Basically, eBooks are digital files that are stored in portable electronic appliances that can display on a screen the words you would normally expect to find printed on paper. The concept was based on the theory that anything electronic is better than something that is not. Unfortunately, the initial products that came to market had many a reader recalling the utility of the electric fork which was marketed in the 1960s (tongue-in-cheek) as a companion to the electric knife. So what advantages could technology possibly bring to books? Well it appears that finally technology’s pioneers are beginning to answer.
Pioneer products like the $299 SoftBook, $350 Rocket eBook and $1500 EveryBook are trying to repurpose existing content that simply does better in the form of ink on paper. Early eBook Reader devices all suffer from poor resolution, short battery life, low memory, fragile components, limited selection and high price.
Why would anyone — especially the anticipated target market of professionals and business travelers — lay out another $300 to $1500 for yet another electronic appliance that requires batteries, transformer/recharger, electrical outlet, cables and Internet connection and competes for space in a briefcase with cell phone, laptop, palm pilot and pager?
The advantages that technology ought to bring include wireless connectivity, dynamic content, hypertext cross-referencing, audio, video and multipurpose functionality.
There’s no reason at all the same appliance shouldn’t be able to deliver all the capability of telephone, television, pager, email, calendar, address book and “E-Book” electronic texts.
In fact, there’s no way that E-Book Reader developers will be able to prevent their appliances from evolving in that direction as competition heats up, battery life lengthens, chip memory increases and prices fall. (Indeed, several eBook Readers already come with microphones and speakers that will “speak” text aloud; one already offers a cell phone.)
At the moment the printed Book still wins the 4-B’s Test: can you carry it from Bedroom to Bathroom to Bus to Beach and have it work equally well in all environments?
The moment, however, won’t last very long . Defenders of the book as superior technology need to savor their time on the summit. A new order is coming and the participants behind the eBook movement will be shaping the future of information transfer.
Consider the comments of some of the leading thinkers who shared their thoughts at the National Institute of Standards & Technology eBook conference:
Chuck Geschke, co-founder and chairman of Adobe Systems whose Postscript software language started the desktop publishing revolution: “Think about it as an ecosystem; the book of the future isn’t going to look anything like the static books of today. … We’ll be carpet-bombing the world with eBooks, only getting paid when people download and unwrap them.”
Dick Brass, VP Technology Development of Microsoft Corporation: “The reason we haven’t seen greater adoption of eBooks is fairly clear: high price, low content and poor resolution. We cannot sell a $500 eBook Reader and then ask customers to pay more than they did for print. Don’t think of them as eBooks but as “eLibraries.” Pretty soon you’ll be able to carry every book you need in college in one device.”
James Sachs, CEO of SoftBook Press: “There are 50,000 new books published every year; so far only a few thousand eBooks have been published. But eBook inventory will never shrink, only expand.”
Martin Eberhard, CEO of Nuvo Media, developers of the Rocket eBook: “eBooks will only get better; eBook editions will become more prevalent; eBook editions will be published first, and authors will begin to write for eBooks.”
Daniel Munyan, president of eBook Reader manufacturer EveryBook: “Ideal electronic distribution would eliminate the distributor and retailer. The Internet becomes the distributor.”
Dr. Rich Lysakowski, president of Collaborative Electronic Notebook Systems Association (CENSA): “The book paradigm is completely broken. What we really need is a portable record format. We need to preserve the page metaphor.”
George Kerscher, project manager for the DAISY (Digital Audio-based Information System) Consortium, forecasts a transformation of eBooks from visual to audio appliances, becoming talking books — in effect Books-on-Tape for people on the go.
Bruno de Sa Moreira, co-founder of French publisher Zeroheure: “Publishing ink on paper is going to become a mere service to readers. The real product we’re going to sell is the digital product.” [Sa Moreira points out that almost all books are already in electronic format when they’re submitted. “We receive, every once in a while, a typewritten manuscript… and it’s kind of charming.”]
Bob Stein, CEO of Night Kitchen, developers of a new eBook publishing software: “Books are fabulous, random-access devices that empower readers. We have five hundreds years of experience and we have learned how to organize material for readers. Readers will switch to eBooks… but not if they have to give up functionality.”
Finally, adding a humanities perspective to the largely technology-driven conference, Richard Curtis, president of E-Rights, an electronic book clearinghouse, declared: “Without that prodigiously talented group of men and women called authors, the electronic book will never be more than a brilliantly designed, really cool, paperweight. When you talk about content you talk about blocks of digitized text. When authors talk about content they talk about the contents of their brains, the hearts, their souls.”
Whether it’s printed on acid-free archival paper stitched into signatures and bound within leather covered boards or stored in a 100-terabit pop-in flashcard it will still be content and content will always be king.
Author: Robin Lind
News Service: WebPointers