Monday, September 7, 2009

Asus to Enter E-Reader Market

Asus is set to introduce an Eee-reader this year to compete with Amazon and Sony's e-readers. For people like myself, who think e-readers are less romantic ways to read a book (changing it from art to mere product, much like MP3s and CDs did to music), this is just another annoyance in the constant stream of publishing woes. To others, this is a significant sign that the e-book is nowhere near dead.

I don't like reading anything but short pieces and news on my computer. I enjoy the feel of a book. The paper pages, the way a new book smells, what it looks like on my shelf. I have a library. Over 900 books. Yes, it takes up space. I don't care. Readers know that the first thing they look at in someone else's home are their bookshelves. A shelf with four lonely paperbacks on it can tell you a lot about someone. So can multiple shelves with books of every ilk resting upon them. The e-reader doesn't exactly do away with such things, but it is one step in that direction. Yes, it's easier to carry one e-reader containing dozens of books if you are going on a trip, but how many people take more than one or two books on a trip? (And if they run out of reading material they often buy another.)

When you can just download things with a push of a button it takes away some of the magic. The thrill of the hunt changes. No longer are you intrigued by a book's cover or spine, but instead by a small picture on a computer screen. It turns what should be an artistic quest into something more like shopping for school supplies.

Asus is not a bad company, and nor is Amazon or Sony. In the end, this will help publishers and authors ... most likely. (I have my doubts that people who don't read books now will pick these products up. Why would they?) Any way to get these two groups more revenue is good in my mind. I just wish the consumer journalists would question the necessity more. I wish they would challenge the veracity of such a thing. I also wish the people covering these stories would stop saying this will change/save publishing. It won't. What will save it is more readers, plain and simple. These products will not produce that.

I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. Holding a piece of plastic is not the same as holding a book. It's not even close. I don't think I'll see a day when books aren't published, but I do think I'll see a day when the big publishers have vastly changed what they are and smaller publishers dominate the shelves. That will actually be nice, but it won't be brought about by these machines. No. It will be brought about by the major publishing houses being unable or unwilling to figure out how to get new readers.

That, my friends, is also our job. Readers and small publishers are essential to this goal. Small publishers offer niche products that appeal to a small but adamant group of people. Current readers can turn non-readers unto these things.

A machine can't do that. Can't even come close.

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