past & future
This page considers electronic texts: what is read on
a personal computer or other device rather than the nature
of those devices
It covers -
The following page considers specialist devices (such
as the Rocket eBook and the GlassBook)
for display of electronic texts.
Although there has been much hype - typically with
announcements of "a publishing revolution" or
the imminent demise of print - and recurrent product launches
(with the latest for example being the iLiad
E-reader and Sony Reader in 2006 and Amazon's
Kindle in 2007), e-books have not made a significant
impact on the market.
As noted earlier in this guide, media attention has focussed
on high download figures for a small range of atypical
authors, rather than whether the downloaded texts are
actually read and whether anyone (apart from journalists)
is making money from them.
For publishing a starting point is the study
by Andersen Consulting for the International Publishers
Association on The Future of eBook Publishing: publishers
should be courageous, develop standards as quickly
as possible ... and presumably hope for the best.
Our assessment is that the future lies with e-texts, rather
than e-books (ie with standard formats for presenting
electronic versions of print rather than particular items
of hardware using proprietary software that's tied to
particular retailers or publishers). The Myth
of the Paperless Office (Cambridge: MIT Press 2001)
by Abigail Sellen & Richard Harper includes an incisive
critique of claims by e-book manufacturers. There is a
more philosophical treatment in Scrolling Forward:
Making Sense of Documents in the Digital Age (New
York: Arcade 2001) by David Levy.
Academics and nonprofit groups have been publishing electronically
for the past decade: e-text as such is not new. However,
the proliferation of personal digital assistants (PDAs)
such as the Palm have encouraged marketing of electronic
readers that look much like a book, including a leather
binding on some products.
Those readers have not gained significant market acceptance
and we note that several developers such as Librius,
after hyping their products, have abandoned the hardware
in favour of creating and marketing e-texts. A perspective
is provided by Electronic Books & ePublishing:
a Practical Guide for Authors (London: Springer 2001)
by Harold Henke.
In 1999 Microsoft's Dick Brass proclaimed that "We
are embarking on a revolution that will change the world
at least as much as Gutenberg did". The following
year saw online publication of Stephen King's Bag
of Bones, greeted by one e-publisher as "He's
done for e-publishing in one week what it might have taken
us years to accomplish."
bodies and projects
The 'breakthrough' meeting on electronic books was
Book 98, a major conference organised by the US Department
of Commerce and the Video Electronic Standards Association.
We recommend looking at the papers from the conference
and material from the Kent State 'FuturePrint' symposium
Organisation is an industry-dominated body with an
information clearing house and promotional function. Electric
Book is a website with information about electronic
books and online newspapers, journals and monographs.
Kent State University is hosting ongoing "virtual
symposia on the future of print media", with
presentations by hardware/software vendors and publishers.
The Xerox Affordances
of Paper project explores why we continue to use what
one wit described as "dried tree-flakes encased in
dead cow", particularly large documentation systems
such as those found in hospitals and the armed forces.
will sell you everything from petfood and hardware to
antiquarian books but is not actively flogging e-books.
The E Ink
Corporation, as the name suggests, is investigating 'electronic
ink' projects, in particular devices that have the flexibility
of a sheet of newspaper. Call us party poopers, but we
expect to be wrapping our garbage in copies of the non-digital
Financial Review for some time to come. For those
seeking more information about 'digital paper' and 'electronic
ink' proposals we've provided a separate profile
on this site.
From a less visionary perspective Xplor
International (these days you're apparently not serious
in the digital publishing game unless there's an 'X' in
your moniker) provides a venue for information exchange
under the umbrella of the Electronic Document Systems
Association in competition with the Collaborative Electronic
Notebook Systems Association (CENSA).
The more narrowly-focussed EBX
Working Group is an ad hoc body developing a standard
- closely aligned with Glassbook
- for electronic book exchange.
EBX operates in competition with the Open eBook Authoring
aligned with the Rocket eBook and similar devices in developing
and HTML-based specification for use by publishers and
hardware developers. The Group recently released version
1.0 of its specification.
The Open eBook Forum (OeBF),
now part of the OEB, is seeking to encourage PDF-based
Of potentially greater impact is Microsoft's announcement
proprietary font display technology claimed to significantly
increase screen readability,
and new Reader software for PCs and handheld devices.
ClearType has been criticised as too rubbery, providing
insufficient protection against unauthorised copying/redistribution
- perhaps the major impediment to the growth of the electronic
next page (devices)