Will we steal the e-book? (Probably)

The cost of putting toner powder on a page of paper and the time associated with putting all those pages on a copier glass will no longer be a defense in a world where "If it can be copied, it will be copied" often seems to rule.

An article by Edward Wyatt in the New York Times discussed how the Amazon Kindle e-book reader was stirring unease at the BookExpo America trade show.

But excitement about the Kindle, which was introduced in November, also worries some publishing executives, who fear Amazon's still-growing power as a bookseller. Those executives note that Amazon currently sells most of its Kindle books to customers for a price well below what it pays publishers, and they anticipate that it will not be long before Amazon begins using the Kindle's popularity as a lever to demand that publishers cut prices.

I'm a bit skeptical about this particular concern. From my perspective as a consumer, one of the problems that I have with e-books today is that I have to buy a $400 device and then still have to pay almost as much for the bits as for the dead tree version even though many of the costs associated with printing, distributing, and inventorying physical books are eliminated.

That's not to say that costs go to zero--nowhere close. And there's a legitimate concern that buyers may naively assume that they do. An earlier post on this topic: Digital distribution isn't free . But costs are lower--and the prices should reflect that.

What would seem a more germane concern is whether pervasive e-books lead to pervasive trading and copying. DRM, my other beef with a lot of today's e-books, inconveniences legitimate users as much as it retards piracy. So I think we can take that off the table a solution that's either desirable or especially effective. Today, the economics of photocopying and the restraints that time and space put on physically giving a read book to the next reader sharply limit the amount of duplication and trading that can take place.

In my view, you shouldn't discount limits imposed by the physical world too much. While movies consume plenty of bandwidth on the Torrents, their quality and the effort it takes to download them--paired with the ready availability of modestly-priced, full quality movie rentals--means that they aren't that attractive for a lot of people. Certainly music lends itself far better to downloads--legal and otherwise. And the apparent impact on the recording labels has been proportionately greater as well.

A lot of the dynamics associated with creating, producing, distributing, and purchasing books are considerably different than those of music than those of movies. Electronic distribution creates possibilities. Impulse purchases from the living room and ready availability of the longest, "long tail" work are just two.

But, at the same time, the cost of putting toner powder on a page of paper and the time associated with putting all those pages on a copier glass will no longer be a defense in a world where "If it can be copied, it will be copied" often seems to rule.

About the author

Gordon Haff is Red Hat's cloud evangelist although the opinions expressed here are strictly his own. He's focused on enterprise IT, especially cloud computing. However, Gordon writes about a wide range of topics whether they relate to the way too many hours he spends traveling or his longtime interest in photography.

 

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