The ScrollMotion fuss: E-book lesson from VHS’s demise—plus a warning to literary blogger Maud Newton
December 23, 2008 | 10:37 am
“The last major Hollywood movie to be released on VHS was ‘A History of Violence’ in 2006,” reports the L.A. Times in a piece on the wind-down of a large VHS-supply operation. And now there’s talk that even DVD’s days may be numbered.
All of this should be a lesson for book publishers. Shouldn’t books be more of a permanent medium than Hollywood videos? Don’t we have the Web for ephemeral content? That is one reason why I find the ScrollMotion—with novels turned into iPhone apps, and with nary a mention of ePub in the corporate ballyhoo online—to be a threat to publishers as well as consumers.
To address one issue, I really don’t care if ScrollMotion and/or Apple can address the library issue in connection with iTunes or whatever. That just means that the proprietary tentacles could go deeper.
Meanwhile I find it ironic that publishers, so interested in control, would entrust so much of their fate to Apple, given the undue influence it wields within the music industry by way of DRM and iTunes. The real salvation for the e-book industry lies in the use of ePub as a consumer format, not just a distribution one. Let’s make e-books as easy to buy and use as audio CDs.
@MaudNewton: Look beyond sexy interface wrinkles
As long as we’re discussing SlowMotion, I’d call people’s attention to Maud Newton’s piece on it. Apparently unfamiliar with all the nuances here, she says that “the only potential negative I see so far is pricing.”
Maud, I enjoy your literary observations, but please connect the dots. One common problem with proprietary formats is that publishers think they can herd customer into them to buy overpriced books. The strategy didn’t work for Gemstar in the long run, and I see no reason why it should with ScrollMotion.
Look beyond sexy interface wrinkles—it isn’t enough just to test software like ScrollMotion; you need to ponder the harm that such proprietary formats will do to the book industry. I really don’t care if SlowMotion co-founder Josh Kopel is a writer, or that his partner, Calvin Baker, is a novelist. That’s good for selling ScrollMotion to the book business, but doesn’t necessarily mean that ScrollMotion will be nirvana in the long run for publishers.
If, Maud, you want e-books to have all kinds of new features, please join us in pestering the International Digital Publishing Forum, as opposed to tolerating proprietary DRM-hobbled solutions. A quick Google search gives me the impression that you haven’t blogged a syllable on ePub or the IDFP (full name or initials). The IDPF standard itself isn’t nice and visible like a shiny new e-reader. But if you take e-books seriously—and you should, given many younger people’s focus on the screen—then you should care about ePub’s fate.
Oh, and nothing against Josh and Calvin personally. I don’t know them but will wish them luck in their business endeavors. It’s just that, like you, they should play by the rules and go for the ePub standard. And so much the better if they can also recognize the harm that DRM does in making it harder to own books for the long term. Obsolete software systems won’t end up in landfills like old Gemstar readers or VHS tapes. But either way, the eventual harm is the same—loss of content for which consumers have paid, and a weakening of their trust in the medium involved.
The censorship angle: Look at all the freedom that Apple-centric approach can give us (sarcasm alert).
Detail: I want reliable archiving of Hollywood films and other video, but presentation of books is even more important.