walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

blog over at TR did a silly

http://technologyreview.com/blog/mimssbits/25783/

Some samples of the silly:

"In Clearwater, Florida, the principle of the local high school recently replaced all his students' textbooks with latest-gen Kindles - without, apparently, any awareness that formal trials of the Kindle as a textbook replacement led universities like Princeton and Arizona State University to reject it as inadequate."

Here's the embedded link:

http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/k12/clearwater-high-prepares-to-hand-out-kindle-e-readers-to-its-2100-plus/1120428

It is clear from the embedded link that (a) the principal (spelling!) did not replace _all_ the textbooks:

"they'll find electronic texts for English, math, some science and novels, with plans to expand to other subjects next year."

(b) The principal has at least recently become aware of the kindle trials at the college level.

Students have the option of not using the kindle at all.

I have to wonder why this blogger is hostile to the idea. Kids backpacks are awful heavy, and textbooks are pretty useless anyway. Why not try something new?

"Then you have pundits like Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT's Media Lab, making statements..."

Dude, it is _Negroponte_. Have you been paying attention?

There are embedded links to things that I have mocked in the past: that ebooks "only" make up 6% of the book market. Also to efforts to de-emphasize just how big a player in the book market Amazon is ("only" 19% of the total book market). Silliest, however, is that he figures if Amazon has such a "small" part of the book market as a whole, and such a large fraction of the ebook market, that makes the ebooks outselling hardcovers on Amazon basically not that exciting, certainly not any kind of ominous portent for physical books or anything.

Mims may know a thing or two about technology (I don't feel like trying to answer that question in this post), but that conclusion betrays a fundamental -- and pervasive -- misunderstanding of how trade publishing makes its money. Or rather, _who_ it makes its money on. It's a tiny group of people who buy lots and lots of books -- and those people are switching fast. Given that switch is associated with a strong wind of disintermediation, it's hard to imagine a course change any time soon.

"The backlash against ebooks by those who aren't so in love with technology for its own sake has yet to begin"

So what was that year plus of commentary about loving the feel and smell of paper books?

Mims seems enamored of large format devices like the Kno. In an earlier post (which he links to in this one), this gem appears:

http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/mimssbits/25590/

"In contrast, the attempt to cram a textbook onto a smaller screen is a primary reason that previous trials with replacing textbooks with e-readers such as the Kindle DX were abject failures."

Uh. No. That was _a_ problem, but by no means the main problem. There were issues with availability of texts (notably the lack of a french-english/english-french dictionary for the french class), the way annotating worked (and one professor who was concerned about comprehension as a result), and accessibility concerns for the visually impaired were significant problems. The Reed college experiment picked classes where color diagrams and pictures weren't going to be an issue.

Mims' argument concludes that people who love buying cheap used books (made even more plentiful by early adopters switching to ebooks and unloading their libraries) aren't going to want to pay $10 for a new ebook. That's a pretty fascinating argument. It sure doesn't help publishers of _new_ paper books out at all. I particularly love the idea that there's a segment of the book market that only buys paper books because they expect to be able to recoup part of that cost when they resell the book. I used to be one of those sell books to the used book store people, or trade them in for even more store credit. I buy _way way way_ more books now (paper and ebooks) than I used to then.

This is a much more detailed and comprehensive why-ebooks-aren't-going-to-take-over article than I think I've seen anywhere else (at least all collected into a single post/article). That's a fairly impressive thing all by itself. But it is basically quite silly. As long as the e-texts are available on multiple platforms (kindle text and ibookstore books can be read on multiple platforms, some of which are more friendly to the eyes and others of which are more portable and others of which are better at displaying color diagrams), and those platforms are available to students, the limitations of any one platform don't seem particularly important. Amazon has chewed the accessibility issues down to a point where the complaining groups are more or less satisfied. The last few months have demonstrated that people who only buy a few new books a year are perfectly happy going out and spending over $100 on a dedicated e-reader (and even more people are forking over for iPads). It would seem that the Reed College complaints about annotations represent the significant problem that must be overcome in an academic setting, and it is one that is largely irrelevant in the trade book market.

It'll be interesting to see if in fact:

"Finally, and most importantly, as a delivery mechanism, Ebooks are nothing like music or even movies and television, and the transitions seen in those media simply don't apply to the transition to electronic books."

I would argue that books have seen a lot more transitions than young'uns these days realize. One more transition, away from wood pulp, might be qualitatively different, but it certainly isn't unthinkable.
Tags: e-book coverage
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