The New York Times has a brief article looking at the future of e-book devices, and their technological siblings the tablet computer.
It includes quotes from Nicholas Negroponte of One Laptop Per Child, and Nick Colaneri of Arizona State University whose Flexible Display Center is working with the military to develop flexible displays for battlefield use.
The group Mr. Negroponte heads, One Laptop Per Child, has developed a slate computer set to be released in 2012 that will cost less than $100. Plastic and, he said, unbreakable, the computer will resemble the iPad and will “use so little power you should be able to shake it or wind it up to give it power.”
Colaneri notes that there is more to making flexible displays than just making the screen bend, but expects designs to start to make it to market within three to five years.
There’s also some talk from Clive Thompson, a technology columnist for Wired, about where e-books will go if “publishers are smart—and readers are lucky”. He sees e-books becoming more collaborative, with readers gaining the ability to highlight and share favorite passages
In other words, e-books will become social experiences, with sharing among readers and even the ability to see the most popular passages as other readers highlight and comment in real time. “E-books will display their social and informational life,” Mr. Thompson said. “On which pages do readers most linger? What are the world’s best comments for this passage?”
I only see a couple of problems with that scenario. First off, it assumes that publishers are going to be smart. I’ve seen plenty of examples, over the last few years, of publishers trying to do everything they can to lock down their e-books rather than open them up. Many, perhaps most applications for reading commercial e-books don’t allow copying and pasting at all—since someone could copy and paste the entire book to get around the DRM.
And it also assumes that people are going to be happy about other people being able to find out how and what they read. There are already plenty of people who don’t like the highlighting tracking that Amazon is doing now, after all.
The piece closes with
Mr. Thompson foresees e-book publishers offering single chapters of some books for 99 cents each, the price for which iTunes sells single songs today.
Now that’s just silly. Who on earth would buy a single chapter of a book? You can buy single songs for 99 cents, and might even want to, because a song is a complete work in and of itself, and if there’s only one or two good songs on an album of stinkers then it’s common sense just to buy those songs.
But what satisfaction is any reader going to get out of buying one chapter from a longer book? If it’s a short story from a story collection, maybe, but most books aren’t story collections. I really don’t see the point.