Monday, December 21, 2009

Instant Classic: What I said about eBooks in 2000

Ho, Ho Ho, my old firm deleted my great blog post on eBooks (because I'm no longer there). Thanks to Google, I got it before it disappeared into the ether. Here it is.

 What I said about Books in 2000

eBooks are no longer a dream of the future. I peered into the past and dug out some of the research we wrote about eBooks and digital paper back in the year 2000.
In Digital Paper: Is It Paper, a Display or Both?, Gartner Fellow Jackie Fenn and I wrote about the new medium that readers like the Kindle use. Here is what we said: “D-paper bridges the gap between traditional paper and display technologies. It has the potential to change the publishing industry, eliminating the huge barriers to entry in newspaper, magazine and book publishing. For the short term, signage will be the primary application. Web and hard copy content providers need to develop architectures that allow for content distribution via D-paper technology.”
The predictions from that Research note were:
By year-end 2004, electronic books will be the primary application for active D-paper (0.8 probability).
By year-end 2003, D-paper will be commercially available for a variety of output uses (0.8 probability).
The two vendors we mentioned in the Research note were Xerox (Gyricon Media Inc., which was spun out of Xerox PARC) and E INK, which is now the defacto leader in this display technology.
In E-Book Proliferation: Critical FactorsRita Knox, Alan Weintraub (former Gartner Analyst) and I wrote about: “Publishers’ worst fears about e-books are that the books will be downloaded to an array of electronic devices, reducing sales of traditional books. These fears may not materialize. The revenue generated from e-books may not only offset a possible decline in paper sales, but may cause an increase in sales by expanding the potential audience for books delivered in any medium.”
The things we said about Devices, Software and Content:
“Devices:  E-book devices include not just e-book readers (e.g., NuvoMedia’s Rocket eBook and the SoftBook Reader) but any output device that can present e-book content — personal digital assistants, digital audio, interactive TV, audio and Braille devices (e.g., the Blazie 2000 Braille display) — to multiple senses (visual, auditory, tactile and multimedia).
E-book devices must supersede the familiarity and simplicity of paper books. Content vendors must rethink what electronic content delivery can do for readers. The answers to this challenge will determine the relative value of different delivery devices. The advantage of electronic content is that it makes delivery of content much more flexible, since it can be formatted for different output devices. This flexibility will allow consumers to read (or listen to) a book conveniently in different situations (e.g., at home, in the office, traveling or driving) and in different environments, so that e-books can better match individual lifestyles, preferences and limitations.
Software: Software is the major aspect of e-books that Microsoft has targeted (see Note 2). E-book software serves content to the various output devices. The most successful software will offer the greatest flexibility, allowing a reader not only to access the content from different devices, but also to access the same content at different times and places as the opportunities arise (e.g., from a handheld device at home, to a car’s audio system and then on an office PC).
Software vendors must overcome an array of challenges centered around the management of digital rights. The ease with which electronic content can be copied and transformed threatens publishers and authors. E-book software must support various pricing models, give access only to authorized users and prevent theft of the content (i.e., unauthorized copying). These protections should not unduly limit the flexibility and convenience that will make e-book delivery more attractive than paper.
Content: Before e-books become widely available, publishers and authors must be comfortable making their works available in digital format. Unfortunately, this issue lies farthest from a satisfactory resolution. Publishers remain nervous because appropriate rules (e.g., for reuse) have not been formulated, so the required theft-proof technologies are not defined, much less implemented. The content providers (e.g., publishers) must define the rules for pricing and reuse.”
In general we got it right and we predicted the future. However, it took longer for eBook Readers to become popular, partially because of the lack of digital content available them. The one thing we didn’t predict was that Amazon and Google would be players in this space….The good news now is that newspapers and magazines are finally realizing that paper is just one way of displaying content. For some content publishers it is too late, for others, it is just the beginning.

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