Gore is Vice President of Praxis International, Inc.
Technical Training, Consulting, and Publishing since 1988
Look at the Power, Potential, and Pitfalls of E-Books
Published by Praxis International, Inc.:
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The power of e-books hit home for me recently when I was looking for some technical information. Browsing the Internet, I discovered that an e-book contained exactly the information I was seeking. I purchased the book with my credit card and downloaded my copy. Within minutes of finding out about the book, I had a copy of the e-book on my computer. That’s power!
March 15, 2000 is a significant date in e-book history. On that date, Stephen King’s novella, “Riding the Bullet,” was published in an e-book only format. By the end of the day, 400,000 copies of the book had been downloaded. While some of the copies were given away free and some were sold for a modest $2.50, the power of e-books became clear to book publishers and to many readers.
Commercial publishers now see a tremendous potential for e-books and are jockeying for position. Online spending for traditional printed books offered for sale by the publishers themselves, Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, and other online bookstores now exceeds one billion dollars a year and is expected to approach three billion dollars a year by 2003. According to a Microsoft estimate, e-book sales are expected to reach one billion dollars in three to five years.
The e-book format offers significant advantages to the book publisher: no printing and paper costs, no physical inventory costs, no damaged books, reduced distribution and fulfillment costs, ease of producing revised and updated editions, and no returns of unsold products by booksellers.
For readers, the e-book format offers the benefits of the quick and easy ordering and delivery already mentioned along with the advantages of easy storage and quick access of information. E-books in HTML format and some other formats also have the capability of being interactive. For example, recipes in cookbooks could automatically compute ingredient measurements for servings of various sizes; exercise and fitness books could accurately calculate calories burned for various exercises to match the reader’s exact weight; and business and engineering e-books could allow users to input real data for “what-if” exercises.
There are some pitfalls and concerns about e-books for both publishers and readers. From the publisher’s position, two obvious concerns are content security and ever-changing technology. How does a publisher limit distribution of an e-book to bona fide purchasers? In an age of hackers, rampant computer viruses and computer security violations, content security is a real challenge.
E-book hardware and software are constantly changing. Vendors are producing e-book readers with different and conflicting software specifications. E-books produced for viewing on standard computer monitors also use different formats such PDF, HTML and others.
If common hardware and software standards emerge over time for e-books, both of these pitfalls could be resolved just as the videotape format issue was finally resolved when the VHS standard bested the Sony Beta model.
Readers are also concerned about the changing hardware and software requirements. Naturally, readers don’t want to be “stuck” with hardware and software that quickly becomes obsolete. E-books have other pitfalls for readers. Some e-books require readers that are heavy and awkward. Moreover, viewing a book for long periods of time on any type of a screen or monitor becomes tiresome. The book in traditional, printed form has survived for many centuries because it is extremely portable, easily accessible, generally lightweight, and very sturdy.
The power, potential, and pitfalls of e-books are not new issues. No discussion of e-books would be complete without a review of e-book history. Project Gutenberg began thirty years ago when Michael Hart was given an account for $100 million worth of computer time at the University of Illinois. He decided that the only way he could repay this huge amount would be by “the storage, retrieval, and searching of what was stored in our libraries.” Michael Hart based Project Gutenberg on a premise he termed, “Replicator Technology.” He explains Replicator Technology on the Project Gutenberg web site, http://www.promo.net/pg/, by writing “anything that can be entered into a computer can be reproduced indefinitely…once a book or any other item (is stored in a computer), then any number of copies can and will be made available. Everyone in the world, or even not in this world (given satellite transmission), can have a copy of a book that has been entered into a computer.”
Project Gutenberg has published an average of one e-book per day for thirty years. All Project Gutenberg books are offered on a free basis. To make the books widely available to 99% of computer users, the books are available in “Plain Vanilla ASCII” format as .zip files.
Three other excellent sources of free online e-books are Online Books (http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/), the Internet Public Library, (http://www.ipl.org/), and The Etext Archives (http://www.etext.org/).
The Online Books web site is an index of 14,000 free e-books. The site was founded, and is edited, by John Mark Ockerbloom, a digital library planner and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. The Internet Public Library is “the first public library in and for the Internet community.” The Etext Archives is an archive of “documents, periodicals, books, and/or works of fiction available to the public.”
With just these e-book resources, you will have reading material to last a lifetime. Good reading!
The Greg Gore Web Site on Computers and the Internet (www.GregGore.com)
column was published in the Daily Local News, West Chester, PA on
October 10, 2001. Greg Gore
can be reached at gg@GregGore.com.
2009 by Greg Gore. All rights reserved.