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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: kevin kelly, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. What do we want? We want to be Free!

Kevin Kelly, who a couple of years ago wrote this provocative article on the future of books, is at it again, this time asking how it is possible to charge for something in a digital world where the cost of duplication and redistribution is almost exactly zero. While books are not the focus of his latest blog post, he could be talking about the publishing industry when he says 'Our wealth sits upon a very large device that copiesFree promiscuously and constantly.'

The problem for content producers and owners, as he describes it, is that 'Once anything that can be copied [eg ebooks] is brought into contact with [the] internet, it will be copied, and those copies never leave. Even a dog knows you can't erase something once it's flowed on the internet.' For book publishers, struggling with issues of ebook pricing, or looking askance at the record business where copy protection is on the way out and the price of recorded music slides inexorably towards free, working out how to create value and encourage people to pay for digital products is becoming an important issue.

But happily Kelly has a possible balm;

'When copies are free, you need to sell things which cannot be copied.'

He suggests 8 'values', including authority, personalization and immediacy which increase value for the user and potentially could encourage payment for a something which might otherwise have a tangible value close to zero. I'm not going to copy his entire article here (though I could simply reproduce a digital copy at no cost to myself at all) - but I do suggest checking it out, it is a most worthwhile read. Perhaps most usefully (and something that really should be obvious) is his suggestion that business models are considered from the point of view not of the content creator, owner or distributor, but from the users perspective; What, he asks, can encourage us to pay for something we can get for free?

Meanwhile, the O'Reilly publishing conference is today starting in New York. At last years' conference Chris Anderson scandalized attending publishers when he said that he was trying to get his new book, Free, priced as close to, er, free, as possible since for him books were an advertisement for his speaking and consultancy business. As every single publisher said, 'that's great for him, but what about us?'. Kevin Kelly, thankfully, provides ample food for thought.

Jeremy Ettinghausen, Digital Publisher

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2. Objects of Beauty

Since returning from holiday I've been involved with probably a dozen conversations about ebooks - about the hardware, Digital Rights Management, suppliers and technology partners, e-ink, about whether the era of the ebook is finally dawning. We've been publishing a small line of ebooks since 2001, but pressSony_reader_2 speculation, fueled by the blogosphere, is that Amazon will join Sony in releasing an ebook reader in the near future, with digitised texts also viewable via Google Booksearch and perhaps on the iPhone and iPod Touch also.

I've long been a big believer in onscreen reading - in the approaching age of always on broadband connectivity the idea that all the world's texts can be accessible, searchable and portable is, I believe, a very compelling scenario. While the book as an object will not become redundant technology for a while, I cannot see why the book industry should be immune from the disruptive changes transforming the music, film, newspaper and TV business, where everyday more and more people access content online.

But repeatedly perusing these images of some of the world's most beautiful libraries has given me a little Boston_bates5a pause for thought (do check out the whole set of images here - and tell us why Portugal has such a collection of amazing libraries!). The experience of reading in one of these is surely in a different league from booting up an ereading device and waiting for the page to refresh, even if the etexts are fully searchable. Is convenience enough to cause a massive shift in reading habits and perhaps encourage greater use of traditional book content? Do the extra things that ebooks could and should do (annotation, bookmarking, search, customization, integrated multimedia) make up for the fact that the aesthetic experience is different from (and less than?) that of cracking open the spine of a new book.

In his provocative article, Scan This Book, Kevin Kelly says

Yet the common vision of the library's future (even the e-book future) assumes that books will remain isolated items, independent from one another, just as they are on shelves in your public library. There, each book is pretty much unaware of the ones next to it. When an author completes a work, it is fixed and finished. Its only movement comes when a reader picks it up to animate it with his or her imagination. In this vision, the main advantage of the coming digital library is portability — the nifty translation of a book's full text into bits, which permits it to be read on a screen anywhere. But this vision misses the chief revolution birthed by scanning books: in the universal library, no book will be an island.


Kelly imagines a future where texts are 'liquid' - taggable, mashable, hyperlinked and above all searchable and findable. This 'universal library' he posits, will once again make books central to the culture (as theyReal_gabinete_portugues_de_leitura_ were when most of the libraries here were built) and provide value for readers, writers and the publishers who get it.

I think that Kelly's idea of 'Books: The Liquid Version' is beyond the imagination of most publishers at this point in time (though there are those actively exploring the possibilities). We're still working out how to make ebooks work, how much content should be available online for free and who the players are in this brave new world. So happily, despite the buzz around electronic books it seems that the printed book, the ebook and the beautiful temples to reading shown in the photographs will coexist for some time yet.


Jeremy Ettinghausen, Digital Publisher

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Remember that by posting a comment you are agreeing to the website Terms of Use. If you consider any content on this site to be inappropriate, please report it to Penguin Books by emailing reportabuse@penguin.co.uk

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