On the Creative Destruction of Books

It has become a cliché that the iPad, which is available for pre-sale this Friday will save the book industry. Apple's proprietary book purchasing and reading application, Steve Jobs tells us, is so easy to use and so sexy that it will make consumers flock to Apple's e-books.

If it only were that simple. Capital is in a new position now, having become far more efficient than Communism ever was for creating weapons to destroy industries. Creative Destruction is now loosed like never before, the contradictions that capital inspires destroying industries without offering any hope that they will be replaced.

In this case, my educated hunch is that Apple's painfully quaint bookstore will be an also ran. This doesn't mean it, and it its competitor at Amazon, won't make money. After all, the iTunes Store has been a smashing success. On the other hand, what I suspect is that book piracy will be to this decade what music piracy was to the last. Today, with a little bit of legwork, you can find virtually any music you ever wanted online for free. I predict that in less than a decade this will be true for books as well.



I don't know if there are any

I don't know if there are any elements that a priori indicate that the "iPad store" will be a flop. But looking at what happened to the iTunes store, I would say that it will all depend on those direct and indirect network effects. How many books and magazines will be offered, how much variety, how many publishers will be there, what will the balance be between free and paid, traditional and innovative formats, subscriptions and pay-per-download, and overall what are going to be the prices charged and the sales of the iPad. Oh wow!

already true in some parts of the world

haha, i can't give you details but i have friends in low places that have supplied me with top quality pdf copies of very recently published archi books.

great things 'come back'

Speaking of digital music, I think we should consider the resurgence of vinyl. People like quality, which digital formats rarely match - and even more than that, people like THINGS. While I'm sure that the NY Times bestsellers and Oprah's book club will see physical sales decline - and libraries may see lending drop as people choose to pirate books instead - I wonder if bibliophiles won't keep books themselves alive. I just think that the "all or nothing" approach is too much.

It also seems to me that people are assuming that more people would read, if only it were easier/cheaper/sexier/someotherstupidthing. It seems far more likely that people have no attention span and simply don't as much (I blame the internet - even though I'm a blogger). Also, much like how everyone can have more music than they can probably listen to, I expect this to be a way for people to carry around a visual archive of their supposed reading list - serving like some kind of social clout like having the right balance of eclectic music on your iPod - while not necessarily actually reading any more than they would have otherwise.