Bright future for books

Isony_ereader_PRS-500 am sure this is true. It’s the details of that future I find confusing. People in the publishing industry are talking about being on the cusp of a change. Similar to that which previously hit the music industry (see Is the e-book reader a new chapter for literature?).

There’s no doubt digital formats are taking off. But, that doesn’t mean the printed book is doomed. And many details of electronic book readers are still not sorted out.

The big issue is of course copyright and digital rights management. This has meant that while digital book readers are becoming more common in the USA (eg. Amazon’s Kindle) they are not yet being sold in New Zealand and most other countries. That’s frustrating for people who want practical examples. Some New Zealanders have brought e-book readers overseas – but I usually want to try before I buy.

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On the other hand this hiatus could be a blessing in disguise. Hopefully the time taken to finalise digital rights management, royalty and copyright issues will ensure a robust system. In the meantime the technology is improving. The NZ e-publishing blog e-report described a new colour screen technology which should provide a better reading experience than the e-ink screens currently used (see Pixel Qi’s colour screen technology likely to give a major boost to e-reading). We may see e-book readers with this new technology by the time such devices are available here. And that can’t be far off.

Meanwhile, there are a range of e-book readers currently marketed in the USA and Europe.Β  These will no doubt be eagerly sought by early up-takers when they do become available in New Zealand.

Digital revolution for paper books

But, there is a lot to be said for hard copies, isn’t there? Maybe that’s partly traditionalist thinking. But I am sure that many people will prefer paper copies for a long time because of things like the ease of notation (even though this will be possible with some e-book readers). And there are psychological factors involved with having a physical library and the holding and smelling of paper books.

I’m looking forward to in store book printing – which also can’t be far off here. The Espresso Book Machine manufactured by On Demand Books has already been installed at several large book outlets and university libraries in the USA, Canada, UK and Australia. This enables the purchase of any book at any shop with such a machine provided there is a pdf digital file available.Β  No need for holding large stocks, returns, warehouse space, etc. A book can be printed as soon as the digital file is made available – anywhere in the world.

Anyone will be able to publish there own books by making a file available on a CD. Publishing conference proceedings and similar material in a printed format should be easy.

Apparently such books are of standard library quality, are produced within 4 minutes (time for a cup of coffee) and will have similar prices to today’s books. Have a look at the video below to see an Espresso Book Machine in action.


A bit of both worlds

I can see benefits for both approaches. Certainly the ability to download and store pdf, html and word files on an e-reader will be invaluable. Researcher who today usually access journals via the internet will no longer have to print off files and store paper. They will be able to organise, search and locate such files on their e-readers. If these devices deliver on their promise downloading and reading fiction and non-fiction books, using a Kindle or similar e-reader will also become common.

And for traditionalist like me, and others who for some reason wish to have a hard copy and physical library, the ability to order and pick up any book of interest, as soon as it is published, from a local outlet will be very attractive.

I can’t wait for these new possibilities in book formats to arrive in New Zealand.


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9 responses to “Bright future for books

  1. You’ll enjoy this article from the New Yorker: Nicholson Baker reviewing Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader.

    Worth noting too that the iPhone can function as a reasonable little e-reader. There are a number of free readers in the iTunes app store (Stanza is good), and lots of books available. A bigger screen would be better, but it’s perfectly usable.

    I also use the iPhone version of an application called Papers: a sort of iTunes for academic papers. It has a good pdf reader built in, so I can have my references and reading with me wherever I go. Useful for waiting rooms…

    Meanwhile, I plan to publish my next book as an ebook (in all the various formats – but no DRM), and make it available via print-on-demand in various territories. There are all sorts of pitfalls – mainly the risk of being too far ahead of the ebook curve – but it has the great advantage of reducing the publishing risk to virtually zero (barring my investment of effort in writing the thing, of course…).


  2. I dunno, I like turning the pages – there’s that whole tactile thing about reading a ‘real’ book that would be lost. Also, my impression with the kindles is that the things hold only so many books & then you have to get rid of some before you can add a new one. Half the fun of buying & reading a good book is that you can go back to it repeatedly, whenever it suits you. And lend it to others (as long as they are good & reliable friends!) πŸ™‚


  3. Gareth – I must have a look at the iTouch or similar – at least they are available here. Although I suspect it may not be as comfortable as a dedicated e-reader. The other factor is that I am not a great mobile phone user anyway.

    It’s just possible you might hit the digital wave at about the right time with your book. Good luck, anyway.

    Alison – I know what you are saying. That’s why I think the Espresso on demand book machine will be great. As far as e-book readers are concerned I would hope that there will be models with expandable memory, or ability to attach extra memory. Also, the ability to store surplus books/documents on a hard drive somewhere and still upload them when required.

    At the moment the Kindles sound like the digital rights management may limit this sort of versatility.


  4. I’ve been digesting my books in digital format for almost 7 years now, starting with a Franklin E-bookman that I bought at Dick Smith.

    I then moved onto a Palm TungstenE which is a PDA device. I like it so much that when I upgraded last year I went with the Palm T|X (bought in Las Vegas). This has the advantage of a decent size screen, though still much smaller than a dedicated reader, as well as extra functionality that means I don’t have to carry half a dozen devices.

    In this way it’s probably similar to using an iPhone/touch device in that I can also use it for listening to Podcasts, taking notes, making reminders and watching videos.

    Even after 7 years ebooks are still so rare here in NZ I get funny looks when I sit staring at this small black object in my hands.
    Good conversation starter though.

    obtaining content can be tricky though esp. non-fiction.


  5. I really must have a look at the iPod Touch – to see what other uses I could put it to. I do listen to a lot of podcasts and maybe the ability to take notes, etc, could be useful.


  6. I just had a look at the itouch features and the QuickVoice2text app looks very handy.
    Maybe I’ll consider the remote possibility of getting one after all.


  7. Just picked this up from Russell Brown’s Twitter feed: an NBR story about the release of 1,000 NZ classics as ebooks.


  8. Went to look at iPod Touches today and found none in stock. Apparently there is a new model out any day soon.

    So I’m holding off for now – but still keen to see how easy they will be to read from.


  9. Ken,

    You’re best to tap in the Apple gossip network. Often with Apple, if stocks are really low it means a new model is on the way, so this might make sense. There is some sort of “Apple event” on tomorrow apparently, so you might learn something from that. (ArsTechnica is one place to read what’s going on; they also have the odd science blog, too.)


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