I just finished reading Print is Dead: Books in our Digital Age, by Jeff Gomez. It wasn't a terribly well-argued book, IMHO (Walt Crawford has taught me to be very wary of large numbers of global statements), but damn did it spark a copious number of questions and ideas for me.
The basic premise of the book is that it's the content, not the medium, that matters, and for the most part I agree. Gomez posits that it's inevitable that people will shift to reading books in some electronic medium, and that publishers aren't paying enough attention to this inevitability.
I got the distinct impression that the spark for the book was ignited by the quote from Hesse's Steppenwolf (too long to include here) Gomez uses to close the book in the afterward, which I believe kind of dilutes his entire argument by degrading the quality and utility of the delivery mechanisms around ebooks, but there you go.
I liked Gomez's explanation about why digital copies of ebooks (specifically those that wouldn't include DRM) shouldn't cost way less than their print counterparts, an opinion I've always had. He points out that the bulk of the cost of a book isn't in its material and shipping costs, but in the costs of editing, promotion, and related quality enhancing features. In fact Gomez suggests that people might be willing to pay more for an ebook if they truly can read it on any device, access it instantly, search it, and give it to their friends when they're done with it. That last option seems unlikely to me, but we'll see. Note, the cost of the Amazon Kindle edition of this book is $9.99, while the print edition is $16.47.
Reading this book made me think back to the minor brouhaha over Kevin Kelly's 2006 New York Times article, Scan this Book. That argument seemed to mostly be around the different ways fiction and non-fiction are read, a topic that is briefly addressed in Gomez's book. I think arguments probably really should centre around these genres though; I think this book would've been much stronger had it made the arguments around non-fiction exclusively. But it wouldn't sell as well then...
It also reminded me of the innovative things O'Reilly media is attempting with many of its offerings, including the ability to buy PDFs for a little less than the print, and individual chapters (DRM-free) for $3.99. See for instance the store page for last month's recommended title, The Myths of Innovation. And also tweaked my memory of an article from Technology Review in 2005 where Jason Epstein described what must have become the Espresso POD machine.
And I'm afraid this part may get lost down here at the bottom of the post, but nicely tying all these thoughts together for me was Larry Lessig's 2007 talk at the TED conference on How creativity is being strangled by the law:
(incidentally, the TED conference is held in Monterey, CA, and I recognize the stage Lessig is standing on as the Steinbeck Forum in the Portola Plaza; I spoke on that same stage during Internet Librarian in 2006 - I don't suppose I can say I shared a stage with Larry Lessig, can I? ;-)
Some other related stuff I came across while reading the book, if you want to dive deeper: