The Reader's Perspective
Can't you imagine - the hundreds of dollars worth of text books purchased by each student each year only to be discarded at the end of the school session - replaced by a quality reader, with downloads costing the student only tens of dollars? One pocket reader that is also a programmable calculator (really a full-featured computer) replacing a back-pack full of books? Include a portable phone and wireless email features and the hardware package could end up being subsidized by telecom providers vying for student business.
The oldest book on my personal bookshelves that was bought new for me (not an inherited or come-lately-to book) is The Moon Colony by William Dixon Bell, copyright 1937. Yellowed and tattered, it is one of my most cherished possessions. It has been joined by my inherited Robert Louis Stevenson collection and other classics, like my treasured Yankee Flyer in North Africa by Al Avery, copyright 1943. But they, and the dozens of other books in my house, are becoming obsolescent. In not too many years the only fiction books left on my shelves will be collector items, signed by the authors, or those treasures, like The Moon Colony, that are part of my life. This is a trend that I regret, but as relentless as television, one sure to come. Like a fine Crosley shortwave console with its dusty tubes housed in a stately polished wood veneer cabinet, paper books may become antiques to be admired, but out of the mainstream of everyday life.
The traditional publishing industry will fight their loss of revenue to the bitter end, but the market will eventually win out. AM radio is still here; similarly, paper books will be around a long time. Someone will continue to have a use for them. Will the mass market? I don't think so. Change is a' coming!
How is all of this going to come about? Every major online book seller - and others not so major - offer electronic books on line, for many different formats and readers. Now comes the problem - choosing a format - both hardware configuration and software operating system and reader. Look for some hints on the PDA page.
The key to reader market success will likely be determined by which reader format will be teamed with a truly readable portable viewer. Portable writers, such as the Cross Pad, haven't succeeded in the market place, in part because of the optical recognition problem with handwriting. But who would have thought we would have gigahertz computer processors thirty years ago when I did my Master's paper on an IBM 360 using punch card batch processing and a FORTRAN word processing program? New writers are coming on the market from Cross and others, and may have this problem solved soon.
The controllers of information - this sounds ominous, almost Orwellian - but really refers to the copyright owner's attempt to be reimbursed for his or her efforts - use distinct formats or distribution/encryption techniques to limit illegal distribution. Authors still want to be paid for writing. Manufacturers want you to buy their unique handheld. The separate paths taken by formats and viewer development still waver and a single point of convergence is not apparent.
Patience, techno-nerds - the decision - focus, on a "best" format/reader combination may not come until the handheld market matures, three or four hundred seconds or minutes or days from now. The compromise between portability and readability, bounded by price, has yet to be settled. I have faith. Someone will do it and we'll carry his or her name around in our pocket for the rest of our lives.
But even today ebooks are relatively cheap! Except for the initial purchase price of unique readers such as the Rocket and its successors, ebooks are less expensive than their equivalent paper cousin (unless the publisher is holding you hostage to their supply/demand dogma for a best seller, always a good marketing gimmick). However, if you intend to read on your sunk cost computer or PDA, the ebooks are even a better buy.
Try one - you may like it - try the Sample Downloads Page. If you don't like what you see now, wait for the market to mature. Look at the exponential growth of everything related to electronics. eBooks eventually will dominate segments of the book market - next year, ten years - my guess is sooner than later. An information source has come to my attention - ebooksonthe.net, that covers both format and reader.
Worth repeating - new technology/gadgets/formats arrive in the market place everyday! But what's here is relatively cheap and often a good value.
(Click here for more on George Orwell's classic 1984 and copyright laws.)
Coming next - eBook readers - PC/Mac/PDA - or something you never dreamed about - or have dreamed about!