See news story: E-publishing posing threat to traditional book clubs
By Rita Knox, Gartner Analyst
The ability to download and read books on portable devices will likely not reduce sales of traditional books to any great extent.
The cost of printing books is
negligible compared to the intellectual property costs, which will remain a
major element in the cost of e-books. Most readers will continue to find
paper books more pleasant to hold and to read than any electronic device,
and books are easy to buy.
Efforts to improve e-books as
representations of real books, such as improving the readability screen fonts and
boosting download speeds, will not overcome those competitive barriers.
E-book and content vendors must rethink what electronic content can do for
readers. With the emphasis on particular devices for delivery, such as
Microsoft's Pocket PC, a major weakness of e-books is that they tie readers
to a type of device--the e-book appliance itself--or even a particular brand.
Readers may demand more flexibility. Otherwise, e-books will not improve on the
convenience and portability of paperbacks or magazines.
Readers will not want to be limited to a single device. People who already
have a laptop computer, personal digital assistant and cell phone may not
relish carrying around an e-book, too. A reader could start a book during
lunch hour at work and prefer to read on a desktop or laptop computer; on
the drive home, the reader might want to continue the book in audio format.
Elsewhere, a handheld device might work best.
Nor will readers want to buy from a limited pool of texts such as, for example, the e-books that Microsoft sells on Microsoft Network.
The problem of digital rights management also looms for e-books. This is
relatively simple for readers of ordinary books: You buy a book and can pass
it on to anyone else. Or you can borrow books for free at the public
library. Copying and distribution of electronic content by individuals is potentially unlimited,
and private communities, such as Napster with its digital music technology, could
trade e-books among themselves.
Publishers will have to work hard to solve the problems with
distribution protection, pricing models and the reuse of e-books.
It remains to be seen whether e-book consumers will tolerate barriers to easy acquisition and reuse--for example, time constraints on use or regulations that prevent or limit copies.
As with so much information delivered via the Internet, competition
could force the prices of e-book downloads to the commodity level--or make
them free. In short, it will be difficult for vendors to figure out the
business rules to make e-books attractive to all constituents, from author
E-books such as Microsoft envisions today will likely form a
publishing niche similar to audio books. A breakout to wider popularity for
e-book content will require proper identification and management of a
complex set of factors. Many types of vendors will likely become involved,
including sellers of hardware and software, Internet service providers,
e-commerce Web sites, book publishers, bookstores and other retail outlets. The e-book industry will have to simplify property rights and payment so that these do not inconvenience consumers or authors.
Vendors will have to work with technologies such as XML that can provide digital rights management and support rendering of e-book content
for different devices. The mobility and usability of e-book devices
must offset some of the pleasure, convenience and near-universal
availability of traditional books.
Entire contents, Copyright © 2000 Gartner Group, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein
represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable.
Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner
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