Writing in the Guardian Technology blog, Bobbie Johnson reacts to yesterday’s product update announcement by Amazon with an interesting point. The tech columnist wonders if the Kindle can’t be successful while there are no pirates or “criminally-minded” users who are trying to hack the system to get and share free content:
Everyone’s looking at the pattern they’ve seen in music and video – an old medium changed radically by technology – and waiting for it to hit the book world. But the chances of that happening right now are very small indeed. Why? It’s fairly straightforward.
The real reason that the music industry came around to the idea of downloads wasn’t because they had a startling insight into the future, or even because Apple forced the issue by building a clever ecosystem around the iPod (it didn’t launch the iTunes store until 2003). It was because customers were choosing to pirate instead.
To put it less glibly, the publishing industry isn’t being forced to confront a radical shift in consumer behaviour caused by technology, because that scenario just is not happening. Customers aren’t forcing the issue by choosing to abandon books and read pirated text instead. And this means the problem isn’t there to be confronted.
Oh, yes, there are problems. The publishing industry is having trouble. People aren’t buying books. Sales are down. Websites, supermarkets and megabookstores are taking over from smaller retailers and throttling the market.
But unlike the music business – who saw those lost customers head straight to Napster, Kazaa or Gnutella – the average book reader isn’t turning to legally dubious sources for their novels, or meeting up with book dealers on street corners to pick up copies of the latest bestseller.