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Unformatted text preview: REVIEWS 84 TECHNOLOGY REVIEW MAY/JUNE 2010 REVIEWS REVIEWS F or serious readers, products like Ama- zons Kindle 2, Barnes and Nobles Nook, and Sonys Daily Edition are a godsend. Its not just that these electronic reading devices are handy portals to hundreds of thousands of trade books, textbooks, public-domain works, and best-sellers, all of which can be wirelessly downloaded at a moments notice, and to scores of magazines and newspa- pers, which show up on sub- scribers devices automatically. Theyre also giving adventur- ous authors and publishers new ways to organize and market their creations. A Cali- fornia startup called Vook, for example, has begun to package cookbooks, workout manuals, and even novels with illustrative video clips, and its selling these hybrids of video and text to iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch own- ers through Apples iTunes Store. Unfortunately, you cant get away with charging hardcover prices for an e-book, which makes it hard to see how traditional publishers will profi t in a future thats largely digital. As a result, book publishers are fac- ing a painful and tumultuous time as they attempt to adapt to the emerging e-book technologies. The Kindle, the iPad, and their ilk will force upon print-centric publish- ers what the Internet, fi le sharing, and the iPod forced upon the CD-centric music con- glomerates starting around 1999namely, waves of cost cutting and a search for new business models. Publishers are lucky in one way: the reck- oning could have come much sooner. From 1999 to 2001, I worked for NuvoMedia, a Silicon Valley startup that developed a device called the Rocket eBook. The Rocket and its main rival at the time, the Softbook Reader from Softbook Press, prefi g- ured the current generation of e-book devices. Owners could shop for books from major publish- ers online, download the publications to their PCs, and then transfer them to the portable devices, which had monochrome LCD screens that showed one page of text at a time. But three factors conspired to kill these fi rst-generation e-readers. First, book pub- lishers, fearing that digital sales would can- nibalize print sales, off ered only a limited catalogue of books in electronic form and charged nearly as much for Rocket and Soft- book editions as they did for hardcovers. Not surprisingly, consumers demurred, which in turn discouraged publishers from off ering more titles digitally. Second, the technol- ogy wasnt quite ready for mass adoption. The devices werent small or thin enough to be truly portable, and the book-buying process was convoluted. Third, NuvoMedia and Softbook Press were acquired and then combined by a larger company, Gemstar, that was distracted by other issues and let its new e-book division languish, eventu- ally closing it down....
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