It struck me why the Sony e-Reader and other similar book reader devices are doomed to failure where devices such as the iPod have succeeded, unless someone like Google comes along and solves the problem.
See, both devices have the fundamental problem of getting useable content on the device.
Now for the iPod and other music devices, getting your existing content on the device is simply a matter of dropping your CD into your computer, ripping the music, and downloading it onto the device. And this appears to be what the majority of music listeners who use the iPod have done: in Steve Jobs’s open letter he suggests only 2% of all the music on all iPods out there were purchased on iTunes–the other 98% were ripped from existing collections. Even if we assume that only 1 in 5 iPods are still in service, and thus that 2% number is artifically deflated, we still only get to 10%–meaning that at the very least, 90% of all music player content was ripped by the users themselves.
No such consumer-level ripping method exists for electronic book readers.
Now I don’t mind the idea of having to buy all of my e-book content on-line from Sony. I really don’t. I have perhaps 20 textbooks that it would be worth re-buying them in electronic form at full price if it means that I can lug all of them around on the Sony e-Reader–assuming, of course, that the books have been reformatted to work on the device and not simply shoveled to an 8×11 PDF file which simply doesn’t display well and is hard to manipulate. Because the idea here is convenience: if it worked well, it would be far more convenient than lugging around 30 pounds of books–just as it is far more convenient to lug around something smaller than a deck of cards than lugging around 250 CDs in a huge CD book in my backpack.
But I cannot do this myself. Oh, sure; I could, if I really hated myself, purchase a scanner and some optical recognition software to scan the books–but this is far more complex than dropping a CD in my Mac at home, hitting “rip”, and waiting two minutes.
And because of that, my two walls full of technical books cannot be funneled down into a small device like the full cabinets of CDs were. Instead, my two walls full of technical books are still full of technical books which I have to pluck off the shelves, while my poor e-reader sits there unused, with perhaps 10 science fiction books I downloaded from Sony using the $50 gift certificate that came with my e-Reader.
So the Sony eReader, as wonderful a piece of hardware as it is, is nearly as worthless to my regular reading needs as an old 8-track car stereo player would be playing my CDs.