Saturday, September 20, 2008

Better Together

Maybe this is a stupid question, but I will ask it anyway.

I don't have a Kindle, but I would like one. What I would like even more is to be able to easily purchase/download a document that I could read on my laptop (or maybe even my phone/PDA). This is especially true for books that I purchase for research -- I want them to read them, obviously, and to enjoy them and digest the information therein, but part of the advantage of an electronic document is that I can also work with such a document, directly, without having to type notes or scan in a copy, both of which extremely labor-intensive compared to ripping a CD or DVD.

Mostly, though, I would like to be able to purchase a document that gives me options. If I buy a CD, I can easily rip it into a compressed digital format, giving me the option to use it in its original physical form or to port it around in a form that lets me store it, work with it, use it on other devices, and so on. I've got the "original" document -- that is, the item in its retail physical form, at maximum fidelity, and I've got a copy with slightly less fidelity but more malleability. I get to have the best of both worlds.

So why doesn't Amazon, lord of all things bookly, whether digital or non-, offer a special package for books that they sell, consisting of the physical book, a PDF copy for your laptop, online preview access to the scanned copy available at the store, and a version for your Kindle? (Audiobook optional.) Obviously, this would only be appealing to people if the package (I don't know, let's call it the "digital edition") were cheaper than purchasing these items separately.

There's ample precdent for this. Amazon itself will frequently let you stream a copy of an album that you purchase a physical copy of from its store. I've bought special edition movie DVDs where the bonus DVD includes a digital copy (usually with DRM) of the film for your computer or iPod.

Booksellers could even cut out Amazon altogether by offering books with CDs or a digital download code. Likewise, other companies could potentially outflank Amazon by offering a "Netflix for Books" -- in particular, a subscription service that gives you access to as many digital books as you'd like (possibly, again, with a digital timeout).

It just seems like the digital books market is much more timid than they should be; there are new possibilities here, and plenty of lessons to be learned from folks in other media who have this world better figured out.

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