Words on tap – are streaming books next?

Some time ago, I wrote about my view on the future of music. In a nutshell, I was saying that live performance was what it was all about. Time has moved on and I have further thoughts on the topic. Also, over that time, e-books have become quite mainstream and I question where that technology is taking us.

It seems that David Bowie has been having the same kind of thoughts …

Some time ago, Mr. Bowie came up with an interesting analogy between music and water. Once upon a time, we got our “water” in packages – CDs/tapes/records. Then we moved on to supplying our own containers and filling them at the well – MP3 players. More recently, we have pipework directly into our houses – streaming services, such as Spotify. He goes on to say that the net result for musicians is not necessarily bad. They will just have to tour more – live music will be considered the “real thing”.

This was much the same conclusion as I drew 5 years ago. I was just less polite and said that only industrious musicians would thrive. The lazy ones, who like to spend a week in a studio and then rake in the millions, will be disappointed.

David Bowie sees the same thing happening with books. The move to e-books makes production and distribution very, very cheap. Although currently one owns a copy of an e-book [even if one cannot currently lend it or sell it on], will that always be the case. Amazon have starting a subscription scheme. It is early days, but that is only short step from streaming the text as it is needed.

I am slightly worried by this development. As a reader, I love e-books. As an author, I wonder how writers will make money. There is all the potential for textual material to go the way of recorded music and become, more or less, free. Although musicians can earn money from live performance, authors do not have such an opportunity.

There is another facet to the use of this technology. As I listen to just about all my music via a streaming service, they know exactly what I listen to and when and also whether I play a whole track or skip on. Likewise, as my Kindle tells Amazon where I am in a book [which I find useful as it syncs the Kindle app on my iPad], they know what I am reading and when and if I abandon a book. I am not sure that I care about this, but maybe I should.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/embedded-software/2014/07/24/words-on-tap-are-streaming-books-next/