April 5, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

E-books, has your time come?

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David Bass, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Ebrary, which supplies e-books to academic institutions and public and corporate libraries, had a similar vision.

In the future, e-book readers "will be experience-oriented, not device-oriented. It has to be more than a book," he said. "That's why e-books in 1999 and 2000 were really a failure in the consumer market, because all you were getting was printed text."

E-book readers also face stiff competition from devices like iPods, personal digital assistants and even smart phones--gadgets that let users do more than just read text, said Jean Bedord, a senior analyst at research and consulting firm Shore Communications.

"Reading books electronically will take off, but I think a higher proportion will be read on a handheld device" that offers multiple functions, she said. This is particularly so in light of book-scanning projects from Google, Yahoo, Amazon.com and others, which promise to make it easy to search for and within books, she said.

Right now, there are niches where electronic books have seen greater growth than the general consumer market, such as academic sales, experts said. And public libraries across the country have been big adopters, offering free downloads to anyone with a library card.

Ebrary saw the number of its institutional customers grow from 400 to 900 last year, and the number of its users double to about 6 million, according to Bass.

"Consumers really like taking a paperback or hardcover on the plane with them or to the beach," he said. "Whereas students and professors are in front of the computer all day long."

Students on about 100 campuses in the U.S. have the option of using digital textbooks on laptops, which cost 25 percent to 35 percent less than paper textbooks, said Overdrive's Potash, who is also president of the International Digital Publishing Forum. "One-third of dental students in the country have notebook computers with their entire curriculum on them," he added.

But even Potash says that for everyone else, the user experience of digital books has to change to really see the market take off.

"We are again trying to keep expectations in check," said Potash. "We are still a few years away (from) taking an electronic book into the bathtub or into the sand."

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14 comments

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Why I don't like ebooks
They're a pain to read, literally. I get eye strain much more quickly from a screen than I do from paper.

It's also why I don't use other devices like PDA's.
Posted by Jim Harmon (329 comments )
Reply Link Flag
E-books = Free Books?
I had the opportunity to play with a friends Rocket E-book Reader some years ago. It was absolutely useless -- until we hacked it and put our own content on it.

Of course, once I showed him how to put his own material on it, he wanted it back, and I had been bitten by the bug.

I began using my Visor, and then my Pocket PC to enjoy ebooks on a regular basis. Every night, I could lie in bed with the lights out -- so as to not disturb my wife -- and read until I fell asleep.

With the electronic books, my device would turn off after 3 minutes of no page turning and it would remember where I was, so I could fall asleep and never have to reread a chapter to figure out where I left off. There were many instances where I woke up to find my Pocket PC had gotten lost amoung the sheets of my bed, but I was hooked.

I could never justify buying the the retail ebooks. The poor copy protection schemes and varying formats were too much hassle, so I turned to the 'elicit' free book trade. While you can download many new novels in text file format and easily convert them to your reader of choice, I instead discovered Project Gutenburg.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.gutenberg.org/" target="_newWindow">http://www.gutenberg.org/</a>

Project Gutenberg is a vast repository of books that are no longer in copyright, and while they may be older novel they can still be a great read. I rediscovered many of the greatest science fiction and fantasy novels on Project Gutenberg - including one of my favourite authors, Edgar Rice Burroughs.

In short, buying the latest best seller better had better be a reasonable price to make this idea fly. Also, if they restrict the use of your own content, that would be a deal breaker for me.
Posted by PiratePete (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
E-books: Thou's Time Hath Not Come!
Ebooks are great for those who use computers all day. Try selling an ebook to my father who likes to relax in his easy chair, put his feet up and lean back while reading a good book!

No, you won't be able to sell him an ebook reader either.

Ebooks are very attractive to people who are looking for purely "information" and not for the "experience" of reading a book.

You'll be surprised at how easy it is to sell a $97 ebook with only 20 pages to a person who is desperate to learn "how to" do something - like make money with, say Google Adsense(tm).

The very same person wouldn't drop $10 for a paperback of a fiction novel.

The person who is looking for information about doing something, really wants to do that "thing" and s/he'll gladly pay anyone who can teach him "exactly how". But time-pass reading is not so compelling for people to pull out their wallet.

So, it is really about the "laptop" or "handheld" culture picking up steam. Until the average person is comfortable reading stuff "digitally", ebooks will continue to grow in popularity among "information seekers" and will be only a drop in the ocean when it comes to "time-pass/entertainment" seekers.

Ravi Jayagopal
Founder &#38; Developer
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://MyWebmasterInABox.com" target="_newWindow">http://MyWebmasterInABox.com</a>
Posted by ravijp (5 comments )
Link Flag
Baen ebooks
Baen also offers a large number of free novels. Those Books can be found at the following sites:

The Baen Free Library
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.baen.com/library/" target="_newWindow">http://www.baen.com/library/</a>

baencd at the Fifth Imperium
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://baencd.thefifthimperium.com/" target="_newWindow">http://baencd.thefifthimperium.com/</a>

In addition, Baen sells ebooks that are not restricted or crippled by copy protection at:

www.webscription.net

Allen
--
Baen Free eBooks and WebScriptions information
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.allensmith.net/SciFi/Baen/eBooks.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.allensmith.net/SciFi/Baen/eBooks.htm</a>
Posted by AllenSmithNet (1 comment )
Link Flag
The supply-side of e-books
And for a comment on the supply side of the e-book industry:

If youd like to help provide Project Gutenberg with new public domain material, you can volunteer your time (and/or money) through a variety of organizations. For example, LibriVox (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.librivox.org/" target="_newWindow">http://www.librivox.org/</a>) works to provide audio versions of e-books to Project Gutenberg, and Distributed Proofreaders (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.pgdp.net/" target="_newWindow">http://www.pgdp.net/</a>) provides plain-text and HTML versions of e-books to Project Gutenberg. (Tell them kraester sent you. &#61514;)

Aside from the laudable goal of digitally preserving lost treasures, I also like these sites for their use of non-proprietary formats, and for reinforcing the fact that one person can make a difference. I may feel totally overwhelmed by the idea of converting an entire book to an e-book on my own, but at Distributed Proofreaders thousands of books have and are being provided for Project Gutenbergs repository, by hundreds of volunteers preparing one page at a time.

For what its worth,

kraester
Posted by kraester (2 comments )
Link Flag
The price has got to go
I'm a programmer and I'm at my computer all the time. It absolutely amazes me how I'll have several books opened at once across my desk. I looked into purchasing e-books for what I needed but it was absolutely ridiculous. Amazon.com, Wiley, and other merchants charge the exact same price for the softcover! And then, of course, the restrictions. I will never buy an e-book until that prices come down. And I mean considerably. I understand the publishers and authors are entitled to make money, but when you cut the printing press out of it, how expensive is a book really? It makes them seem very greedy.

Tim Trice
Posted by timtrice (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
sign me up - maybe not this instant...
I like the idea of ebook readers. There are many things I want to read once and not have cluttering up my shelves... or a landfill.
I think an e-reader could be the right medium for many things I either have on paper - like magazines,newspapers &#38; bad fiction, and stuff like PDF manuals on CDRom - which often pose a catch-22. Maybe the "e" should be for ephemeral?
I'm not sure the price &#38; usability have reached the point where I'll pull out my wallet, but I'm open to the idea of the ebook reader as expanding rather than replacing traditional print media.
Posted by punterjoe (163 comments )
Reply Link Flag
enewspapers ?
I think the point about ebooks is that their screen technology
must be as easy to read as paper, ie high contrast, daylight
viewable, high resolution, and low power. They should not be
seen as multimedia platforms competing with laptops and PDAs.
They must be robust, reliable and affordable.

One of the ideal uses for such a platform is the delivery of
the newspaper where there is no expectation to keep the content
long term or lend it to others in the future. It is also content
which benefits from being able to be searched and index to the
readers preferences.

Digital broadcast of newspaper content has measurable economic
advantages over printing, distributing, collecting and recycling
conventional paper newspapers.

Ten years ago I worked on a project called NewsPAD whose aim was
to deliver such a platform, but the screen technology just wasn't
available at that time. The most promising candidate, electrochromatic
ink has moved on some way in that time but I don't know if it is there
yet.
Posted by AlexBienek (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
eBooks is not the right medium
While eBooks is a nice idea, I don't think having an inexpensive reader is the solution. If notebook computers could get lighter, thinner and more portable, that would be a better solution. Another angle is to use your mobile phone and marry a larger display substrate. Read more about my thoughts at: <a href="http://www.mobileslate.com/2006/02/mobile-digital-workflow.html">Mobile Digital Workflow</a>
Posted by mobileslate (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
readers have their place, but interfaces are bigger issue
I don't agree--affordable reading tablets with nice interfaces have their place, and will be more suitable when flexible lcd panels become available, but the key thing for ebooks will be the same as for music cd's--the reader/buyer needs a way to get a preview of what they're looking to buy. Amazon.com has sample book pages and song clips available on their web site, and that's really the right idea--something has to fill the space left when a book buyer no longer has the physical item available for leafing through or reading the covers.

Ebooks in the future should be compatible with many types of reading devices and the producers should understand that the highest quality screen image, including fonts and contrast, are required for this idea to catch on. I'm always amazed at how the book is holding its own in the digital age, but the aesthetical appeal of the printed page is a great part of its value and that needs to be uppermost in the minds of the device/software makers.
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
Link Flag
Make the ebook in color and make it wireless
If you allow me to wireless receive and download information such as newspapers, magazines, blogs, and rss in color then I would buy it in a hearbeat.

Actually I would still buy it anyway because I can't stand keeping my pdf (whitepapers, etc) one one place on my desktop. If I had the ebook I would keep all those documents there as well as maybe shop for online books.

But as I said make it color and make it wireless and it would be a great product with a lot of potential. Of course color and wireless would make it heavier and shorten the battery life and it may end up looking more like a tablet (and it doesn't need to be a tablet to read ebooks). But if you could make it really look like and feel like a book with color and wireless then it would be something special.
Posted by gambalem (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ebooks and portability
Like Tyler/Pirate Pete, I thorgouhly enjoy the freebies at Project Gutenburg. I also am a reviewer of e-books from various 'small press'
type companies.

I use a Palm Lifedrive for both reading and alot of other things... I can use the *.pdb format as
well as using Adobe Reader for Palm--which converts my PDF e-books into palm format as well.

The ability to carry nearly an entire booksshelf on a CD (backup for my laptop) OR in a 1GB SD Flash memory card for my Lifedrive is a wonderful
thing!

I can read pretty much anything, anywhere and not have anybody bug me or look at me funny because I'm reading from a PDA, and not a paperback with a "funny" cover.

Gives me a bit more privacy and it weighs alot less than a backpack full of books--not to mention that I can use my Lifedrive for a good deal more than "just" reading e-books!

I'm already "in" the digital age...

Niniri
Posted by Niniri (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Low Price Reader
The solution to e-book adoption is a low priced reader. Use the video console game model and sell the reader under cost for $20.00 and make up the difference with the sale of the books. Who's going to purchase a 300.00 reader for a school age child? They'll more than likely spend that money on a computer for the child instead of an over priced e-reader. No, make the reader cheap and the books about the same price as they are now and it will take off.

The reader would have to support user content for books acquired from free sources like gutenburg, and an easy archiving mechanism would have to be in place as well. Removable media like SD or flash memory would fit the bill. And lastly restrictive DRM would have to be gone, or set up in a way that people could use the books exactly as they do today, lending or giving to friends and relatives, or even to resell.
Posted by Stormspace (1028 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Actually, I already own that!
I bought a Sony Clie T-615C from Ebay for $45 with shipping, and I currently have 22 ebooks on there, 12 from Gutenberg, the rest from other misc. sources (mobipocket files, adobe pdfs, etc.)

Honestly, if you want a low priced (and mostly idiot proof) ebook reader, just grab a used PalmOS PDA.
Posted by mwa423 (78 comments )
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