Why eBooks must fail

Monday, July 27th, 2009

John Naughton, writing in The Guardian, identifies excellent reasons why eBooks must fail:

I own my copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four and can do with it what I wish. I can, for example, lend it to friends, family and students. I can, if I wish, tear out pages and send them to people in the post, or stick them up on noticeboards. I can sell the book – if I could find a buyer. I can donate it to the local Oxfam shop. I can read sobering or inflammatory passages from it at political demonstrations. And so on.

But if I had purchased an electronic copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four to read on my Kindle device, I would have none of those freedoms


Up to now, the debate about eBooks has been dominated by technical issues: ergonomics, portability, storage capacity, the readability of display screens, the quality of the user interface and so on. These are important matters, but ignore the biggest issue of all, namely the ways in which the technology enables content owners to assert a level of control over the reader that would be deemed unconscionable – and unacceptable – in the world of print.

He’s right – designers tend to focus on the aesthetic and affective aspects – how useable is the technology, how open is it, does it replicate the “experience” of reading a paperback… but the real “experience” of reading a book is bound up in the tactile and the social. Lending a book to someone – or even just saying you’ll lend it to someone, is an important part of reading.

All the hoo-hah about Amazon deleting books and tracking what you do with what you buy aside, the real issue with eBooks is that all the focus and research has gone into the technology and completely missed what it means to read a really good book.

(Via MediaGuardian.co.uk.)

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