6th Avenue: The Next Silicon Alley

Posted on by Matthew Cavnar

A funny paradox of the eBook revolution — it’s easier than ever to create digital books, but frustratingly complex to share them and difficult for readers to actually read them without the right device or application. eBooks have turned books into pieces of software and publishers into software companies. The very smart Peter Brantley first articulated this distinction for me in an email remark, but it’s a concept — a new kind of category and role for book makers to fill — that we’ve been thinking about for as long as we’ve created eBooks.

Software companies create software that runs on devices, not — in most cases — that runs itself. An eBook is fundamentally a Website wrapped up and rendered as a discreet, downloadable and fixed digital artifact that needs to be accessed and experienced on a device; be that a mobile reader, tablet, or computer. Publishing companies — when they only made print books — created objects that didn’t need devices. Physical books were the device and the experience simultaneously. Perfect objects, really. Self contained experience delivery system that were the experience itself. Like a piece of fruit, or a painting.

For thousands of years, the only requirement to consume textual content for a reader was literacy. Cave pictograms, clay tablets, pamphlets from Gutenberg’s printing press — all the reader needed to get the message from these forms was the ability to see the symbols that comprised them and comprehend their meaning. Writers and publishers created texts for readers, and they were usually creating actual text. Not so in this digital world.

To put it more simply:

If I write a book long hand or on a type-writer or print it out from Word and give you the manuscript, you can read it immediately.

But if I write an ebook and give it to you — you can’t read it. You need to put it on a device first.

That’s a crucial differentiator between print and eBooks, the requirement of this new form of the book to have a companion device.

And it’s why publishing companies really have become software publishers. They’re creating software every day — and the sooner they begin to adapt the best practices and processes of the most successful and prolific software publishers, the faster they’ll be able to dominate this rapidly evolving eBook landscape.