OPINION: Electronic books: The final analysis

Just like the ‘real’ thing

‘Nothing can compare with the delightful experience of delicately turning the finely textured page of a paper book as the subtle odour of long-since dried ink permeates the air. As the leather-bound spine warms to the touch of your clasped palms, the occasional paper cut from a session of intense reading brings a sense of realness to the whole experience. After all, if you can’t touch something, it very nearly doesn’t exist.’

I think not. eBooks are the way of future; physical printed books are on their way to a timely demise. Show me how to compile an anthology based on a full content search of a printed book and I’ll show you a long line at the University photocopier. Did you ever get stuck with last year’s version of a textbook? Show me a printed book that can be automatically updated upon opening. Yes, I’m an eBook aficionado and I love it. But, though I would love to have the honour of burning the last printed book, I’m not without heart. Planet eBook Editor (our BinaryThing.com Digital Worm Editor) and I have devised a few eBook device add-ons for those ebook-luddites amongst us.

The first feature of the notional ebook-reading Paper-Simulator 3000, for those who literally can’t let go of paper, is the strap on leather-bound spine made to feel just like those more important books in your collection. Secondly, a small bottle of pungent dried-ink odour is discretely located in the rear of the device; each page turn activates a small atomiser releasing minute drops directly in the reader’s face. Finally, a miniature razor-style blade is set to randomly swoosh out the side of the unit, making a minor cut on the reader’s fingers. An automatic dust dispenser is an optional extra. Ah, just like the ‘real’ thing.

Talking of devices, as I mentioned in last month’s column, I believe that single-function devices will soon give way to uber-devices, made to take care of everything plus more. Ken Dulaney, analyst for Gartner tends to agree, ‘predicting the death of single-function devices’ (see recent Cnet article). Say goodbye to Gemstar’s REB (formerly NuvoMedia’s Rocket eBook) as we know it.

As for a multifunction device that is suitable for reading electronic books, I have fallen in love with the new Hewlett Packard Jornada 548. Sorry Palm users but, in comparison, you’re using a pocket calculator. Admittedly the battery life is a little poor, at around eight hours. But, since picking up the device a few weeks back and aside from occasionally recharging it, I’ve not put it down. Not once. It even reads PDF files if you install a copy of Ansyr’s Primer viewer. For those of you who are still non-believers in the Pocket PC, did I mention that I penned the entire first draft of this column entirely on a Jornada running Pocket PC (WinCE 3.0) and Microsoft’s Transcriber software? Forget GraffitiĆ¢, I handwrote each word on the touch-screen and Transcriber took care of the rest.

I’ve just finished reading over 1500 pages of Isaac Asimov’s Mirage on the aforementioned device, followed up by a quick read of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. I’m pleased to report that I couldn’t have enjoyed the experience more. Remarkable, considering that some eBook-heathens have suggested this wasn’t possible.

I will concede that, whilst I’m passionate about the eBooks technology, there’s definitely more work required on the supply-side by publishers and booksellers. While trying to buy an eBook for my Jornada at Barnes and Noble, I came close to tears. Unfortunately our good friends Dr. Barnes and Mr. Noble, think that a ‘selection’ of eBooks consists of 500 overpriced episodes of the original Star Trek series in written form. As much as I’m a fan of Captain Kirk and the crew, I think I’ll stick to the television series. The message here is clear: sell your entire content collection in digital form, or miss the opportunity to join the revolution.

As an evangelist of electronic books, I find it hard to reconcile the ‘concerns’ that some traditionalists have with ether-bound books. I refer again to comments that the electronic versions ‘don’t have the look, they don’t have the feel, they don’t have the same smell’. Come on people, you read a book with your eyes not your nose! It may be sad for some, but it is also inevitable. Stone tablets, papyrus and vellum have taken their position in the museum of content. Why should it be different for dead-tree pulp?

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About the Author: Karl De Abrew

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