Paul Krugman, the New York Times economics columnist, wrote about e-books the other day in a way that makes them sound as if they’re finally succeeding – or at least makes them sound that way if you, the reader, haven’t had any personal experience with actual e-books or e-book readers. Krugman’s been using a Kindle for a while now, evidently – although I wonder whether he actually had to purchase one at $359, which I consider an unreasonable price. He says that he likes it.
Krugman knows well that e-books have been claiming to be the Next Big Thing since about the year 2000, without actually reaching that goal. He jokes about it, but after reading about all the e-book promotion from BookExpo America, he feels as if things may be turning around at last:
Now, e-books have been the coming, but somehow not yet arrived, thing for a very long time. (There’s an old Brazilian joke: “Brazil is the country of the future — and always will be.” E-books have been like that.) But we may finally have reached the point at which e-books are about to become a widely used alternative to paper and ink.
He feels that the Kindle, which I’ll admit has a lot of good things going for it, may be the device that turns things around for electronic books. “It’s a good enough package that my guess is that digital readers will soon become common, perhaps even the usual way we read books,” he says.
But I still believe he’s wrong. E-books, and especially their readers, are too expensive for what you get. The e-book files can’t be resold or loaned to others. They’re harder to read than 3D books on their delicate electronic readers, and can’t be enjoyed as comfortably on the Kindle or similar devices while traveling or standing in line at the Post Office.
And they’re not in a format that appeals to young people, which I feel must happen before e-books really take off. All of these things are fixable, but the urge to make a big profit (not merely a profit, but a big one) restrains publishers from fixing them. We’ll see how long it’s going to take.