iPad Goes Back to the Future

So Penguin is talking about how tablets (read “iPads”) will lead to new forms of books. Their vision? Encarta, circa a decade ago. Really? This is what Penguin thinks people want from Pengiun? They’re going to try to go head-to-head with PopCap?

The future of the book is, at least for the next few decades, a stack of pages with text and occasional images on them. In the relatively rare cases where an animation is useful, by all means, include it. After all, how else are you going to drive up the production costs to extract money from the captive book buyer: students required to buy textbooks? And yes, there may be some experimentation on the fringe with children’s books that are animated. You know, what we call “television” these days.

No the real question remains distribution, and whether publishers will “get it” in time. How you can look at the recent history of the music industry and not see a parallel suggests that you are wearing huge blinders. (Yet another use for iPads!)

I was talking with my opthamologist the other day, who has published medical books. We got on the topic of the future of books, and he said that there was really just one obvious outcome: that people will subscribe to libraries and pay a monthly fee for access to new books. It’s obvious to my doctor, to me, and to most people I meet. Why? Because we’re already moving to that model for music, and have gotten most of the way there for movies at home.

(As an aside, I’m waiting for the day when my subscription to Netflix gets me not just DVDs shipped to my door and downloads, but a pass that lets me walk into a movie theater to see any show I want. Far-fetched? Not very. Likely to be expensive? Yes.)

So, do we have to play out the old drama again? Sure, dinosaurs vs. Napster is different in many ways from dinosaurs vs. Google, but the core remains the same. Someone is going to be iTunes and Pandora for books. And the way things are shaping up, it may be that iTunes and Pandora will be the iTunes and Pandora for books.

What I can say with some certainty is that unless this was a clever feint by Penguin, there’s nothing to see there. They need to send some execs over to O’Reilly for cross-training.

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2 Trackbacks

  1. […] digital-analog marketing/sales trends in other markets. And finally, also in the world of e-books, Alex Halavais has a fun riff/rant on why Penguin’s new books for the iPad aren’t really …, and why monthly subscriptions are the obvious thing. I was talking with my ophthalmologist the […]

  2. […] iPad Goes Back to the Future — Alex Halavais riffs on why Penguin’s new books for the iPad aren’t really the future, and why monthly subscriptions are the obvious thing. From the post: “I was talking with my opthamologist the other day, who has published medical books. We got on the topic of the future of books, and he said that there was really just one obvious outcome: that people will subscribe to libraries and pay a monthly fee for access to new books. It’s obvious to my doctor, to me, and to most people I meet. Why? Because we’re already moving to that model for music, and have gotten most of the way there for movies at home.” […]

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