eBooks — Back Again

I ran across this article on slashdot. It is an interesting review and commentary on Sony’s new eBook. One cool element of the solution is that it includes a new display from eink which uses technology from my alma mater, MIT.

Believe it or not, I have past experience with eBooks because I think that I was one of the five people who purchased an eBook in the previous generation. I was given a Rocket eBook as a gift. Truthfully, I never used it too much.

The business model of eBook providers always infruriated me. I can understand paying a premium for the hardware, but cannot understand how you can possible justify selling electronic books at the same price or more than the physical book. The article says, “Some [books], like “Freakonomics,” are priced like hardcover editions ($16); others, like “The Devil Wears Prada,” are priced like the paperbacks ($8).” I have a a major problem with this.

The cost for an eBook is effectively zero. (e.g. there is nothing that needs to be printed or shipped etc…) Of course, there are other costs such as royalties. Regardless, the cost of an eBook is definitely less than a physical copy. The other issue is that eBook technology is constantly changing and so an eBook purchased today may not be readable in the future, and while you may own the eBook perpetually, you may not be able to read it. Compare this to physical books; I still have books from elementary school!

There are other areas where physical books outperform eBooks:

  1. Physical books are more reliable (no need for power, unaffected by sand, dirt and others.)
  2. Physical books are widely available
  3. You can legally borrow physical books (from the library)
  4. You never have to worry about physical book compatibility
  5. All titles are available as physical books

The net result is that IMO, eBooks are not a compelling value. They only way they potentially make sense are if they are priced at a discount compared to physical books. If prices continue as they are, I do not see how some can possibly justify investing in an eBook.

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