.  Chris Anderson, an economist, has a blog and an upcoming book dedicated to the new Long Tail reality.

There’s also power moving away from large corporations. The Internet makes it easier to self-publish traditional books as the NY-Times reports in this article, “How to Be Your Own Publisher,” but it also makes it even easier to publish electronic books. We saw blogs emerging as a major social phenomenon in 2004 and challenging old media in the presidential election. Some blogs have readerships that surpass many print sources. Peer-to-peer systems have emerged as a channel for independent artists to spread and charge for their work. E-books just don’t require the level of infrastructure or control of traditional books—a nice recipe for an Internet-like rush sometime in the future.

Technological Changes and Consumers

Future technological changes will make consumers more receptive to books on the computers.

Consumers are purchasing LCDs, with produce less eye strain, over traditional monitors. Portability is a major factor in e-book usage. Recently, laptops have overtaken desktops in unit sales. Tablet PCs with ink support for annotations have already proven viable. Computers are also assuming smaller form factors. Even if consumers want traditional  books, services are available for converting e-books to bound volumes.

Microsoft has been a long believer of e-books. This belief has also translated into concern for readable computer text. Reading view was introduced in Word. It seems, with Longhorn, support for e-books has been made a priority.

One concern about e-books has been text readability. Longhorn introduces better ClearType anti-aliasing and optimized fonts as well as automatic support for ligatures and other typographic features. Longhorn also introduces resolution independence, which can utilize the maximum resolution of the monitor for even crisper, print-quality text. Avalon text controls include adaptive layout designed for readability; for instance, stretched text is split into multiple columns based on readable line width and margin.

Other concerns about e-books are addressed by rights management features for copy protection as well as various annotations including ink. I suppose that instantaneous desktop searches also make electronic documents more attractive.

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My name is Wesner Moise. I am a software entrepreneur developing revolutionary AI desktop applications. I worked as a software engineer in Microsoft Excel group for six years during the 1990s. I worked on PivotTables and wrote the most lines of code in Excel 97-- about 10 times the median developer. I have a Harvard BA in applied math/computer science and a UCLA MBA in technology entrepreneurship. I am a member of the Triple Nine Society, a 99.9 percentile high-IQ society.

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