I’ve always been a bit anachronistic. I’m a computer guy and run my own home server with a redundant RAID array to store my data, but my wrist watch and most of the clocks around the house are analog. My music collection is completely digitized and I carry it all around in an iPod, but I also have a collection of typewriters and mechanical switch keyboards. I am very interested in both space travel and dirigibles. I like fountain pens and I like high-end smart-phones. In general, I like both old and new . . . especially when the two meet.

As such, it would seem that I would be really interested in some sort of e-book device like the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, or the new Apple iPad. I do a lot of reading today, and I have bookshelves full of novels, textbooks, reference books, and more. While I get my news from the Internet (as opposed to an old-fashioned newspaper), I still do my more serious reading from actual, physical, paper books. I have not jumped on the e-book bandwagon, and I doubt I will any time soon . . . though I would like to.

The reason is simple. To contrast, I switched to the digital music ecosystem very early and haven’t looked back. I buy most of my music online, and when I have to buy physical CDs (usually because a particular album isn’t available digitally) I immediately ‘rip’ the music into my computer and the CD goes into archives that I have never really needed. Instead of juggling many hundreds of CDs, I carry around one iPod. This is extremely convenient, and I’m totally on-board with it. But this system works for me, in large part, because my iPod and computer have all my music—including CDs I bought well before I had a computer with a big enough hard drive to hold them.

The Kindle, for example, is an excellent piece of technology . . . but how do I put my existing collection of books into it? Getting my CDs into my iPod was no problem when I got onto the digital bandwagon; getting my physical books into a Kindle, short of buying them all over again, is apparently impossible. As such, it would initially be worthless to me until I had built up a new collection from scratch; worse, that new collection would not be integrated in any way with my old one. I would have two collections of books: one physical, one electronic.

If that wasn’t enough of an annoyance, e-books in the Amazon store are priced way too high. Why would I buy a Kindle for $250 and then pay $9.99 for ‘Glory Road’ by Robert A. Heinlein when the same book sells as a $10.87 paperback? Given than the production cost of an e-book is $0, I think they can afford to sell e-books for at least 20 percent or 25 percent less than their dead-tree counterparts.

The iPod worked, in large part, because you didn’t start with a blank slate . . . you started with a lot of music you already owned, and then went on from there in the digital ecosystem. The iTunes store (and, later, the Amazon MP3 store) sealed the deal by making digital distribution of new music you wanted to buy much less expensive than buying CDs had been. It was a win-win. In both e-book parallels, it’s a lose-lose.

If Amazon wants me to buy a Kindle, or if Barnes & Noble wants me to buy a Nook, or if Apple wants me to buy an iPad, here’s what they need to do:

  1. Give me a way to migrate my book collection at no-cost or minimal-cost. Here are a couple ideas:
    • Give the reader devices a built-in bar-code scanner. I could scan my physical books’ bar-codes and get an immediate download of the e-book version (perhaps with a small processing fee, which must be 10 percent or less of the ‘full’ e-book cost). I know, there’s a good chance of fraud with this approach—e.g., I could just go to the book store or library and start scanning things.
    • Let me box up my physical books (or, at least, their cut-out UPC codes) and send them to the company in return for e-book versions of everything. Charge me for shipping and, again, 10 percent or less of the full e-book cost. Recycle the books (or UPC codes), of course.
  2. Don’t overcharge for e-books! Seriously! Paperback novels should be in the < $5 range. Any inclination I had to buy one of these devices is very, very quickly demolished by the fact that it wouldn’t be even slightly cost effective . . . in fact, I’d probably lose money on the deal.
  3. Lower the prices of the devices. I can eat $150 for a device of dubious value much easier than I can eat $250. At less than $100, I’d have bought one already.