By Katie Sheridan
What’s the similarity between the story of the first records and the e-book trend?
No, it’s not the beginning of a bad joke; e-Books and their publishers are unconsciously following the history of records.
An article from PBS Media Shift titled “E-Book Publishers Must Provide Flexible Access to Avoid ‘Media Hell’” talks about the frustrations e-book customers are having due to incompatibility between e-books and e-reader devices. This frustration harkens back to the introduction of records.
The first records came in a variety of 78 rpm and 33 1/3 rpm. Both kinds of records would work on a single record player. But David Sarnoff, RCA Chairman, invented a third kind of record; one that was not compatible with the original record player. Now people had to buy new equipment if they wanted to listen to 45 rpm records. Or if Sarnoff’s 45 rpm record player was the first device they bought, they were stuck with buying Sarnoff’s records only.
Record customers became confused between products and frustrated with the entire industry, and eventually records became standardized.
And now publishers are repeating history. The article’s author, Dorian Benkoil, talks about his initial vision of being able to read his e-book on multiple devices and use features like text-to-speech and highlighting no matter what company he got the book from.
Benkoil was disappointed and frustrated after multiple attempts to find an e-book with all of the things he wanted. The first book he bought was from Google Books. They restricted the text-to-speech function in hopes of selling audiobooks separately. Next he tried iBooks. They would not let him read his book on non-Apple devices.
I would argue that all of these money-making strategies publishers and e-book manufacturers are putting on their products are not helping sales. They may even be losing money because of them. I understand that publishing companies are not as lucrative as they used to be, but restricting customers to the point of frustration can’t be a good long-term idea.
How can publishers make money without impeding on all of the wants of consumers? Are the publishers justified in making e-book content incompatible? Do you believe publishers will gain more by making material compatible between e-books? Or are the money-making strategies they are employing now the best they can do? And just for fun, isn’t David Sarnoff a sleaze? Who else heard the infamous stories in J30?