Ebooks as template for media turnover

This Ars Technica piece on e-books offers this synopsis of the rationale for their inevitable triumph.

In the case of e-books, the merits are there, as plain as day. In fact, they’re some of the same merits that have driven other successful media transitions.

Convenience: One thousand songs in your pocket? One million books in your pocket. Carry your entire reading list with you at all times. No loose bookmarks. No dog-eared pages. No rips, tears, or smudges. No shelf space required. No trip to the store. Purchase and start reading in seconds. Read anywhere, any time, using only one hand. Stop reading at a moment’s notice without fear of losing your place.

Power: Search the text instantly. Look up the definition of any word with a single tap or click. Add and remove highlighting an infinite number of times without degrading the text. Annotate without being constrained by the size of the margins. Create multiple bookmarks and links from one part of the text to another.

Potential: Consume, share, and remix all of the above with anyone, an unlimited number of times.

The incentives, the author contends, have always been the same in the development of supplanting media. Users want the above. But media companies, too, benefit.

My main concern is with the “potential” section — the ability to redisseminate the materials with value added. Users down the road get some of that value, but importantly, so do the owners of the conduits for sending that material along.

Media evolves to allow for the capture of user’s consumption as a form of production — that is what e-readers are about.

That;s what business types mean when they talk about making things “social” — making it so the products aren’t just sold, but they also capture the labor of their consumption and send it back to be exploited by third parties.

This sense of personal consumption being productive is beneficial to the consumer, who uses that experience to reinforce the validity of their personal brand. It gives them something to share and makes them feel as though they are being social. But it is immaterial labor for media companies, etc., as well — it allows them to redefine sociality as sharing info about goods in reified digital form and captures the usable information from the flow of that sharing back and forth, as it adumbrates networks and so on.

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