Friday, July 30, 2004

Cool eBook Gadget -- No Content!

Engineering driven companies just don't get content. At, this week's Feature Creep: 500 Books in Your Gadget Bag provides an excellent insight into the disconnect between hardware designers, content publishers and readers (the all important buyers!) that has plagued the ebook industry. Sharp is showing a prototype color eBook reader, which looks really cool, along the line of Apple products. Earlier this year, the Sony Librie reader was introduced. Technically, both look attractive with better screen resolution and battery life than the SoftBook / RocketBook readers that I worked with several years ago.

But here is the kicker. The publishing industry produces over 60,000 new titles per year, with well over a million titles in print. But for eBooks, Sharp is touting the availability of only 7,000 titles for their new devices available in 2007, which presumably use the same format as their handheld Zaurus. Even worse, Sony had only a skimpy 400 titles available at launch.

Now this might be quasi-attractive if I could put self-published ebooks, purchases from online eBook stores, and my mountain of Adobe PDF reports on the device...but alas, only proprietary DRM protected commercial books are allowed! To make matters worse, the books expire at the end of 60 days on the Sony DRM model, presumably after having paid full retail price. Presumably, if the content included periodicals, the 60 day period might make some sense, but this approach for books doesn't allow me to pile up interesting reading material to be browsed sometime in the next year. This approach really doesn't work for libraries, who have been early adopters of ebooks.

Maybe someday designing engineers will also be readers, and a good device with a good business model will emerge, but for now the PDA and PC remain the reader devices of choice....functional, if not cool.
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