Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Harper Lee slams e-books

Publishers Weekly reports that Harper Lee writes in Oprah Magazine that she is no fan of e-books. PW quotes the legendary author as writing: "Oprah, can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up—some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal."

I suspect that part of Lee's view is based on a generational perspective -- she is in her 80s, after all. But even as a proponent of technology I've got to cede that she makes a good point. Despite years of hype, the publishing industry hasn't made a significant shift to e-books yet in part because no hardware solution has yet been able to equal the consumer experience of reading words on bound paper.

This may be changing. At Book Expo last month, it was evident that major tech companies are eager to rethink the e-book concept -- and it sounds like publishers may be ready to work with them. Amazon unveiled a new program called "Amazon Upgrade" that will allow purchases of printed books to also access the content online in digital format for a small additional fee. Google's book search program seems to be gaining acceptance in spite of fierce lobbying by techno-phobes in the industry against it. Microsoft is also on board with offering technology similar to what Google is doing. And hardware companies such as Sony are also continuing to refine portable e-book readers into more user-friendly formats -- the adoption of which will likely be aided by the explosion in popularity of portable devices such as web-enabled cell phones and Ipods.

Technology marches on, and as a publisher who has to spend 10-20% of his company's revenues on printing-related costs for each project, let me say that I hope it marches faster! But even with signs that the e-book concept is about to be revamped, Harper Lee doesn't need to worry that the printed word will vanish any time soon.



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