What makes digital books different from digital music?

Steve Jobs published his Thoughts on Music in February 2007.

I’ve taken the liberty of doing a little search and replace on this section:

Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music books encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player reader can play music display books  purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable books that can be read on all players readers. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat.

It doesn’t seem like anyone is working very hard to make that vision possible. Quite the opposite, in fact.

14 thoughts on “What makes digital books different from digital music?

  1. This is the same methods that were used to make the iPod the best selling player. It wasn’t due to consumers, but due to buy-in from the record labels. Apple used draconian measures to protect music when the iPod was introduced. Record companies bought into the iPod where before they were sueing the pants off MP3 makers. Then record companies bought advertising for the iPod, and allowed their music to be sold in mass on iTunes. The consumer basically were told by the record companies that the iPod was the player to get. Though argueably at the time, it really wasn’t the best. not even close. Even today, raw music playback can be done better on multiple devices over any iPod or other Apple product. But since they were able to get the music providers to support them so heavily, the consumer is none-the-wiser about what they’ve been convinced to buy.

    Now Apple wants to do the same with books. They want buy-in from the publishers, in hopes to get support that will sway the consumer into thinking the iOS based devices are the best readers available. Just wait and see, in about 5 years Apple’s view will turn around. And not due to consumer’s wants, but rather due to them being able to buy-in and make more money than they need.

  2. Well, it hasn’t worked out so well for music either, aye?

    I’m not sure there is any way to have such a general, comprehensive situation. Creators now have the means to accomplish this, although not via any universal licensed (?) formats. What O’Reilly does with non-DRMed books, and what you are doing with FTDX is an example. What amazon.com does with MP3 also works, as you and I know.

    There have always been ways to publish free books and reports.

    I’ve noticed something about my own habits. I don’t purchase anything that is DRM-d (except essential software) that I would be unhappy losing access to. Most of my Kindle titles are free or very inexpensive and if access disappeared some time after reading, I would not be upset. And after some disappointments with loss of purchased DRM-d music, I don’t buy that kind any longer.

  3. eBooks is still a nascent market compared to what iTunes was in 2007.

    There’s often this competition between a technologically superior but proprietary format (iBooks, Firewire, Betamax, Edison cylinders…) and one that isn’t quite as good, but is less encumbered from a licensing point of view (ePub, USB, VHS, gramophone records). Eventually it gets sorted out — Edison started making discs, Sony started making VHS decks, Macs adopted USB, etc. — but the process does take time.

  4. ” the process does take time.”

    One might just hope that once again, like Berners-Lee and HTML, that time could be saved by starting open rather being inconvenienced by the greedy fantasy of achieving dominance and monopoly rents.

    The existence of those rents is precisely the incentive to the rest of the market to work on getting their share at a lower rate, and more or less quickly everything is Ethernet.

  5. like Berners-Lee and HTML

    …and HTML 5 is how many years behind schedule? 🙂

    greedy fantasy of achieving dominance and monopoly rents

    Well almost everyone wants to acheive “dominance,” insofar as it doesn’t benefit society to have hundreds of standards if one will do. Even the people who are not motivated by money believe that the best standard should “win,” if network effects are involved. And for good or ill, lots of people are highly motivated by money.

    more or less quickly everything is Ethernet.

    Perhaps you remember the years when everything WASN’T Ethernet? You had Ethernet, Token Ring, ARCNET, AppleTalk… that was kind of my point, that there is a period where you have these different formats all fighting for dominance before there is a winner declared. That’s where we are with eBooks right now. It remains to be seen if iBooks will become the Ethernet of electronic books, or the AppleTalk. 😉

  6. @yesthatkarim, You’re “utopia” doesn’t match up with reality. You could never prove that in standards “one will do” Is there one audio or video standard today? No, yet they all live quite nicely together in most devices. Is there one standard automobile? Is there one standard style of living? Standards have limited appeal and use when measured in the full of our every day lives.

    You’re ideals would have to have cookie cutter human beings. That’s not realistic thinking.

  7. Scott, can you give me a SINGLE example of where 100s of standards are better than one where network effects are involved?

    The point is that having to deal with multiple standards where network effects are involved is usually a BUG not a FEATURE. Unless your idea of a fun time is having to transcode from one audio or video format to another, having phones that work in some countries and not others, having eBooks that work only on some devices and not others, etc. ad nauseam?

  8. they all live quite nicely together in most devices.

    yeah well I am from Earth and all standards DO NOT live quite nicely together in most devices on this planet. If you get a chance to swing by Earth, you should search our Internet for “video conversion” for a single example.

  9. Scott–

    You might want to enlighten the audio industry about the dangers of a single standard. They seem to have missed it.

    How many different standards were there for cassette tape? For audio CDs? How many for line voltage and speaker impedance? How about tape input/output voltage? Phono? Ever heard of the RIAA equalization curve? Without all those single standards, we’d probably still be waiting for the cassette tape to finally hit stores.

    One need only glance at the current state of DVD video for a good example. No sooner has BLU-Ray become the dominant standard (which still allows playback of the “old” DVD-Video format) than 3D comes along. Remember the VHS vs. Betamax war in the 80s? How long did the manufacturers put up with reduced sales while it was going on? How long did consumers have to buy two pieces of equipment (and therefore put off purchasing any at all) until the winner was decided?

    To go a little further, I think the problem here is less one of standards than one of their usefulness to publishers. Publishers don’t want you to be able to choose a book store; they want to sell THEIR content in THEIR bookstores. An open standard wouldn’t make that impossible, necessarily, but it would make it more difficult. Which do you think would result in more sales, though?

    When consumers aren’t forced to decide between Kindle and Nook and Kobo and countless others, they’ll feel more comfortable making a purchasing decision. And that can’t help but be good for the industry.

  10. @clfitz: Prove that Beta vs. VHS hurt sales. I dare you. Prove it undeniably, not just talk, but pure proof.

    As far as “usefulness to publishers”, they only use they want is in terms of $$, not anything else. Please don’t be so niave. Consumers definately DON’T like decisions, that’s not my argument and never was, not sure why you went down that path. The statement was the consumers usually go where they are told, no matter if it’s good or bad. They are in mass, truly indifferent.

    @yesthatkarim: Sorry you software and devices suck. Don’t blame me for that.

  11. Scott–

    @clfitz: Prove that Beta vs. VHS hurt sales. I dare you. Prove it undeniably, not just talk, but > pure proof.

    I have no idea how to go about doing that, frankly. I can tell you, though, that as a purchaser and user of high-fidelity AV equipment since the middle seventies, I read it often enough back then in the magazines I subscribed to. And you’re welcome to prove me wrong if you like. But there are certainly enough instances where similar battles have been shown to hurt sales.

    As far as “usefulness to publishers”, they only use they want is in terms of $$, not anything > else. Please don’t be so niave.

    That was my exact point. Publisher want standards that lock consumers into a single choice, not ones that free them to choose something else. That’s why you still see music stores that sell only THEIR stuff, and noone else’s, unlike traditional music stores that offered selections from Sony, Universal, Warner Bros., and many others. And that’s why those online stores don’t get much traction with consumers.

    Consumers definately DON’T like decisions, that’s not my argument and never was, not
    sure why you went down that path.

    I went down that path because I think you’re wrong. Consumers DO like decisions, although many are afraid of making the wrong one. I don’t want to buy a Kindle, for instance, only to find that it’s impossible or difficult to read a book that I bought at B & N. And in the music world, I don’t want to visit five different stores to buy music; I want to go to one or two. But I DO want to be able to choose the best ones for me, which means that I want several to pick among.

    The statement was the consumers usually go where they are told, no matter if it’s
    good or bad. They are in mass, truly indifferent.

    I don’t share your cynicism. They go not where they are told, but where their only choice lies.

    And when standards are agreed upon not my marketers but by engineers, you’ll see choices expand, and the market for whatever you’re selling will expand along with it.

    In the early eighties, music executives screamed bloody murder when cassette tapes and affordable recorders became popular (which occurred in part because of a single standard for recording and playback.) They saw the ability to record as a threat to their incomes. But what happened? One of the biggest exapansions in the market for pre-recorded music until the compact disc explosion later in that decade. And all that (along with practically the entire consumerization of hi-fi) was made possible by a set of standards that allowed every piece of the chain to work with every other piece. No fiddling, no deciding if this record would play on this turntable of if this turntable would work with this amplifier.

    Standards remove the fear of making a bad decision.

  12. @clfitz, seems we are actually more in agreement that not. Just under different circumstances. Have a nice day. 🙂

  13. Scott–

    @clfitz, seems we are actually more in agreement that not. Just under
    different circumstances. Have a nice day.

    I think so, too. 🙂

    And you have a nice day, too!

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