Head Over to the New York Times

November 30, 2010

The New York Times is positively bursting with fun and fascinating reading for publishing technologists. There’s a nifty little tablet comparison feature, which will allow you to create your own comparison chart like this one:


Your chart will be larger, and might just compare the two tablets you’re lusting after the most. Keep in mind that if your lust is still iPad-directed the rumor of the week is that the next version will be announced in January, rather than next April, so buying one for yourself for Christmas may lead to a New Years’ hangover. And then again, next week’s rumor could change that.

[12:18 pm: On ZDNet today:

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to pretend that tablets aren’t hurting PC sales….

In a statement, Gartner said:

Over the longer term, media tablets are expected to displace around 10 percent of PC units by 2014.]


David Pogue, the best all-around tech writer today, aslo celebrates ten years of writing about technology for the Times (and many more years elsewhere).

Pogue offers some choice insights “from the first decade in the new tech millennium.” Here’s a few:

1. The history of consumer tech is branching, not replacing…You want to know what the future holds? O.K., here you go: there will be both iPhones and Android phones. There will be both satellite radio and AM/FM. There will be both printed books and e-books. Things don’t replace things; they just add on.

2. Some people’s gadgets determine their self-esteem. (And they sure can get defensive!)

3. The same “breakthrough” ideas keep surfacing — and bombing, year after year. Some concepts’ time may never come.

And my personal favorite:

4. Nobody can keep up…if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone.

I’ve been in the publishing business for over thirty-five years and in the tech side of the business for more than twenty-five. Publishing was relatively staid. Tech was always crazy.

I’m older now, but everyone I talk to who’s been on the circuit for more than a minute knows that the pace of technology change is still accelerating. If you want to understand the future of publishing bear this in mind. Technology is not a moment, it’s a process. And it’s a process that develops more rapidly than 99.9% of humans can absorb. Which should therefore slow things down. But it doesn’t.

If you can figure out why technology moves faster than people’s ability to absorb it you will be awarded a Bernoulli drive.


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The Apple iPad: Push or Pull?

January 27, 2010

When we evaluate new technology I believe that the key equation is “push or pull.” It is the rare new technology product released to the public where the reaction is an immediate: “I want that.” I suppose Facebook and Twitter are recent examples of “I want that” being a very common refrain. It certainly didn’t hurt that they were free. Microsoft pushed Vista for years without much success. Windows 7 is being pulled by consumers and businesses in record numbers.

Many new products need to be pushed hard onto the public, with the vendor hoping that it will catch on, “cross the chasm,” and thereafter an eager public will pull the product close, egged on by great reviews and great word-of-mouth.

In the case of Apple’s new iPad, was the public looking for something that met an unfulfilled technological requirement, or just hoping that Apple would provide a newfangled “must have” device?

I imagine that most (myself included) were looking for the latter. Did Apple fulfill that promise? I think not.

As Steve Jobs clearly stated in the hyped-filled product intro, he too recognizes that Apple’s task is to offer a must-have product. Jobs positioned the iPad as a pioneer in a new genre of computing, somewhere between a laptop and a smartphone. “The bar is pretty high,” he made clear. “It has to be far better at doing some key things.”

With the exception of a large and beautiful (albeit LCD) screen, we are apparently being offered a very large iPhone, without built-in telephonic features.

We can now access iBooks, a late and thus far weak entry to the eBooks foray (albeit in color).

The pricing is better than expected, although if you sign up for the whole package, the price does exceed $1,000 in year one (and most consumers will be drawn to get all the storage available as well as 3G).

Is Steve Jobs delivering on our needs or hopes? David Pogue points out in today’s New York Times, “My main message to fanboys is this: it’s too early to draw any conclusions. Apple hasn’t given the thing to any reviewers yet, there are no iPad-only apps yet (there will be), the e-bookstore hasn’t gone online yet, and so on. So hyperventilating is not yet the appropriate reaction.”

As a general observation Pogue makes a good point.

Based on the rumors of what the Apple tablet would offer I planned to buy one. Having looked fairly closely at the iPad, I’ve put my credit card back in my wallet.


Where Steve Jobs Says that Apple is Positioned

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Steve Jobs, The Economist and I All Agree!

September 21, 2009

I’ve been preaching ad nauseum that a dedicated eBook reader just doesn’t add up. In Thad’s The Laws of the Future of Publishing I’ve often quoted law #19: “There is a limit to the number of separate digital devices people want to carry. That limit is one.” People often say, “But what about the cellphone…won’t that remain separate.” I reply: Look at the iPhone and at Nokia’s new N97mini, and then decide.

Today I discovered a David Pogue blog entry from September 9th, where he managed to get a few minutes with Steve Jobs after the Apple iPod event. Pogue wrote:

A couple of years ago, pre-Kindle, Mr. Jobs expressed his doubts that e-readers were ready for prime time. So today, I asked if his opinions have changed.

“I’m sure there will always be dedicated devices, and they may have a few advantages in doing just one thing,” he said. “But I think the general-purpose devices will win the day. Because I think people just probably aren’t willing to pay for a dedicated device.”

He said that Apple doesn’t see e-books as a big market at this point, and pointed out that Amazon.com, for example, doesn’t ever say how many Kindles it sells. “Usually, if they sell a lot of something, you want to tell everybody.”

Meanwhile, in an August 27, 2009 article in The Economist headlined: “Screen Test: Electronic-Book Readers Multiply,” the article concludes:

Yet there are already signs that consumers may prefer to read e-books on devices that do other things as well. According to some estimates, more people use Apple’s iPhone to read digital texts than use the Kindle. And Apple is hard at work developing a multimedia “tablet” that will probably act as an e-book reader too. Gizmos such as these are the likeliest heroes of the next chapter of electronic bookselling.

I just can’t see dedicated eBook readers, “crossing the chasm.”


December 1, 2010: I’ve been wrong more than once, but rarely as wrong as on this assessment. Dedicated eBooks Readers may not have truly moved into the mainstream of all consumer purchasing, but they’ve certainly taken dedicated book purchasers and the book reading public by storm. The transformation has been illuminating.

Steve Jobs’ assessment: “I think the general-purpose devices will win the day” certainly proved accurate with the success of the iPad.

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Giving Away Digital Books for Free

May 30, 2008

Credit where credit is due: I was first informed of this fascinating tale about the future of writing and book publishing from David Pogue’s always fun, provocative and illuminating weekly column in The New York Times. His May 22nd column provided his take on whether he should provide free downloads of his (many) books.

After a couple of bad experiences he’s now firmly against it, while admitting that “I realize that it puts me, rather awkwardly, on the same side of the piracy issue as the record companies and movie companies, who are suing teenagers for downloading songs, and of whom I’ve made endless fun.”

But a far more intriguing story is referenced in Pogue’s column: the story of author Steven Poole, who took a successful book, “Trigger Happy: The Inner Life of Videogames,” and posted it for download on his blog. The book was first published in 2000, to favorable reviews, and, according to Poole, continues to sell well. But last November, as a simple experiment, he offered Trigger Happy as a free download, under a Creatives Commons license, which meant, if not in legal terms, but in technical reality, “no strings attached.” He asked only that “if you like the book, you can leave a tip via PayPal,” and provided a link for PayPal donations. The total was a vanishingly minuscule fraction of what I earned from the book’s traditional publication.”

The results were, to say the least, disappointing from a financial perspective. As Poole reported in an April 2008 blog entry, “the proportion of [31,697] people who left a tip after downloading Trigger Happy was 1 in 1,750, or 0.057%” and as he comments later in the responses to his entry, “the average donation was a (very reasonable) couple of bucks. What I found most important here are the nearly 230 comments found in both the original blog entry offering the book, and in its follow-up. A few of the comments are of course inane, but the sum of the comments (with a generous series of responses from Poole) amounts to the most fascinating discussion I’ve yet encountered on how writing and publishing are faring in the ongoing struggle to find an effective new business model that will encourage book-length publications (rather than articles and blogs) to flourish in the age of the Internet.

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