Thursday, January 08, 2009

Ebooks &mdash The Next Generation

Ebooks are starting to show signs of life. The high production and shipping costs &mdash of our beloved paper-made books &mdash and new ebook reading devices (and future ones: ala the immanent 9" iPod) are fueling the ebook revolution.

The revolutionaries are storming the house of paperbooks with two opposing strategies.

The first strategy: DRM-afflicted ebooks are sold at a slightly lower price than the paperback. Now and then a "free" version is offered: you do not pay with money but with mind. Advertisements are littered throughout the book. This is an event of historic importance in the history of reading, for an entire new genre has been created: litterature.

Yesterday, I was enthusiastic about the prospect of reading a "free" ebook: it was a historical novel about Abraham Lincoln and his times, written by Gore Vidal. But I could not read very far, because this online version of the book contained a thoroughly tasteless ad. The commercial message showed a naked silouette of a woman's body, which flickered above (and below) every page of the book. Sandals of stupidity and a crown of commercial thorns on the head and feet of my hero, Honest Abe.

Does money matter so much more than the ideas that can renew our culture? ... American society is at a turning point: perhaps a breaking point. Publishing matters: publishers can help us to change the world for the better. But we will need less commerce and more truth. The publishers who thrive (meaning: survive) will be the ones who give us new ideas and a new integrity.

Advertisements have absolutely no place inside of books or ebooks. If you argue that we must have advertising to support free ebooks penned by contemporary authors, then let's see if it possible to include the ads not randomly and annoyingly, but with careful thought and relative good taste. Perhaps these advertisements could be less conspicous and more appropriate to the book? ... Or these ads might be still and frozen, instead of flash-based and distractingly in motion? ... Or one advertisement could be placed inside the book, after every 50 pages? ... Or the publisher could advise us (in the spirit of Lincoln) that the online book can be read free from ads, by using the Firefox browser with an extension called NoScript or AdBlock?

There is a smarter approach to the ebook revolution: ebooks could be &mdash and should be &mdash given away free (and advertisement-free), or sold at a very low cost.

Since 1972, Project Gutenberg has been giving away free ebooks. Other sites do the same. Promising newcomers in this effort are FeedBooks, and the reading software Stanza.

In the near future, I predict ebooks will surge when we get better and cheaper reading devices, the long-awaited "e-paper", and a new generation of ebooks for a buck.

Thanks to AgnosticPreachersKid for the image of the Lincoln Memorial, which is reproduced here under a Creative Commons License:
Creative Commons sharealike license