Tuesday, January 24

The future of the e-book

The Wall Street Journal Online discusses the future of the e-book focussing on the new Sony Reader.
They suggest that the failure of the e-book to catch on has been the lack of any "user-friendly way to read e-books" and that people do not enjoy reading on a computer screen. WSJ refers to the 17000 available free downloads from Gutenberg.org although it does not mention that they are mostly not in a suitable format for use on book-style devices, i.e. handheld computers.
They omited to mention that reading e-books on a device such as a Palm is in many ways superior to reading paper books, especially when it comes to reading large texts such as the Gutenberg classics.
  • having a small amount of text on a small screen prevents you from losing your place when reading
  • scrolling is smoother than page-turning
  • an e-text always re-opens exactly where you were last reading
  • you can search the text for any word you need, so in Freud you can search for "dream", "unconscious", etc.
  • who reads one book at a time? Take them all with you with an expansion card.
  • on public transport you can read downloaded texts from the web, or short text fragments such as Nietzsche's aphorisms from Gutenberg.org or another peice of a long text without losing your place (bad luck car drivers)
  • copy and paste good quotes into your email or research text, blog etc
  • carry only one device which can serve as phone, email, camera and book)
So why haven't they caught on?
The Sony Reader has a larger screen and fewer functions than a Treo. It looks more like a book. Are people just conservative when it comes to reading and want more of what they are used to?
It seems that most people have not tried reading e-books on the appropriate device. Or they have not found a good source of free books and free software to display and convert them. Universities and schools do not require their students to read e-texts or demonstrate their advantages. Most teachers do not know.
Sony will market e-books with their Reader. Perhaps the market can turn text consumers on to the books they offer, better than educators have been able to get their students to use highly functional reading technology to do research.


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