The future of books as multimedia entertainment

According to Grandinetti, publishers are asking the wrong questions. “The real competition here is not, in our view, between the hardcover book and the e-book,” he says. “TV, movies, Web browsing, video games are all competing for people’s valuable time. And if the book doesn’t compete we think that over time the industry will suffer. Look at the price points of digital goods in other media. I read a newspaper this morning online, and it didn’t cost me anything. Look at the price of rental movies. Look at the price of music. In a lot of respects, teaching a customer to pay ten dollars for a digital book is a great accomplishment.”

In Grandinetti’s view, book publishers—like executives in other media—are making the same mistake the railroad companies made more than a century ago: thinking they were in the train business rather than the transportation business. To thrive, he believes, publishers have to reimagine the book as multimedia entertainment. David Rosenthal, the publisher of Simon & Schuster, says that his company is racing “to embed audio and video and other value-added features in e-books. It could be an author discussing his book, or a clip from a movie that touches on the book’s topic.” The other major publishers are working on similar projects, experimenting with music, video from news clips, and animation. Publishers hope that consumers will be willing to pay more for the added features. The iPad, Rosenthal says, “has opened up the possibility that we are no longer dealing with a static book. You have tremendous possibilities.”

It remains an open question whether consumers accustomed to paying $9.99 for an e-book will be willing to pay $13.99, or more, regardless of extras. Tim O’Reilly, the e-books publisher, has found that the lower the price the more books he sells. O’Reilly’s company sells e-books as apps for the iPhone for $4.95, and he says that they generate “a lot more volume” and profit than his company loses in hardcover sales.

On The New Yorker: The iPad, The Kindle, and The Future of Books

Aside from the “Cool!” factor, the only other attraction that an iPad or a Kindle holds for me is the convenience of having my entire library available all the time, and that would be especially helpful during long commutes or while lining up at the cab station. On the other hand, I’m a little worried about embedding multimedia and links in books, as it could take away the pleasure of being engrossed in a good story without anything else competing for my attention. In the always-on age, attention, not just time, is a rare commodity, and adding bells and whistles to a reading experience is something I’m a little skeptic about. And an ADD-inducing $13 e-book is also something that I am hesitant to trade my $7 paperback (or $2 bargain hard cover) for.

Still, of course, an iPad or a Kindle is cool and I wantss one, precious! And me likes the colored illustrations.

Damn you, Steve Jobs, for making me want to spend again for one of your pretties! Can you make them smell like real books, too?

::Mouse pointer hovers on Buy button::