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#17 – ebooks

An e-Book is an electronic book, one you read digitally on your computer, laptop screen or on devices called ebook readers.

Sometimes the equivalent of a conventional printed book, e-books can also be born digital. The Oxford Dictionary of English defines the e-book as “an electronic version of a printed book,” but e-books can and do exist without any printed equivalent. E-books are usually read on dedicated hardware devices known as e-Readers or e-book devices. Personal computers and some cell phones can also be used to read e-books

At present e-books are available in various formats and until the industry has a standard accessible in all devices these various formats will exist.

History of e-books

Surprisingly, the earliest e-books were around in the early 1970s.  Among the earliest general e-books were those in Project Gutenberg, in 1971.  These first e-books were generally written for specialty areas and a limited audience, meant to be read only by small and devoted interest groups. The scope of the subject matter of these e-books included technical manuals for hardware, manufacturing techniques and other subjects.

In the last couple of years the ebook phenomenum had an explosion in growth, due to the availablity of portable and desirable new e-readers such as Kindle.  In July 2010, online bookseller Amazon.com reported sales of ebooks for its proprietary Kindle outnumbered sales of hardback books for the first time ever saying it sold 140 e-books for every 100 hardcover books.   By January 2011, ebook sales at Amazon had surpassed its paperback sales

So, why would you want an e-book?                                                                                                                       

  • There are over 2 million free books available for download as of August 2009.
  • At present, an e-book can be offered indefinitely, without ever going “out of print”
  • In the space that just one comparably sized print book takes up, an e-reader can potentially contain thousands of e-books, limited only by its memory capacity.
  • E-book websites can include the ability to translate books into many different languages, making the works available to speakers of languages not covered by printed translations.
  • Depending on the device, an e-book may be readable in low light or even total darkness.
  • An e-book can be purchased/borrowed, downloaded, and used immediately, whereas when one buys or borrows a book, one must go to a bookshop, a home library, or public library during limited hours, or wait for a delivery.
  • Compared to printed publishing, it is cheaper and easier for authors to self-publish e-books. Also, the dispersal of a free e-book copy can stimulate the sales of the printed version.

What are the drawbacks of e-books?

  • Technology changes rapidly! While printed books remain readable for many years, e-books may need to be converted to a new carrier or file type over time.
  • Not all books are available as e-books.
  • E-books cannot provide the physical feel of the cover, paper, and binding of the original printed work and a library of books can provide visual appeal, while the digital nature of e-books makes them non-visible or tangible.
  • At present, Books with large pictures (such as children’s books) or diagrams are more inconvenient for viewing and reading.
  • E-book readers are more susceptible to damage from being dropped or hit than a print book. Due to faults in hardware or software, e-book readers may malfunction and data loss can occur.
  • At the moment, the cost of an e-book reader far exceeds that of a single book, and e-books often cost the same as their print versions. Due to the high cost of the initial investment in some form of e-reader, e-books are cost prohibitive to much of the world’s population.

There are many other advantages and disadvantages of e-books versus the printed book, but hopefully for many years to come we will have the luxury of making a choice as to which medium we prefer to use.

Libraries in the US are actively promoting the use of ebooks in their systems, and debate rages at present within the public libraries in the UK.

Activity #17

1.  Download one of the Top 100 ebooks on Project Gutenberg to a device of your choosing.  http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/scores/top

If you don’t have an e-reader, you can always read the book you have chosen online.

Further reading:

E-book restrictions leave libraries facing a virtual lockout http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/oct/26/libraries-ebook-restrictions

Will your local library lend e-books?  http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/will_your_local_library_lend_e-books_or_can_they.php

Judge rejects Google e-book deal http://www.pcpro.co.uk/news/366244/judge-rejects-google-ebooks-deal

The debate about ebooks is very topical and current, therefore it is impossible for this blog to keep up with the almost daily changes to the technology, systems, debates and legal challenges that this topic is generating.  However there are several websites and blogs that you could add to your RSS feeds which would supply you with current and up to date information

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