The E-Books Are Coming (… or not)

Publishers,
book sellers, librarians, and readers should all be panting for e-books and
e-book readers, according to the breathless press reports surrounding the
introduction of Apple's new iPad by Steve Jobs on January 25. But are they?

Predictions
that e-books will completely replace printed books (“p-books” or “tree-books”)
have been around since the advent of the computer, often in tandem with
predictions about the “paperless office.” (Have you seen one lately?) To be
sure, authors, publishers, book distributors, and librarians have been
preparing for e-books –already Sacred Heart University Library has leased
access to approximately 50,000 available e-books and tens of thousands of
e-journals.

The
moment of truth, however, has not yet arrived. The reasons vary.


  • The e-book market right now
    is device-driven. Everyone who sells an e-book is also interested in selling
    –or supporting– a device, and the devices aren't compatible. You can play a CD
    or an mp3 music download on many different players. Not so with Kindles, Nooks,
    E-Readers, etc. To buy a Kindle is to decide to buy e-books from Amazon, and
    only Amazon. Book retailers won't push e-readers until there's more in it for
    them
    .

  • The devices aren't cheap.
    The major market for Kindles right now isn't young people, but people aged
    35-50. Why? They (sometimes) have the several hundred dollars available for an
    experimental purchase. Some of these people travel often, and a Kindle has real
    benefits for a business traveler. E-book readers so far –the iPad will probably
    be an exception– are largely single-use devices. How many college students
    want to pack a Kindle along with a laptop, books, phone, iPod, and what-else on
    campus every day?

  • The devices have often been
    hard to read for a long time. Kindle users say they get used to it. No one
    knows about the iPad yet. A e-book reader is rarely a love-at-first-sight
    .

  • Publishers are extremely
    nervous about piracy and uncompensated file sharing. Ironically, the most
    egregious piracy comes in the form of ordinary scans of printed materials into
    .pdf files which are then easily readable almost everywhere on the Web. Who
    else could read a pirated Kindle book in Mobipocket format? Even the .epub or
    OEPBS (Open Ebook Publication Structure) which can be read via Firefox is
    unfamiliar to most people. Publishers' squeamishness about legal copies –their
    core business, after all– has contributed to reluctant embrace of e-books.

Whether
Apple can penetrated the technologically all-important youth market and the
hard-pressed and captive textbook market (markets which overlap on a college
campus) has yet to be seen. What will be the Cool factor of an iPad?

 

All
which leads to the question: so how do people really interact with e-books and
p-books?