The Medium and the Message
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A debate is raging in e-publishing circles: should content be encrypted and
protected (the Barnes and Noble or Digital goods model) - or should it be
distributed freely and thus serve as a form of viral marketing (Seth Godin's "ideavirus")?
Publishers fear that freely distributed and cost-free "cracked" e-books will
cannibalize print books to oblivion.
The more paranoid point at the music industry. It failed to co-opt the
emerging peer-to-peer platforms (Napster) and to offer a viable digital assets
management system with an equitable sharing of royalties. The results? A
protracted legal battle and piracy run amok. "Publishers" - goes this creed -
"are positioned to incorporate encryption and protection measures at the very
inception of the digital publishing industry. They ought to learn the lesson."
But this view ignores a vital difference between sound and text. In music,
what matter are the song or the musical piece. The medium (or carrier, or
packing) is marginal and interchangeable. A CD, an audio cassette, or an MP3
player are all fine, as far as the consumer is concerned. The listener bases his
or her purchasing decisions on sound quality and the faithfulness of
reproduction of the listening experience (for instance, in a concert hall). This
is a very narrow, rational, measurable and quantifiable criterion.
Not so with text.
Content is only one element of many of equal footing underlying the decision
to purchase a specific text-"carrier" (medium). Various media encapsulating
IDENTICAL text will still fare differently. Hence the failure of CD-ROMs and
e-learning. People tend to consume content in other formats or media, even if it
is fully available to them or even owned by them in one specific medium. People
prefer to pay to listen to live lectures rather than read freely available
online transcripts. Libraries buy print journals even when they have subscribed
to the full text online versions of the very same publications. And consumers
overwhelmingly prefer to purchase books in print rather than their e-versions.
This is partly a question of the slow demise of old habits. E-books have yet
to develop the user-friendliness, platform-independence, portability, brows
ability and many other attributes of this ingenious medium, the Gutenberg tome.
But it also has to do with marketing psychology. Where text (or text
equivalents, such as speech) is concerned, the medium is at least as important
as the message. And this will hold true even when e-books catch up with their
print brethren technologically.
There is no doubting that finally e-books will surpass print books as a
medium and offer numerous options: hyperlinks within the e-book and without it
- to web content, reference works, etc., embedded instant shopping and ordering
links, divergent, user-interactive, decision driven plotlines, interaction with
other e-books (using Bluetooth or another wireless standard), collaborative
authoring, gaming and community activities, automatically or periodically
updated content, ,multimedia capabilities, database, Favourites and History
Maintenance (records of reading habits, shopping habits, interaction with other
readers, plot related decisions and much more), automatic and embedded audio
conversion and translation capabilities, full wireless piconetworking and
scatternetworking capabilities and more.
The same textual content will be available in the future in various media.
Ostensibly, consumers should gravitate to the feature-rich and much cheaper
e-book. But they won't - because the medium is as important as the text message.
It is not enough to own the same content, or to gain access to the same message.
Ownership of the right medium does count. Print books offer connectivity within
an historical context (tradition). E-books are cold and impersonal, alienated
and detached. The printed word offers permanence. Digital text is ephemeral (as
anyone whose writings perished in the recent dot.com bloodbath or Deja takeover
by Google can attest). Printed volumes are a whole sensorium, a sensual
experience - olfactory and tactile and visual. E-books are one dimensional in
comparison. These are differences that cannot be overcome, not even with the
advent of digital "ink" on digital "paper". They will keep the print book alive
and publishers' revenues flowing.
People buy printed matter not merely because of its content. If this were
true e-books will have won the day. Print books are a packaged experience, the
substance of life. People buy the medium as often and as much as they buy the
message it encapsulates. It is impossible to compete with this mistique. Safe in
this knowledge, publishers should let go and impose on e-books "encryption" and
"protection" levels as rigorous as they do on the their print books. The latter
are here to stay alongside the former. With the proper pricing and a modicum of
trust, e-books may even end up promoting the old and trusted print versions.
About the Author
Sam Vaknin is the author of "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited" and
"After the Rain - How the West Lost the East". He is a columnist in "Central
Europe Review", United Press International (UPI) and ebookweb.org and the editor
of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory,
Suite101 and searcheurope.com. Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor
to the Government of Macedonia.
His web site:
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2007-11-03 20:36:05 in Computer Articles