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Digital paper demonstrated — cool!

Nov 25, 2010   [permalink]

Happy Thanksgiving everybody! Today we have some cool news:

"People could one day read electronic books on displays printed on paper, for cheap, flexible and perhaps even disposable versions of the Kindle or Nook, researchers say." [LiveScience.com link]

And as for when we get our pony, "three to five years to bring to market."


So, digital paper means we could have a true digital book.

Plus, it can be any book. Your whole library. Via the network library, the whole corpus of everything ever written. Plus everything else a computer is good for.

Once we get a good form of digital paper the possibilities seem endless.

We're already well on the road to digital books replacing non-digital books. It's those kind of technologies that will lock it in. (Though this digital paper idea is just one path of many that will accomplish the transition.)

So, books and literature will thrive (I optimisically believe) as pleasantly readable text -- which might even look and feel exactly like a book today -- but the "digital" aspect of it will still cause major changes in the publishing model.

The publisher's role diminishes, since there's far less upfront cost with digital (no need to ship thousands of heavy copies around the planet or have a limited number of copies sitting on one store shelf). Publishers may still have a role as quality filters AKA brands. Yet they won't have the kind of monopoly on it today, since that monopoly depends solely on the risk -- up front money for the printing/shipping. Digital removes most if not all of that risk. If they want to regain a risk-based advantage, they will have to move more heavily into advertising. (What percent of books do you really see advertised? Most aren't. Publishers know that the massive costs of printing/shipping keep small players out, so that with non-digital books the mere presence on so many store shelves is marketing.) So, the Long Tail will cause lots of dreck to get a more equal footing with the masterpieces. If someone wants to risk their money (it need not be a "publisher" per se) they put up money for things like advertising and marketing.

Likewise for quality filters, that will probably shift from before publication to after: Everything written will have an shot at getting published in the same places (i.e. available on every digital reading device). That's already started; anyone can put their work up on the Kindle store or make it available to the many digital platforms via services like Smashwords.

I'd be worried if I was a publisher. The highest barrier to entry that keeps them in business (the cost of physically printing/shipping) is going away. They'll have a lot more competition soon. (Which, if you didn't see the post I made about the adoption curve fitting I did, could be as soon as 2-3 years from now.)

Marketing budget and perhaps some brand=quality association will be about their only advantages. They will have a lot of competition.

Authors will also be brands... so it will probably pay off to try to make oneself visible to readers. There are a few "constants" that will remain but it's sure going to be interesting and fun.

— Andrew
(Last count: 8 ebook readers in active use in the house) :)

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