The Future of Reading

While it is still in the midst of INTENSE litigation, Google Books continues its massive attempt to digitize every book – sort of a pre-destruction Alexander Library, but in unimaginable size and scope to those ancients.

Google has already digitized several million books that are no longer covered by Copyright law (pre-1927 as I recall), and are actively trying to get ALL books digitized.

One of the points of litigation has to do with Google’s intent to digitize, but offering authors a right to opt out, rather than trying to get permission for digitizing from each and every author. 

The European Union is also raging mad over Google’s plans – I suspect because Google has a several million book head start and that precludes European competition. Europeans are very territorial, and they constantly give Microsoft grief just because Microsoft is big.

Europeans hate American “big,” and push-back in every way available to them.

Google intends to open its own digital book store, in competition with, and Google will start with a digital inventory of 500,000 titles. Google will not offer its own Book Reader, but will concentrate on content – leaving readers to go to Amazon and Sony, although Apple is rumored to be getting into the Reader game. Heck, even modern phones can be used as book readers.

And just think of the future of textbooks on Book Readers!

The book business is already in turmoil with the announcement of the price war between Amazon and Wal-Mart, each announcing $9 for their major hardback book collections. That means bad news to small Mom and pop book stores, and even trouble for such names as Barnes and Noble and Borders.

Then there are libraries. Book sellers have traditionally tolerated libraries because each library is limited to the number of books it can provide for “free” to readers because library book buying is limited by its operating budget…but what happens with digital books which, like the difference between newspapers in print and those digitized, are basically unlimited for library free lending?

About 5,400 libraries now offer e-books, and the number of audio books is also expanding. The New York Public Library offers 18,300 e-book titles, while offering 860,500 print titles for checkout.

Obviously, this subject is running below the radar of a popular press more concerned with Afghanistan and a Mylar balloon the became, or was purposely untethered, but this subject is interesting for the future of a basic skill…reading.

And, this subject is basic to newspapers. Rupert Murdoch has announced that he will soon charge for on-line news. The Wall Street Journal has been charging for its on-line content for years because the value of the news from the Wall Street Journal is simply worth it. (The Wall Street Journal recently passed USA Today as the leading newspaper in circulation.)

And, of course, you can read daily newspapers in an existing Book Reader, or even an iPhone.

There is a major reading revolution going on right beneath our eyes., and this seemingly arcane subject will have a major impact on the future, and how we get our entertainment and information.

Why The Delay?

This long discussion of what to do in Afghanistan with the obviously corrupt Karzai government, ignores the more important question of our national security.

Obviously, it would be easier to conduct a war if we had a willing partner, but we faced that problem for many years in Iraq as well. But willing partner or not, the existence of Al-Qaeda continues whether or not the Kabul government is corrupt or angelic.

The advantage of pursuing Al-Qaeda is simply that it keeps them worrying about their rear ends, and gives them less time to plan attacks on us. It appears that Al-Qaeda needs, or at least wants “training camps” – and those require a compliant government (or none at all).

“Training Camps” become more and more susceptible to satellites and then to armed drones. The new push of the Pakistan Army into Waziristan (tried several times before and aborted) is an attempt to deny the sanctuary that has existed for Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda  for many years. That sanctuary is intolerable and only a coordinated effort on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border can stop the insanity.

That is why a quick solution to the White House decision on strategy is required. The Pakistan army HOPES to finish its push by December when the snows come. We need our forces on site by the time the snows melt, so that whatever remains of the Taliban/Al-Qaeda forces are kept between massive forces.

That plan does not depend upon a faithful partner in Kabul.