TheStreet.com is reporting that book-retailing behemoth Barnes & Noble may be hatching a plan to build an e-book device of its own, possibly partnering with Sprint to deliver books wirelessly. I don’t know if there’s anything to the rumor, but it would be stunning if B&N wasn’t formulating some sort of strategy for dealing with the prospect of a world in which most (all?) books are digital. If it doesn’t, it’ll turn into another Blockbuster sooner or later.
If there is a Barnes & Noble e-reader, it’ll have plenty company. There’s Plastic Logic’s upcoming device. Fujitsu is about to release its fancy FLEPia in Japan. Magazine publisher Hearst is working on an e-reader. Rupert Murdoch is making noises about jumping into the market. And then there are the gadgets that are already here: Amazon.com’s Kindle 2, Sony’s Reader, and dark horses such as the iRex iLiad.
All of which leaves me thinking one thing: I wish that the publishing and technology industries would take a deep breath, step back, and declare a moratorium on new e-book gizmos and platforms until they can agree on one file format for e-books that’ll work on every reader. It would be nice if that format was free of copy protection, but I’m willing to settle for DRM as long as it works well, and works with everything,
The books I’ve bought for my Kindle will work on the Kindle and other devices Amazon chooses to support, such as the iPhone. (Which means that even if another company comes up with a gadget that’s ten times better than the Kindle, I’m unlikely to switch,) The books Sony sells work on Sony’s reader. We don’t know what formats a Barnes & Noble e-reader will work with, but I’m guessing it doesn’t want Amazon or Borders selling tomes for its hardware. And so on.
One of the multiple wonderful things about human eyeballs is that they’re compatible with everything you can look at: I’ve got books I’ve owned since I was two that I still pull out from time to time. But e-books that are tied to a particular platform are dead ends: You’ll be lucky if you can still read them five years from now, let alone a few decades into the future.
I cheerfully admit that I’m pretty much ignorant when it comes to what’s going on with open e-book standards. I just know that I’m not going to get too excited about any new e-reader until I know that any digital book or magazine I buy anywhere will work on it…