A few days, I asked What Would Hugo Gernsback Do? As has been the norm here, there was a lot of intelligent feedback and discussion. One comment in particular stood out to me. It was from Neil Clarke, from Clarkesworld Magazine, who said:
"Unfortunately, we're missing one thing that Hugo had... by the time he launched Amazing Stories, magazines were well-tested and widely adopted. We don't have e-readers or similar devices that have attained that level of market acceptance. Our distribution model is incomplete."
I've known Neil for years, and he's always saying very smart, very insightful things like this. We're on the leading edge of this. We're the people who are trying to decide the best way to get information across to people, and we're each coming up with our own method.
So far we haven't hit the one thing that's ubiquitous for parceling electronic information to people. I've recently taken a shine to reading on my phone. Between the Mobi reader and Plucker, I'm able to get books and stories, as well as convert my own personal documents for reading on the phone. The trick for me is that I have a limited commute, so I'm not able to enjoy the device like I might have in the past.
On the other hand, I've never used--even just for fun in a store--any sort of electronic reader. I'd like to check out the Kindle and the Sony E-reader to see what the interfaces are like. Comments are welcome.
But what I'm thinking, is that maybe it's not so much the device that matters, but the format the text is in. Is there a format that can be read by all readers? That's always been the problem with computers and electronics and the benefit of printed material. Everyone who knows the language can read a book regardless of whether it's the size of a postage stamp or a newspaper. The recent explosion in manga popularity among English readers even shows that readers can learn to read in a 'differently' (back to front, right to left) from how text is traditionally aligned.
Now, both the Kindle and Sony Reader can read Mobipocket files, and you can get a version of Mobi for most smartphones (sorry Apple) and the Mobi desktop client is Windows only (sorry again Apple, sorry Linux!), but perhaps that will change? The Mobipocket Creator will convert all sorts of file types to Mobi files--including MS Word, txt, and PDF--so creating Mobi readable files isn't too difficult.
But still, it's a very specific format that requires people to download some software, do an install, etc. etc. etc. For lots of people, this is a piece of cake, for many others, you might as well be asking them to perform surgery on themselves. And going back to Neil's statement, this isn't something that's been tested by the market place and accepted by the general public. Someone will need to make a major deal with a mobile service provider and make their reader part of the package that's on every phone before the general public will make use of a product.
[image from Flickr user jblyberg, Cc-licensed for commercial use]