I love technology. I love the pace at which technology is developing. I love all the weird and bizarre gizmos and apps that are becoming available by the week. I’m certain I can find some kind of techno-wizardry that would help in every aspect of my life if I looked hard enough. Yet, for one of my favourite hobbies, I find myself shunning the digital way and yearning for the good old fashioned book in my hands with which I can flick through faster than you can say ‘I’m sure I saw that rule around here somewhere’.
It would be easy to say that this is because of all of the most obvious failings of a digital product; making sure your tablet/phone is charged up, harder to flick through, the expense of a tablet, the lack of a physical product to hold and feel etc. but I don’t think that’s what really bothers me.
What does bother me, is the uncertainty of digital products.
What does that mean? It means I have an iPad today, what happens tomorrow when I don’t have an iPad? What happens if my device breaks and I can’t afford a replacement? What if I move to a different platform altogether and can’t transfer those books over with me (the recent GW epub/mobi codex releases ease concerns slightly on this front, but I’m pretty sure that going from an iPad to an android device still means you’re not bringing your iBooks collection with you). How frequently are the codices going to be updated with FAQ related revisions? How are they going to alert me that the book has been updated with the aforementioned FAQ revisions? Will they just update my codex without warning me and make me look like a complete tit when I insist X is Y but it now turns out to be a bushel of apples? Is my ageing device going to be guaranteed against future software updates? For apps across multiple systems, are my purchases in one app going to be available on the other? Hell, am I going to be able to use my purchases between two devices on the same operating system or am I going to be locked down to one device?
Christ, what if my wife needs the tablet to do the food shopping on on games night?!…I’d have no hope.
My mind is awash with questions that I haven’t seen answers for. The answers may be out there, but as a potential customer sitting on the fence, the answers to those questions need to be more prominent. Granted yes, some of those questions are down to me to answer (“will the wife ever give me the iPa.. oh.. that’s a no then“) but the others that are outside of my zone of control are still valid questions.
When I buy a book, I know that it’s going to be the same book I’m flicking through from one day to the next and I know that (heaven forbid) barring a flood and/or fire, that book is going to be there when I need it, whether I want to just take a 5 minute flick through it or take it with me for a week-long tournament. I also know that I don’t need to pack a charger for my book. I can also read my book in strong sunlight (not really an issue here in Blighty but applicable to some all the same)
What I’m really really getting at is… if you’re going to be offering a digital product and you want to maximise the uptake of your fandangled digital contraption, you need to make sure your customers know exactly what they’re getting not just right now but in the future too.
The problem arguably is that publishers are rushing headlong into the next-gen age without full understanding the technology they’re working with, the responsibility they as the publisher has, or what – if anything – they should communicate to the customer. And surely publishers should operate across multiple platforms and multiple reader apps in the same way as publishing in different languages for different markets? If purely to make it as appealing to the market as possible.
The staggering uncertainty with the future of digital print, the lack of clarity from the publisher and the basic issues of having to take a power lead with you for a gaming weekend means that we’re years away from the good old-fashioned rule book being challenged let alone threatened.