“And Then They Died”: The Inevitability of eBooks

Image courtesy of Steve Jurvetson

John Siracusa, a veteran of eBooks for the Palm Pilot (!!!), has a great piece in Ars Technica on “The Once and Future eBook.”

It’s a fascinating piece, and it doesn’t hurt that I’m a long-time fan of ebooks. Back in 1999, I even organized a panel on “digital products” for the HBS tech conference, Cyberposium. One of the speakers, David Gettman, founded Online Originals, one of the earliest ebook purveyors (and, amazingly enough, he’s built it into a real business). One of his titles was the first ebook nominated for the Booker Prize!

Side note: David was kind enough to meet up with me when I was vacationing in London later that year; our wives were forced to put up with us spending an extended dinner at Mash discussing our entrepreneurial dreams. The lesson, as always? Don’t marry an entrepreneur.

While the entire article is thoroughly enjoyable and informative to boot, here is the best passage:

“Take all of your arguments against the inevitability of e-books and substitute the word “horse” for “book” and the word “car” for “e-book.” Here are a few examples to whet your appetite for the (really) inevitable debate in the discussion section at the end of this article. “Books will never go away.” True! Horses have not gone away either. “Books have advantages over e-books that will never be overcome.” True! Horses can travel over rough terrain that no car can navigate. Paved roads don’t go everywhere, nor should they. “Books provide sensory/sentimental/sensual experiences that e-books can’t match.” True! Cars just can’t match the experience of caring for and riding a horse: the smells, the textures, the sensations, the companionship with another living being. Lather, rinse, repeat. Did you ride a horse to work today? I didn’t. I’m sure plenty of people swore they would never ride in or operate a “horseless carriage”—and they never did! And then they died.”Put that in your pipes and smoke it, skeptics.

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