Apple iBooks is a complete red herring

The idea that Apple is going to disrupt publishing with iBooks (and iPad) in the same way it did the music industry with iTunes is to completely misunderstand how the market for books is going to develop.

I have tried the e-reader software on the iPhone and other devices and no matter how good it is supposed to be reading on a screen is just not comfortable. Not for reasons of eye-strain so much as of distraction. Knowing the device you hold in your hands is capable of letting you watch a movie of browse the web means that its hard to concentrate and lose yourself in reading in the same way as holding a novel.

But more importantly – e-books are fundamentally a red herring. Why go to the effort of reading a page of text at all – when the device you are holding is capable of rendering the author’s voice or even a cast of actors to you at the press of a button. And what is more, audiobooks are portable and can be listened to on the move. The future of publishing is not the replacement of books with e-books but the return to the oral tradition of story-telling which is word of mouth – something that Stephen Fry has argued predates the written word by thousands of years.

E-books are at best a transitional technology with a niche audience – novels will endure and in the meantime the popularity of audio-books will grow.

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