The Wall Street Journal (subscription probably required) reports that e-books appear to be taking off:

Barnes & Noble Inc. has launched a free electronic-reader application for Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry as general book sales flag and the e-book market heats up. . . .

Consumers spent about $100 million on e-books in 2008, according to one estimate. German media concern Bertelsmann AG noted in its annual results Tuesday that its e-book sales “increased tremendously” in 2008 and that its Random House publishing arm will have 15,000 e-book titles in the U.S. by year-end. . . .

Sony Corp., which also sells a dedicated e-book reader, recently struck a partnership with Google Inc. that provides users of the Sony Reader with free access to more than 500,000 public-domain titles that Google has digitized.

A practical lesson in consumer technology diffusion
For 20 years E-books have been a so-obvious-it-hurts application:

  • Books are heavy and expensive to ship and store – and returns kill profits
  • Many books are words only: easy to convert to ASCII
  • Shop at home convenience
  • Instant download gratification

But despite all the Obvious Goodness ebooks haven’t left the building – until now.

A confluence of factors is behind the take-off:

  • A growing supply of ebooks
  • Wider adoption of readable large screen handheld devices
  • Simplified purchase and wireless download – thanks to improved infrastructure
  • Popular awareness of ebook advantages

Ebooks could have taken off on notebook computers – but they didn’t. The unseen need for a paperback-sized reader, along with much simpler access, has catalyzed a market.

The StorageMojo take
Emerging and evolving technologies are StorageMojo’s stock-in-trade. Comments back sometimes betray the notion that because it hasn’t happened yet, it will never happen. Which is always true – until it isn’t.

Apple’s Newton was a great idea hampered by technology limitations. The less-ambitious Palm Pilot got the form factor and consumer pricing right, and the handheld device market took off. But not the Palm ebook market.

Fast forward 10 years and iPhone has more power than the Palm Pilot ever dreamed of and it’s an acceptable – though not ideal – ebook reader. As well as a gaming platform, browser, PIM and more.

In prospect technology change always takes longer than we think it should. In retrospect it is amazing how quickly the technology evolves.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.