Saturday, April 7, 2007

E-books: the future or a flop?

Update from Dave: An interesting article about electronic paper in Reuters. Also, there are a number of e-books that are no longer under copyright freely available here.

Original Post 3/27/07 7:40 PM

So Dave's been really excited about the Sony Reader, but do e-books and portable reader systems have a future? I've only seen the Sony Reader briefly, but it wasn't love at first sight. In my quick perusal, the interface wasn't as intuitive and seamless as I'd hoped, and I'm not captivated by the idea of reading a novel from a tiny screen. Plus, according to some anyway, there are plenty of other reasons why they won't take off. Of course, Dave has suggested that portable readers could be the saving grace of the newspaper industry, which would be good for me...


dave said...

First comment! The commentary Elise links to is mostly about how DRM and other retarded business strategies are crippling the ebook market. I can't disagree, but the underlying technology is quite promising, I believe. I don't think newspapers are failing because people are reading less news. They're just reading it on the internet, which has marked advantages over paper copies (one main one being the inclusion of links). I think newspapers - the good ones anyway - will adjust to this regardless of whether they use electronic readers, but a lot of people like having their news over coffee, not over their laptop. I think electronic readers will give the best of both worlds.

Put another way - imagine a product that is thinner than a paperback, reads like paper, but has access to any book you feel like reading at a cost less than a paper book. The question isn't whether anyone will use this device, but how long before no one is using anything else. There are barriers from current business models, but it's the same product, only better and cheaper. It's inevitable.

Alan R. said...

Well I don't know much about the eBook market, but the technology of electronic paper is pretty awesome. You can read a bit about it on wiki. First of all it's insanely thin (1/2 and inch). Second, it only uses electricity when it's actually turning the page, so you can read like 7500 pages before you have to recharge! That's one looooong book! Now, as long as I won't break it by falling asleep and rolling over onto it, I'm sold.

Donnie said...

I think that the whole concept of portable reading devices will completely revolutionize the way that people read, and the way that books are written.

The reason why is that eBook readers enable a whole bunch of new interactions that simply aren't possible with paper, while being in a form that facilitates ubiquitous use. For example, I want to know the meaning of a word; I select the word and get a pop-up with the definition. Another example: an eBook might have insets for more advanced topics, that you can expand or collapse based on your level of interest. Suddenly you can tailor a book's contents to your own level of expertise.

To me, the cincher is the ability to mark up documents that you are reading, store that mark-up, and share it with others. Joe Blow sends me their latest draft research paper; I read it, write some comments into the margin. (What everyone is used to doing.) I fire the mark-up back to dear Mr. Blow, who incorporates the suggestions into their document. Or, I notice something relevant in another research paper, mark the important sections and jot down the details, and then send that off to Joe. This is all stuff that is so painful with current technology.

So I think we're actually only seeing the tip of the iceberg here; this kind of technology is going to make a big difference, in time.

Has anybody here read the sci-fi book The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson? Portable reader technology features very prominently in that book, particularly because content is actually generated specifically for the book's reader. Plus it's just kind of a fun book to read.

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