Wanting so much to think with an open mind about the future of the ebook (ironically enough, many are not yet thinking about the future of the book on paper, think about it), a kind of abyss opens in front of my modest intellect. We are all boldly out there, large and small players from the world of digital publishing, proclaiming what visionaries we were to bet on one horse, the ebook, which until recently seemed to many people rather an insubstantial bluff. We are all there gazing with satisfaction at our growth rates (3 digits, the first of which is often >1!) of our businesses are. Apple and Amazon, Smashwords and Narcissus , STEALTH and Ingram and all the e-bookstores in the world, and yet…
If we look up for a moment from our everyday business, to look at what is already happening to books, but especially to what the music industry is already doing, how can we continue to sleep soundly?
What does what is happening to music say to us? It tells us that the model based on selling content for the payment of a price, or the model taken verbatim – mutatis mutandis – from reality as it used to be, one made of plastic CDs and pages of paper printed with ink, will work less and less, and will quickly disappear.
A year ago I bought for EUR 25 the possibility of having all the music bought on Apple on iCloud, and being able to upload (in some way legalising it) all the music that I already had. And it seemed incredible to me: I still wonder what on earth Apple must have proposed to the major labels to get them to give the go-ahead to such an (apparently) crazy plan.
I don’t have time to deal with that, so I’ll throw in Spotify: I pay €10 per month (ok, €9.90), and… I dunno, I’m not sure how to say this: I have access to all the music I want, when I want, without limits. EUR 120 per year, far more than the EUR 25 from Apple, but I don’t have to buy anything! This is the more serious and significant version of Rifkin (not his fancier and more unrealistic later environmentalist version), that insightful visionary of the late 1990s, the writer of Age of Access (of course since it’s a book from 2000 neither the original English publisher nor Mondadori with the Italian translation thought of making the digital version available) and the culture of Hypercapitalism, to a tee. What do I really want? To own files? No, to listen to music, the music I want to listen to, whenever I want, when and where I want. And Spotify satisfies that desire.
It is already happening with music. Would someone be kind enough to give me a few valid reasons why this should not be happening with books? I’d be happy to hear them, given the current classical distribution of ebooks out there, and I might sleep a little more soundly at night. But I fear that there aren’t any, and that I need to concentrate and get my head down once again to deal with all this and not get overwhelmed.