Ebooks are actually not books
By Beth Bacon
Books are objects
Books are objects. They are limited by their physicality. Only one person can sit comfortably and read a book. So when a classroom or a school or a whole district wants their students to read a book, school district purchasing departments have no choice but to purchase one of them for each student. Granted, teachers can use the same books year after year until they wear out (and many districts frugally use them well beyond their intended lifecycle) but what districts are paying for when they buy a book is both the content and the “thing” that is a book.
Ebooks are software
Ebooks have practically no physical limitations. Once the “master” is finalized, all that is needed is to replicate it onto hundreds, thousands, even millions or billions of devices. This master doesn’t need to be located at the school, or outside the publisher’s own walls, or even in the same continent as the school that’s downloading it.
The replication of this master is not limited by time (an ebook can be downloaded today, tomorrow, or next year). Nor is it limited by space (an ebook that’s sitting on a server in Sidney, Australia can just as easily be downloaded in a classroom in Bombay, India as in Omaha, Nebraska.)
Ebooks can be accessed by thousand devices simultaneously without ever being “permanently” transferred to an individual device, as is the case when titles are distributed via the cloud or a website.
So an ebook differs from a book in that it is content only, not content-plus-object, as in the case of a paper book.
Even ebook content is not the same as book content
But let’s think f or a moment a bit more about content. Even when we look at content, an ebook can be very different from a paper book. Even though the only property an ebook shares with a regular book is the content—that element is changing. The ebook versions of many textbooks are being enhanced with audio, interactivity, and multimedia.
Once all of their attributes are listed this way, it’s pretty clear that ebooks are software, not books. So why, then, are publishers still trying to sell ebooks the same way they sell paper books?
Ebooks should be sold the way software is sold
It’s the conundrum that schools are f acing today. Ebooks are not books at all—they are software and they should be sold the way software is sold.
Why do some publishers and distributors require schools to pay f or a separate version of every ebook they want every child to see? Why can’t ebooks be distributed in bundles, with user agreements and tiered pricing levels that change based on the number of “seats” served?
Why aren’t more ebooks being served up in cloud-based computers, with password-protected access based on subscription payment models? Why are ebooks still being sold individually, as if their “thingness” was their primary attribute, when they are not, in f act “things” at all?
To be f air, some publishers are looking at ebooks this way. Certainly publishers that have incorporated in recent years are doing so.
Ebooks don’t have any of the physical attributes of paper books—and they shouldn’t have paper books’ pricing and distribution models, either.