it’s the content, stupid!

Via Slashdot: Sony, Phillips, and E-Ink have teamed up to produce a reading device — christened the LibriČ — with a display that mimics the features of paper.

The hardware technology that makes such a display possible is amazing, but really, the key details as to why this device is a bad idea are to be found in this story from The Guardian:

To keep a tight rein on the flow of ebooks, 15 major publishers and newspapers, including Kodansha, Asahi Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun, have teamed up with Sony to form a company called Publishing Link and to provide content through a website known as Timebook Town.

[T]he sting in the tail is that each title is really only borrowed. Thanks to Open MG protection, the content is unreadable after two months, so it’s best to think of the LibriČ experience as a library of sorts.

Okay, let’s review.

LibriČ Library book
The size of a paperback book. Often the size of a paperback book.
Reading surface almost captures all the desirable features of paper. Reading surface captures all the desirable features of paper because it is paper.
You can read the book (which you have paid for) for up to two months. You can read the book (which you’ve checked out for free) for up to two months.
The device costs almost $400. Library privileges usually free.

There are billions of pages of information available for free on the Internet, but with this device, you get to pay for the privilege of reading material in a proprietary format that makes the content disappear after two months. More expensive then paper books and less durable? Where do I sign up!?

Oh yeah, this product is sure to be a big success!

The history of reading teaches us that readers engage in a wide array of complex and unpredicatable behaviors. Rare book rooms the world over are filled with evidence of this fact. One of the strengths of the “old-fashioned” book format is that it supports a wide array of complex and unpredicatable behaviors. Digital media present an opportunity to widen that range of possible behaviors even further: build your own concordances of your favorite works in seconds, search your personal library for other occurences of an interesting word or phrase, make your own literary “smash ups” by slicing and dicing plots, create an electronic commonplace book.

How sad that these possibilities have yet to be made available in a dedicated reading device. Any reading format that attempts to put absolute boundaries upon reading behaviors is bound to fail because attempts to make readers submit will breed resentment. Either someone will hack the LibriČ, or it will flop.

See also these stories on the LibriČ: NY Times,
Forbes,
C|NET.

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