Sci-fi pros focus on e-books at Denvention 3

At the 66th World Science Fiction Convention, writers, agents, editors, publishers, and fans have a lot to say about electronic publishing.

Earlier this month, I traveled to Denver for Denvention 3, the 66th World Science Fiction Convention. I first attended Worldcon in 1977, when it happened to take place in Miami, where I was living at the time.

Denvention 3 logo

Since then, I've been to 15 more Worldcons, including in Denver. (I've been pretty lucky--the Worldcon has been held in my home state six times.) I've also been to four North American Science Fiction Conventions (NASFiCs), which are held in the United States when the Worldcon is overseas.

A good fraction of the attendees at a Worldcon are San Francisco-based professionals--writers, agents, editors, publishers, artists, and others. Along with some of the more well-known fans, they participate in panel discussions on a variety of topics. These panels are my favorite part of the Worldcon.

This year, it seemed that there was a panel on issues related to e-books and electronic publishing in virtually every time slot. I went to several of these sessions. It seems to me that there's a serious conflict between the preferences of some professionals and the way the e-book market is actually developing.

Several panelists in two of the panel sessions, for example, strongly asserted that digital rights management (DRM) for e-books is ineffective, commercially impractical, and unacceptable to most users.

But these claims are simply inconsistent with the facts. Amazon's Kindle, according to various published reports, is selling very well, as are Kindle books. Citigroup estimates that Amazon will sell 380,000 Kindles this year, 150,000 in the fourth quarter alone.

Anecdotally, I can report that the Kindle owners I know (and others I ran into at the Worldcon) are happy with the gizmo and regularly buy books in electronic form rather than buying paper copies.

I'm having the same experience myself. I'd be happier if I could read Kindle books on my iPhone 3G or my Mac, or if I could print individual pages or copy text into an e-mail, but I figure that I get 99 percent of the potential enjoyment from just reading a book. At least with fiction; I still regard the Kindle and the Sony Reader as marginal for much nonfiction and completely inadequate for textbooks.

(Incidentally, I need to write another blog post about the Reader. Sony has recently released some updates for the PRS-505 that make it much better for reading PDFs and add support for Adobe's Digital Editions service.)

Also, the furor over DRM on music downloads seems to be dying down, and Apple's sales of music, TV shows, and movies through the iTunes Store continue to grow rapidly.

Obviously, DRM is commercially practical and acceptable to many consumers.

I think the disconnect in this case lies with the philosophical positions some people have taken against DRM, positions that generally date back to well before commercial electronic publishing was well established. Now that electronic publishing--with DRM--is achieving significant success and user acceptance, these people need to rethink their positions.

That said, Baen Books continues to offer DRM-free e-books through its WebScription Ebooks service, and completely free books through the Baen Free Library.

Baen's a smallish publisher, and what it's doing here isn't necessarily transferable to the major publishing houses, but it's good to see someone offering an alternative to Amazon's Kindle Store and Sony's eBook Store.

There were some other interesting topics addressed in Worldcon panels this year, and if I have time, I'll write about them here--but I have to get caught up on Siggraph 2008 from last week, and the Intel Developer Forum is this week. Busy, busy.

About the author

    Peter N. Glaskowsky is a computer architect in Silicon Valley and a technology analyst for the Envisioneering Group. He has designed chip- and board-level products in the defense and computer industries, managed design teams, and served as editor in chief of the industry newsletter "Microprocessor Report." He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. Disclosure.

     

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