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Sunday, March 15, 2009

eBooks with Harold Underdown

     Back again! As I mentioned yesterday in my interview with Bruce Coville for Share a Story - Shape a Future: Technology and Reading - What the Future Holds, several of our experts were so generous with their responses, I felt my readers would enjoy their full interviews.
     Harold Underdown of The Purple Crayon got into eBooks before eBooks were cool and has a unique perspective on their development. Enjoy!

Q.     How do you feel about these various new ways to enjoy books? Do you feel audio books, podcasts, and ebooks are still reading?

A.     I wouldn't put audiobooks and podcasts together with ebooks. Ebooks, unless they have added content of some kind (in which case they aren't straight ebooks any more) are a book format--print in another form, in this case digital, just as hardcovers and paperbacks are both books in paper form. Audiobooks and podcasts are listened to, not read. It's a performance, and thus a completely different experience. Audiobooks are not reading, to answer your original question, but are still a very worthwhile way to experience a story, though not such a new way, really. Storytelling existed before books did, after all.

Q.     You were ahead of your time when you first dove into eBooks - how have you watched the market change in its attitude towards them over the last few years?

A.     ipicturebooks was too far ahead of its time, actually. Since then the market for them has developed, gradually, and acceptance of them has grown, gradually. Which was pretty much what I expected. Even back in 2001 there were people making extravagant claims for ebooks and how quickly they could be expected to develop. Instead, progress has been slow but steady, and ebooks find their natural audiences and become easier to obtain and use.

Q.     What do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of eBooks?

A.     I'll focus on two in particular. One strength of ebooks is their low cost, which is achieved largely by cutting out all the expenses involved in creating, shipping, and warehousing physical books. One weakness is that unlike print books, they require a device on which to view them--a computer or a reader of some kind. To a considerable extent this cancels out the cost advantage, and makes them less convenient than print books in some ways. Differences like this mean that ebooks will never "replace" print books. They will become a preferred or alternative format in some areas of the market and not in others.
     Remember the claims about CD-ROMs--that they would replace books? Didn't happen, but CD-ROMs became a great way to deliver encyclopedias.

Q.     Do you see eBooks returning to your future?

A.     Ebooks are becoming a factor in the market as a whole, so in any future job I know I'll be dealing with them. I don't see myself working for an ebook-only publisher again, but I can't rule that out.

Q.     Any other thoughts you'd like to share on these new ventures?

A.     I posted a short comment about ebooks on my blog in 2005: http://www.underdown.org/blog_305_3.htm#ebooks.
     It's interesting that four years later, not much has changed, other than the introduction of the Kindle, though I see that as an evolutionary development, not a revolutionary change.
     For those interested, there's a link in that blog post to an incomplete article on ebooks--something I started a few years ago and probably won't be returning to--though incomplete it expands on some of the themes I've mentioned above.

Thanks for your thoughts Harold!

Thanks for asking me!



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