My I have a dream speech
Sony wants to know - are you a reader?
By Bruce McKinney
If you are looking for a reworking of Martin Luther King's speech in 1963 on the Washington D. C. Mall you are in for a surprise. It isn't that. It's much better. Through an electronic frame 6" by 9" I recently saw the future and it looks very good. It's Sony's eBook or rather what this device will, in my opinion, become. They call it The Reader. I call it the future or at least a piece of it.
The Reader is a nine ounce, half inch thick, electronic tablet with a six inch screen [measured diagonally] into which you can load any one of more than 10,000 books to read. This is interesting but probably isn't going to succeed because, as readers know, a typical Barnes & Noble carries about 75,000 titles and it is still difficult to find a book to read. Confining yourself to out-of-print classics [as Sony has done] is perfect for the precocious 7th grader but won't work for many adults who moved beyond Treasure Island more than five Presidential elections ago. Nevertheless, this product has incredible potential and I'm putting it on my top ten list of things to see realized before I die.
Every year there are apparently about 75,000 new book titles released in English. English is important but hardly the only language and perhaps there are 400,000 to 500,000 new volumes in all languages released each year. To this we can add periodicals of all descriptions in all languages. If we think magazines this is one magnitude. If we think newspapers it's another altogether.
There are 6.6 billion people on the planet and 353,000 new-world-citizens born every day. We all have diverse tastes and interests and the number of written items created for us is astonishing. SO I'd like this Sony eBook to do a little more than cover 10,000+ classics. I want you to take on the world.
Let's start by connecting the eBook to Google's inventory of the printed word. Today Google's books-on-line is just an enfant but it's an enfant brontosaurus and it is devouring books by the library full. The volume of available downloadable for eBook is a thin straw compared to the Niagara Falls of material that Google is organizing. If I want to read Vassar College documents from the 1870s I want this to be a one click decision. I may also want to read the Rochester, New York city directories of the 1850s. Or I might like to read both the newspaper and magazine accounts of Texas in its war of independence in the 1830s. Search, select, download, thank you.
Now I'm off to lunch, the beach or the mountains and I'm taking this material with me. Of course I also have a copy or links to a copy in my G Mail account. I take it for granted that you know I'm one quarter blind and half deaf and therefore provide a full range of adjustments to make the screen visible in all lightings. Initially you'll resist providing an audio conversion but in time you'll realize I'm serious. Sometimes I'll prefer to hear the text rather than to read it. Mark Twain's newspaper accounts fall into this category. I'll listen to interesting material while driving.
My I have a dream speech
The book store comes to you...
Okay, you're thinking that the market for geezers is limited. Let me remind you that my generation is thinking about surfing [the net if not the waves] until they are a hundred. Then we'll make a fresh decision. Actually the technology you develop to appeal to me is going to be very effective for millions if not billions of others. Let's talk about college students because this better mousetrap is going to be uniquely attractive to them and their professors.
As Mike Stillman noted this past month in his article "What is more expensive than a collectible book...?" college text books now often cost absurd amounts of money. eBook looks like a spectacular way to reduce these costs while dramatically increasing their utility. When we read the serious tomes of professors we are often struck by the dis-connect between their various degrees and their communications skills. Of course, professors who have written texts or other scholarly material are going to assign their material as required reading. Who else is going to buy their books? Well, okay but I want more efficient ways of harvesting the nuggets of wisdom from the weedy fields of prose that stand between the student who is paying tens of thousands of dollars to go to college and the professor who is determined to be a published author, have generations tote his weighty volumes and memorize his immortal words.
So I want the text to be electronic and I want access to the professor's annotations of the text as well. I require his annual revisions as well. From Sony I want to be able to easily mark the text in the equivalent of the yellow under-liner generations have employed so that what I find to be entertaining, interesting or important can be captured in a chapter or article print out – all notes embedded or attached in a single, self-organized document. With these capabilities all students will have the opportunity to learn more efficiently. I expect to pay but I also expect to pay less.
So Sony, think of your self as Columbus. Not the city mind you, the person. Your eBook has brought you to Hispaniola. I'd like you to push on to Chicago. Like Martin Luther King I have been to the mountain top and seen the other side. I may not get there with you unless you hurry. The eBook is a great start. Now, pick up the phone and call Google. Get their material and get started on the next generations of an exceptional idea. I'm ready to buy!
"Hello Google, this is Sony. I have an idea."