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The Future Has Yet To Arrive

Sure, it’s undeniable that e-books are going to play a significant role in the future of publishing (according to this survey from the Frankfurt Book Fair, most professionals believe e-sales will surpass sales of traditional books by 2018—more on this article later in the week), but it’s clear from these two recent articles that that particular moment is still off in the future.

In the L.A. Times, Carolyn Kellogg nicely summarizes the quick rise and fall of Dan Brown as the great e-book hope. Basically, on September 15th, when The Lost Symbol was released, it was found that Amazon.com sold more copies of the Kindle version than they had of the hardcover. But, well, um, that didn’t last:

But it was only a moment, one that lasted less than 48 hours. By the time the week was out, with more than 2 million copies sold in the U.S., Britain and Canada — breaking the publisher’s previous one-week record set by Bill Clinton with “My Life” — hardcover sales had easily eclipsed sales of the ebook. Of the 2 million copies sold, only 100,000, or 5%, were electronic versions.

Although the overall sales levels aren’t there, the pattern is in keeping with what one might expect. Kindle-users want immediate gratification with very low purchasing costs. They don’t want to drive out to B&N to wait in line to buy the hardcover. They don’t want to wait for free shipping. They want books when they want them, and for something like this, that means they wanted the book the day—or even the very minute—that it became available. So of course, there was a quick burst in sales of The Lost Symbol followed by a tailing off . . .

More harrowing for e-book advocates is this story about Princeton’s disappointing experiment with the Kindle DX. I always thought that textbooks and classrooms would be one of the first places to really glom onto to the promise and possibility of e-books and e-reading devices. Unfortunately, that isn’t happening quite yet. From The Daily Princetonian:

When the University announced its Kindle e-reader pilot program last May, administrators seemed cautiously optimistic that the e-readers would both be sustainable and serve as a valuable academic tool. But less than two weeks after 50 students received the free Kindle DX e-readers, many of them said they were dissatisfied and uncomfortable with the devices.

On Wednesday, the University revealed that students in three courses — WWS 325: Civil Society and Public Policy, WWS 555A: U.S. Policy and Diplomacy in the Middle East, and CLA 546: Religion and Magic in Ancient Rome — were given a new Kindle DX containing their course readings for the semester. The University had announced last May it was partnering with Amazon.com, founded by Jeff Bezos ’86, to provide students and faculty members with the e-readers as part of a sustainability initiative to conserve paper.

But though they acknowledged some benefits of the new technology, many students and faculty in the three courses said they found the Kindles disappointing and difficult to use.

“I hate to sound like a Luddite, but this technology is a poor excuse of an academic tool,” said Aaron Horvath ’10, a student in Civil Society and Public Policy. “It’s clunky, slow and a real pain to operate.”

This is kind of unfortunate, especially since it sounds like more of a device issue than anything else. Still seems like there’s a great opportunity here with the right device/content mix . . .



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