The Race for a Better Read

“If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies… It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.” 
Albert Einstein quotes (German born American Physicist 1879-1955)

The Race for a Better Read
By Josh Quittner,8599,1877161-1,00.html

Attention, all you folks reading this on the Web: if you enjoy this piece, please send a dime to TIME magazine.

I doubt any of you will. Before old media can charge for our content, we have to figure out how to deliver it in a way the reader thinks is worth paying for. That was easier before the Internet, since reading on paper is a terrific experience. But over the past decade, as more content has shifted online, we’ve done a great job training the reader to believe that words on the Internet should be free. And reading on the Web – deep reading, that is – is a lousy experience, full of disruptions (e mails, IMs, links that take us all over). 

When the magazine I edited for five years went out of business in 2007, I decided to see if there was anything out there that could save the old-media business from the new-media reality. I have some good news to report. It’s true that as long as we in the media ask you to read our stuff on your computer screens, you won’t pay for it. But if we deliver that content for a small fee on devices that can surpass the pleasures of reading on paper, you will. So the really pressing question is, Can the technology for such e reading devices be developed and made more widely available in time to save my profession? The answers are more surprising – and exciting – than you might think. (See the top 10 magazine covers of 2008.)


The Kindle and Beyond
E-books and their like have been around in one form or another for more than a decade, but people weren’t lining up to buy them until Amazon launched its Kindle a little over a year ago. The Kindle wasn’t cooler than any of the other e readers out there – the first-generation version doesn’t even have a touchscreen – but it offered one advantage key to saving publishing: every device can connect to a high-speed data network, virtually anywhere, and download books and periodicals easily and cheaply. I’ve grabbed books on demand from my bed, bath and beyond, and that more than compensates for the gadget’s awkward interface. 

Analysts estimate that about 500,000 of the $359 devices have sold so far. It’s been frequently out of stock since its launch, especially after Oprah W infrey gave it her golden endorsement. That’s great news for Amazon, which is rumored to be unveiling Kindle 2.0 on Feb. 9, and it’s heartening to those of us bobbing around in leaky life rafts among the ice floes near the sinking Titanic. 

But good as it is, you can’t do a crossword puzzle on the Kindle, which speaks to a bigger problem. For most people, the Kindle is still not as good as cheap and wonderful-to-touch paper. An old saw in the technology business is that any new tech must be 10 times as good as the thing it seeks to displace. Most people would agree that the automobile was exponentially better than the horse, just as the personal computer was a vast improvement over the typewriter. The change didn’t happen overnight; it took time for both the auto and the PC to be easy enough to use and cheap enough to buy before they were adopted by the mass market. E readers must exponentially improve on the experience of reading on paper. (See the 50 best inventions of 2008.)


Two Words: Plastic Logic
What everyone really wants, of course, is the iPod of e readers. It was Steve Jobs who first understood the power of a killer device. After he created the iPod and linked it to the iTunes Music Store, people started paying for songs again, and to date, Apple has sold more than 6 billio n of them. Jobs duplicated that model with the Apple App Store, which offers more than 15,000 apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Might Apple be able to work the same magic for the publishing industry? Jobs once said he had no interest in creating an e-reader – “People don’t read” – but Apple is rumored to be working on an iPod Touch-like device with a 7-in. or 9-in. (18 cm or 23 cm) screen, big enough to comfortably read.


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