I 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.
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. 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. 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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