If Amazon have made a false move with the Kindle, who benefits? One beneficiary is surely going to be Apple. The iPhone and the iTouch are already very text capable and they will only get more so as Apple extends the touchscreen interface to larger systems. But the other big gainer, in the long-term perhaps the biggest beneficiary, is going to be Google. Google with its Book Search program and its alliances with publishers and libraries is going to occupy the place that would otherwise appear to be Amazon’s of becoming our preferred source of access to published literature. Amazon seems to have taken a wrong turn in supposing that distribution, rather than access and search, is the key challenge for digital print.
The TeleRead blog has been giving the most thorough all-round coverage of the Kindle and Sony eBook readers. David Rothman who blogs many of the TeleRead pieces admits to being close to being a Kindle supporter; he probably would be, if only it eschewed DRM and embraced the .epub Open eBook standard. But what would Google say to the .epub format? Google will ignore .epub, which is inimical to their advertising business model. The Google Book Search approach makes downloads irrelevant (the downloads GBS provides are very clunky, much less usable than the online GBS), in fact, for Google, downloads are just as outmoded and uneccessary as DRM.
Google and Apple, between them already have the solution for eBooks (and its not a download solution). Read and search on your iPhone and access via a web browser, anything in print can be handled that way. More to the point: everything in print can be handled that way. Everything will be searched via the web, everything will be accessed via the web. Downloads are pretty much of an irrelevance. The question is: what do authors and publishers plan to do about that?
Answer: “Maybe the publishers should themselves try selling/granting access direct”. Aside from Google with its Book Search, the publishers are the other variable in the market-place which has a promising opportunity if the Amazon Kindle download system bombs. Evan Schnittman at the OUP blog nearly gets there. After all, scientific and technical publishers have made a reasonable fist of creating a digital market for their STM periodicals. Book publishers need to create access opportunities and figure out how to sell digitally direct.