I recently came across the University Archives site, and then promptly got lost in its literary offerings. It’s a testament to the staying power of paper. We’ve all heard about how dastardly ebooks are compared with the paper variety. They aren’t bathtub proof. They don’t have concrete solidity. They don’t smell good.
But eBooks aside, what about e-mail? Has it not already threatened paper? And what about future collectors? Will they horde author e-mails? Aside from the facts that there can be infinite copies of any particular e-mail and that most e-mails don’t live much longer than a few milliseconds, there is something that doesn’t feel nearly as worthy of future attention.
Not like paper.
Check out this remnant from Charles Dickens, where he “begs to inform Mr. Scholl that he spoke to Mr. Scholl’s man” about getting some changes made to the lighting outside his house. I love that Dickens writes of himself in the third person. Though apparently Dickens never did get his new light. Not surprising for someone who scribbled all day, he has terrible handwriting. My suspicion is his letter may have gone unanswered because poor Mr. Scholl (or his man) couldn’t read this note.
Then there’s this letter from Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s typewritten, and on stationary from Tarzana California. I think at one time I knew Tarzan was a comic strip back in its day, but interesting to see how much Burroughs promotes his work. My thinking is he would be doing a fine job on Twitter if he were still writing today.
Going even further back than both of these bits of paper, here’s this one from Nathaniel Hawthorne. It’s more of a receipt, than a letter, but a super fancy one which Hawthorne signed while plugging away at his day job. He apparently worked as surveyor in the Salem Custom House, before he was ousted when the Whigs came to power. Even then, getting laid off could often be a boon to the writing life.
Each of these bits of paper undoubtedly survived way past the time their creators ever imagined they would. Will anyone be able to say the same about e-mail a century from now? Maybe. Perhaps none of it is ever really deleted, and historians two hundred years from now will wonder why all the fuss was made over free shipping and low-interest loans.
Google made its long awaited entry into the world of ebooks today, with the launch of Google eBookstore. The program has a number of things that make it unique in the ebook world. Check out Publishers Weekly or Google’s own blog post for the nitty gritty.
Other than the basics, here’s my initial impressions of the program:
- The integration with independent bookstores is awesome. Independents can partner with Google eBookstore to sell ebooks on their own websites. I love this, no more guilt if I find a book in a great independent but then don’t want to go home with it right then. Powell’s has already signed up for the program, and my hunch is that there will soon be a stampede of independents to join them.
- There is a whole lot of noise about how this program lives in the cloud. You buy the book once and then can sync it across multiple devices (Kindle offers a similar feature through Whispersync). I get why this is cool. It’s difficult. But was there a problem before all the fancy devices came along? Nope. It was simple to open my paper book right where I left off… and it was never much of a hassle to take it with me, especially since then I didn’t have to carry all this other crap (smart phone, tablet, laptop) with me.
- You can’t get to Google eBookstore from the Google home page. You have to click on “More” in the top navigation, then “Books” and then a link that actually takes you into the eBookstore. Plus, the URL they chose for the program is: books.google.com/ebooks. Overall, kind of buried. It seems they don’t expect customers to treat this store as a destination, but it’s about having Google ebooks surface as people search, or as they shop on partner/independent sites.
- The merchandising is worse than clunky, like the featured categories at the bottom of the store home page with amateur graphics and no cohesive design elements to pull it all together. Again though, none of it feels like this bookstore is being built as an eye candyish destination.
- I found 1,537 reviews of The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. One of the three editorial reviews at the top of the page is in Chinese, so not a whole lot of help to me. Also, even on the full reviews page, each review is given just two lines. I’m not sure why they don’t show the full text of about 10 reviews per page, and let me scroll through them. Again though, this approach seems to speak more about search, than a shopping destination.
- The program also boasts “more than three million titles including hundreds of thousands for sale.” That line threw me at first. If there are hundreds of thousands of titles for sale, where does that leave the other 2.7 million titles in the store. Apparently, these are all free. They’re public domain. Of course, every store for ebooks has all the classics available. The question really will be how much of a differentiator will the millions of obscure, public domain titles be. This plays well into a search strategy, where these books will surface. Each one may not pop up often, but presumably when it does it’ll be massively qualified… and free.
- One of the headlines on the main overview page is: Discover the world’s largest selection of ebooks. Ummmm… is that possibly a swipe at Amazon? Their original tagline was: Earth’s Biggest Bookstore. It also highlights how Amazon has drifted from its original selection, selection, selection mantra to focus on the exclusivity of its platform.
All around, a big new competitor just entered the ebook arena. For a product that just launched, it feels pretty complete. Though understandably the window dressing is still to come.
It’ll be fascinating to see if ultimately the ebook market sticks with the one-stop shop (Kindle or possibly iPad) or if it prefers this multi-faceted approach where the book itself is merchandised and sold by one company, the order for it is fulfilled by another, and the device on which it’s read is manufactured by a third.