Monday, April 12, 2010

My a bit late review of the iPad and the future of book

It was the biggest event in the publishing world in months.  And it comes from a company that to this point was not even involved in book publishing.  Only Apple can turn an industry on its head almost overnight, just as it did with the music business and iTunes.

I had a chance to use an iPad for an extended time at Blurb's HQ this past week and I've come away with my own opinions.  But first I'd like to share some points from Antonio Rodriguez, a serial entrepreneur and general partner at Matrix Partners in Boston.  Antonio is a long-time Apple user so I knew he would be taking delivery of his new device last weekend.  I wanted to get his first impressions but also his opinions on if and how the iPad would be a game changer.  You can see his full review on his blog here.  Of interest to readers of Print/Ready will likely be his opinions toward the end of his post about photo sharing.  Antonio believes that the iPad has the opportunity to change the photo ecosystem forever.  I don't completely agree, but he makes some great points about how ink on paper may be on its way out when it comes to personal photography.

In my experience with the iPad over a few hours, I'm going to join the crowd in saying that it is heavy.  Too heavy for my liking.  I spent some time with in on a desk, which was not a very good experience, and quite a bit of time catching up on some of my favorite columnists on NYT, WSJ as well as looking at some "iPad optimized" sites like National Geographic.  Holding an iPad in my left hand and navigating with my right was a cool experience at first but got old as my wrist began feeling the strain of the 1.5 pound device. After a couple of hours I was ready to abandon it for my MacBook Pro.  At first when I started using the iPad I thought I would want one but now I'm not completely sold.

What the iPad did was really make me appreciate my iPhone.  I think the link between your primary computer and your phone in this day and age is the key connection.  While the iPad does a good job of replicating the iPhone experience, I don't feel the need for this device as an addition to my daily net fix.  But the fact that it's not critical for me to have the the connection to my business infrastructure for the device has actually left me excited to try the other new iPad-like devices on their way like the HP Slate and the rumored Microsoft Courrier.  I don't really see a need for an eReader to be linked into my work environment.  In fact, I don't think I want it to.

Those of you who spend a lot of time on the Net and on email for business will be able to relate to what I am going to say next.  We all know folks whose jobs are outside of eCommerce who use email for enjoyment and casual communication.  For me, doing email or surfing the Net reminds me of work.  And I really want no part of it when I'm trying to relax.  That's why a good old book is great.  No "ding" when an email arrives.  No hyperlink to "learn more".  It's reading for reading sake.  That said, I do like the idea of having some sort of iPad-like device on my coffee table at home to catch the latest issue of The Economist or to catch up with baseball scores on  Or the idea of having a "consumable" book that I can download and take along on an airplane has merit.  But with the iPad it gets back to the weight thing for me.  But reading a book with an eReader--with two hands if it is an iPad--is a travel experience I could enjoy.

I mention "consumable book" above because this gets to the crux of how my company fits into this mix. Eileen Gittins, our founder and CEO, has some great insight into how "book" moves into the future.  First off, she believes that books fall generally into two categories, consume and keep.  A book you consume is reference, or a novel, or informational.  I read Seth Godin's "Linchpin" last month and after I finished it I gave it away to a colleague to read.  As great of a book as it is, I had consumed it and it no longer had value.  I could have read Seth's book on an eReader and had a great experience.  A "keep" book, I believe, will stay ink-on-paper and that medium will actually increase in value as more things move to temporal and electronic.  A book about my recently deceased father.  A monograph of one of my favorite photographer's best images. A book of my favorite poetry.  These are things that I will return to over and over again.  And this is where I part ways with Antonio.  I don't believe that passing around a color eReader is the best way to experience these types of books.  And maybe it's because of my background in photography, but I prefer a reflective over a transmissive viewing experience in these cases.

So does that mean that Blurb is going to rest on our laurels as an "old fashioned" book company?  Absolutely not.  But it does mean that print is in our DNA and will remain the ultimate expression of what Blurb is all about.  Eileen said it best in a presentation last month: "We believe that the future of books will combine different media types with different entry and exit points--all contributing to the story line.  The 21st century book will enable you to lose yourself in the book without getting lost in the web."  Well said, E.  And how are we going to do that?  You'll just need to stay tuned to find out.

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