Thursday, January 8, 2009
Over the past year, I've gone through a major transformation in how I view media. As I've written elsewhere, I'm at the point where I no longer have the urge to hoard and own media that can sit on my shelves. This past week, I took a dozen hardbacks to Half-Price Books. Many of these were books I've been hauling around for years and years. I felt a pang of regret upon letting them go, but that passed quickly. I am now preparing to sell almost my entire music CD collection and another batch of books.
One of the reasons I'm feeling less anxious about parting with these books is the rumor of a 9-inch touchscreen iPod. Already, a regular iPod and iPhone are gaining significant ground on the Amazon Kindle and the Sony eReader. If the reading experience on a regular iPod is pleasant enough, a 9-inch touchscreen iPod will be the killer app that drives a stake in a large percentage of the paper book industry.
This 9-inch iPod won't be the ultra-portable device like a phone, but I really believe it can become the all-in-one media device we (well, I'VE) been waiting for. One device that easily play music and movies, display e-books and pdfs and word documents, surf the web, and play hundreds of games... what's not to love?
But you're saying, "I've already got that! It's called my laptop computer!"
But this will be different. This will be the lightweight ultra-cool device that you carry around with you as easy as a notebook. It won't be as powerful as a laptop, but it will be infinitely more fun. You'll be able to use it anywhere at any time and have all your media available to you at moment's notice.
One industry that I think will especially benefit from a device like this is the rapidly dying comic book industry. Already, you can't get most comic books anywhere except comic specialty stores. And the prices on a single comic is about to jump up to nearly five dollars an issue. Even considering potential collectability, it's not worth it. The best comics are usually the independent publishers, or the self-publishers, and the cost for them to produce even small runs of an issue aren't financially viable. But something like this large-format iPod will completely level the comic book playing field and make them a viable mainstream form of media. If the only hard cost a comic creator has is for the art supplies, then they can lower the purchase cost for a digital issue to a reasonable rate, maybe even as low as 50 or 25 cents. The upside is, the creator no longer has a finite number of issues he or she can sell (which is based on how many they can afford to publish). Now, they can sell as many copies as people want to download. Combine this with an iTunes-like store, and you have the rebirth of a new medium.
And not just traditional stand-alone comics, but comics with varying degrees of interactivity or motion. I can easily envision a format where you at first only see the art, then advance the page or panel and it reveals each word or thought balloon in succession rather than having to have all of them crammed into the frame right from the top.
The one thing I think that will ultimately be the tipping point for a device like this 9-inch iPod isn't comic books or videos. It's schools. The first time a school or college makes their schoolbooks available digitally, it will be all over. Imagine only having to carry one slim touchscreen around all day, rather than fifty pounds of books. Once Apple worms its way back into the educational market (where it once was king, back in the 80's and 90's), the paper book industry as we know it today will be no more. Raise kids on reading books and comics using a digital device, and they'll never get that connection to having to own a physical book. Just like all of us no longer care about owning CD's or albums. I've got my music on my iPod, and I could care less about the physical object.
Okay... I'm done rambling. I predict that by this time two years from now, the big buzz topic will be how much the act of reading (for pleasure) has taken hold among our youth, because it will be cool and fun and convenient.
And for all of us that fancy ourselves writers, that's something to look forward to.