Apocalypse Not Yet
“Could the publishing industry get Napsterized?
Published: February 21, 2008
“Could the publishing industry get Napsterized?” Whether that’s food for thought or a tempest in a teapot depends upon your point of view. In a recent column for Newsweek magazine, Stephen Levy discusses the Atiz BookSnap, reportedly the first consumer device that enables the user to “release the content” of a book by transforming printed words on a page into digital files that can be read on computers and handheld readers.
Levy wonders aloud if the device (which Atiz calls a “book ripper”) is a sign of an “impending apocalypse on Publishers’ Row” or at least “an early warning of turbulence to come.” Given the clumsiness of the 44-pound, $1600 device – “an ominous three-foot high construction…that looks like a Goth puppet theater” but is said to digitize 500 pages per hour at higher quality than flatbed scanners, an apocalypse is not likely anytime soon. (Besides, cheap scanners with OCR software have been around for a long while, even if you do have to turn the pages yourself.)
However, the developers of BookSnap believe that this device and cheaper versions to follow will encourage people to scan their collections so they can search and grab “a shelf’s worth of reading for a trip across the world or on the subway.” Obvious potential buyers would include “college students, bibliophiles and just plain folks who want to digitize their own library.” (It does get expensive hauling hundreds of pounds of books from one location to another during a move, although some of us are comforted by the exercise – and what would we do with all that wall space exposed by the absence of bookshelves?) The Napster angle comes in when Levy speculates what might happen if someone gives copies of scanned books still under copyright to one friend, or to “a few thousand friends via an Internet file-sharing site.” Ad he points out that a real threat of book ripping might arise when some company – Amazon? Apple? – produces “the iPod of e-book readers,…creating demand that won’t be met by publisher-authorized releases of copy-protected digital books sold at prices similar to the bound volumes in stores.” In that case, says BookSnap inventor Sarasin Boopanon, the book industry is bound to follow the music industry into Napster territory.