v1.0 shows platform still a work in progress

 By now, even my disconnected mother sitting on a beach in Florida has heard about the iPad. And while geeks debate the name, whine about its lack of a memory card slot and USB port and slice Apple a new one for once again handing AT&T a golden egg, I find myself thinking about my mom, and whether her world changed a bit yesterday. 

See, she reads books. Lots of them. She’s also a technophobe who views her laptop with a curious mixture of fear and indifference. 

Publishers tend to appreciate folks like my mom because she drives demand for their wares. Unfortunately, printing books is a complex, expensive and often messy business. As the record industry discovered in the 1990s, the Internet is changing the way we consume this content, and the industry would like – indeed needs – to transition my mom and everyone like her into an electronically distributed reality. 

But in the absence of a realistically usable device or form factor – no, she’ll never read a book on her Byzantine-for-her laptop – that simply wasn’t going to happen. Amazon’s Kindle showed us the possibilities, but despite its pioneering success in defining the e-book reader market, it’s failed to break out beyond a niche product for cash-flush book lovers. It isn’t, and probably will never be, the reader for the rest of us. 

While iPad v1.0 doesn’t exactly hit it out of the park either for the publishing industry, it lays a pretty solid foundation that, like the iPhone before it, points us nicely toward v2.0 and 3.0. For now, the iBook Store begins the long, slow move of paper-bound publishers into electronic distribution in much the same way iTunes dragged the then-moribund record industry into the Internet. 

Periodical publishing, unfortunately, remains somewhat in the weeds. Despite the brief demonstration by the New York Times of what an e-newspaper would look like on an iPad, the announcement said nothing about availability to a broader range of publications, or the creation of a more open platform that would make it easier for newspapers and magazines to sign on. The periodical industry’s holy grail will have to wait for v2.0 or 3.0. 

When that happens, expect the shift from paper to tablet-based touchscreen to accelerate. This will slice out a massive cost component from the average publisher – namely, killing trees, turning them into books, then shipping them through various direct and retail channels – and create a new publishing paradigm where centralized, well capitalized companies no longer control the industry agenda. Much like indie musicians, who are increasingly bypassing the studio system because today’s tools let them produce and distribute their own work, today’s large publishers will eventually coexist with small, nimble players who wouldn’t have a prayer if they had to actually make physical books. 

As the snow flies outside my southern Ontario window, my mom’s settling in for a relaxing day in the Florida sand with a couple of paperbacks stuffed into her beach bag. Thanks to Steve, she may someday replace them with a tablet that doesn’t force her to call me for tech support. Thanks to Steve, traditional book and periodical publishers will have a prayer of surviving and thriving in an electronic, connected age. 

Carmi Levy is an independent technology analyst and journalist based in London, Ontario. He comments extensively in a wide range of media, and works closely with clients to help them leverage technology and social media tools and processes to drive their business.

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