Digital content is, of course, simple to copy and it's getting increasingly harder to persuade people to pay for it. The music and film industry try desperately to stop the copying but unless they can come up with a radically innovative new business model they seem to have a hopeless task on their hands.
Now the publishing industry is also under fire according to a recent article in The New York Times, Will books be napsterized? Until recently there hasn't been much interest in e-books but with more attractive laptops and e-book readers available you can now download many e-books for free. It's not legal of course but just like music file-sharing it's hard to stop.
One possible future model is already employed by some textbook sites; read on-line for free, download a pdf chapter for a small sum or buy the whole book. Even with the increasingly attractive technology on offer today I doubt if many would opt to read War and Peace on a computer screen, even if it was free. But for articles, shorter novels, reference works and so on the free alternative is definitely appealing.
Will this see the end of books? I doubt it, at least not for a long time. Admittedly if all my books were stored on-line we cold free enormous amounts of space in the house and several metres of Billy bookcases from IKEA would be dumped. But it wouldn't be the same. The space once occupied by our old record and VHS collections has admittedly been liberated but books have more intrinsic value somehow; so much more then just naked text. Records and video tapes were short-lived media whereas books go back to ancient Egypt. Our bookshelves summarize our lives and many books are filled with memories and associations that wouldn't be possible if they existed only as digital files. I can't help quickly scanning friends' bookshelves when visiting their homes just to see what subjects we have in common. It wouldn't be the same just scanning their e-book folder.
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