E-Books, the future of libraries?

You probably don’t know this, but I have a love/hate relationship with Nick Hornby. I love his book Fever Pitch but I hate his two movies based on the book. Ok, I hate the Drew Barrymore/Boston Red Socks/Jimmy Fallon/Farrelly Brothers abomination that somehow was committed to celluloid in 2005 and I only sort of hate the 1997 Colin Firth/Arsenal film.

Largely autobiographical, the book and the film chronicle Nick Hornby’s childhood to adult obsession with Arsenal Football Club. The latter film is a really, really, really bad adaptation of the book from the perspective of Jimmy Fallon as a Boston Red Socks fan who is in love with Drew Barrymore. The former film does have one of the greatest scenes ever committed to film, where a young Nick mounts the stairs at Highbury and the camera takes a first person point of view so that you (the viewer) get a small taste of what it’s like to climb those hallowed stairs, mount the crest and have the old pitch at Highbury fill your eyes.  Having been to Highbury and experienced that sensation first hand, I have a really hard time fully dislikiing something that contains a really magical moment like that.

I digress… the point is that I think I like his writing a lot more than I like the films made based on his writing; so I subscribe to his blog.

Today, he surprised me (which he almost always does) with a nice piece about what he sees as the difficulties posed by the new generation of hand-held e-book readers. He lists 5 major obstacles to widespread user adoption: 1) people like books 2) no one owns any e-books so why do they need an e-book reader? 3) people don’t buy many books at all so paying $600 for a book reader to hold the 7 books you buy a year is silly 4) book lovers are Luddites 5) ubiquitous video on iPods and the like hurt book sales/readership.

I completely agree with him.

Well, ok, I sort of agree with him.

One new development in online piracy is that students are now using torrents and Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file sharing networks to pirate textbooks. Some people suppose this is due to the ever increasing cost to students for these textbooks and I can sort of see that point. When I was a student, it seemed like a minor miracle if you could get a used textbook; especially in the sciences and math. Constant updates, the fact that everyone has to take the classes, insane prices for new books, and low buyback prices meant long lines on the first day that books were on sale and frustration when the three used copies all sold out. So, it’s no surprise that students have turned to piracy to get around the system. When I was a student, some of my classmates would buy 1 coursepack, take it to Kinkos and make copies for their fellow students at a significant discount. I would bet that pirating textbooks has probably been around as long as people have had formal education.

What I’m seeing that’s different, though, is that the new hand-held devices, like the iPod Touch, have/will have e-book reader capabilities. This means that students will be able to download textbooks, music, movies, and have the whole internet on one simple machine. This has to make pirating e-books much more attractive to students and the idea of buying a Kindle or dedicated e-book reader far less attractive.

Add to that the fact that student will be able to watch a lecture, read an e-book, watch a movie, or just listen to music through a dock and a screen on their gym equipment and I think that the e-book may have missed the boat.

It’s funny, I was literally wondering when this technology would happen yesterday as I sat on the stationary bike and stared at the countdown timer for my cardio. I thought “why can’t this be an LCD screen and we get some content on here instead of these stupid dots?”

I guess the invisible hand of the market heard me, swatted away the e-book reader and handed me an iPod Touch.

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