Baldur Bjarnason’s article “Which Kind of Innovation?” gave a lot of credit to ebooks, in my opinion. But I think he was on the right track when he said that ebooks weren’t disruptive innovations. The problem I find within the publishing industry is that they need to be disruptive to the entirety of the industry if they want to get adopted with any sort of staying power.
Print books have been improved upon for more than 500 years. So in a way, it makes sense for ebooks to be modelled after the print formula. However, how can ebooks compete with paperback books—physical takeaways—when their prices differ by only $0.00 to $5.00? Ebooks must offer something more substantial and satisfying than print books if the industry wants to have them adopted by a wide audience. It is almost comical when Bjarnason comments, “Amazon’s Kindle format remains for all intents and purposes a 1990s technology.” In reality, ebooks are a digital facsimile of a book, for the most part. They are laid out similarly and I would argue that the Kindle format is a 1500s technology. But Bjarnason seems to be on to that as well as he says “[Fixed layout ebooks] contain… no innovative features to speak of, they are merely an accumulation of complex print-like cruft to aid the transition of illustrated or designed print books into digital.”
Projects such as The Pickle Index, where there is a web 2.0 storytelling integration that occurs simultaneously in story-time and in real-time over ten days, “revealing the narrative through the various features of the app: popular vinegar-based recipes, daily news updates, dynamic maps, and Q&A” is a much more interesting way to grab readers to have them read digitally. In fact, it is as this point that I would actually refer to digital reading as an “innovation.” When Bjarnason calls ebooks a “sustaining innovation,” as in the idea that they sustain what already exists in the publishing world, I think he is using an oxymoron. If they are sustaining a status quo, they are not creating innovation at all.
I think a major switch in the thinking around creating ebooks needs to be changed. They cannot just be an afterthought, a digital book. There has to be something altogether different about them, a reason for people to choose them over print books. But when prices are comparable, there is no physical takeaway, and print books are better designed than ebooks, there is no real point to adopt them.