Saturday, July 15, 2006

Of e-books and digital paper (12)

E-Books: provisionary round-up

On July 4, 2006 it was 35 years ago when Michael Hart started the concept of electronic book. Looking back over those years, electronic book has not become a real industry yet and it is too much to say that it is an infant industry. There are at least 4 pain points for this industry.

Product definition. What is an electronic book? Is it just an electronic file or does an electronic book consist of content, software and hardware or an e-text file in bespoke equipment. Presently there are some 330.000 e-texts worldwide. The attention on electronic book readers has faded. The devices are not multi functional, but dedicated to reading and annotating electronic books only. Financially the devices have been rather expensive with 300 euro per unit. These devices are mostly reading books in one format. But a major problem has proven to be the readability of the screen. So attention is basically on electronic text files rather than on dedicated reading machines with software and content.

Distribution. Electronic books did get a boost when internet was introduced. The distribution would be easier and cheaper rather than the distribution of mini-discs through book shops and computer shops.

Production chain. Many parties have been involved in the production chain. From people that loved electronic books and scientists. From production companies, gadget manufacturers and libraries; from software companies to telecom companies. But there was no real industry champion for electronic book. Perhaps Sony could have been one, but the company was too controversial, amongst other by the proprietary authoring software. And publishers were the weak link in the value and production chain; they rather did not get involved in this new game.

Purpose. Electronic books are not just fit for science, but also for culture and entertainment. But in the assortment the majority of electronic books is for the time being copyright free publications. Publishers should negotiated print and electronic rights when they take in an author. Publishers or consortia of publishers should be willing to offer a range of e-book opportunities at a fair price and reasonable conditions. They should closely study the iTunes example in music.

It is clear that electronic books have some advantages and some problem areas. There are already many electronic books, but more modern titles should be published as electronic books. On the other hand the infrastructure will have to be improved. Also the image of electronic book should be upgraded from e-text to text iPod. But one feature should be improved regardless the delivery station: the screen. The delivery stations range from CRT to LFT screens. Reading from the screen is hard. It is even harder if one wants to read an electronic book on a portable computer or a PDA outside in the sun. This will change this year; but this development comes from another corner, that of electronic newspapers.

Tags: ,

Blog Posting Number: 443

No comments: