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The Future Of The Book 132

Detritus writes: "First Monday, a peer-reviewed journal on, and about, the Internet, has published an excellent and thought provoking paper by Clifford Lynch, the Director of the Coalition for Networked Information, titled The Battle to Define the Future of the Book in the Digital World. The paper lays out and examines the complex questions raised by the migration from dead trees to bits, and the competing interests of authors, publishers, readers, libraries and society."
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The Future Of The Book

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    If anyone wants to know what the world will look like without copyrights on books, then just dip into the bookwarez scene where there are already thousands of (c) books readily available.

    Grab yourself an irc client (mirc for windows users), and head to #bookz on undernet, or #bookwarez on or dalnet. Alternatively, grab a decent binary usenet reader (eg newsbinpro for windows users, and don't forget the crack/serial from :), and head to alt.binaries.e-book, and/or alt.binaries.e-books with a free server selected from

    Good hunting. And, as I said there are thousands of (c) titles already floating around out there.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm sure someone is probably in the process of doing this, but one format that needs to be digitized is the college textbook. Anyone who's had to buy a $200 book and then get offered $25 to buy it back in new condition could definitely benefit. In addition it'd save the backs of people who want to lug their chemistry or calculus books to class with them.
  • 33 years ago, on the planet formerly known as Earth, archeaologists discovered what appeared to be plastic blocks with strange looking keys on them.

    It is believed that these artifacts originate from the early 21st century and until now, scientists have been unable to figure out exactly what they were used for, although they assumed that it was some archaic form of storage device.

    Recently, scientists in the gumbar system have discovered that by applying an ancient technology known as 'electricity' into an orifice in the back of the plastic block, would cause the following message to appear on the block :-

    "Error 41200a: Unrecoverable System Error, all data on device corrupted. Microsoft 2005"

    This is an exciting development and the scientists hope that some day, they will be able to retreive data from these devices, although, so far, the tests performed on 1256 of these devices have all proved negative...

  • A piece of suggested paper reading would be The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson... Many of you have prolly read it already... The ideas presented there (which certainly aren't new ideas, but he puts them down nicely and wraps them up in a nifty plot while he's at it) give an interesting view of digital paper, etc. Although even within the bounds of the world created inside this work there are those who still choose to read things on real paper. It's a privledge for the rich, however.
  • The environmental impact of manufacturing computers is quite high. Just because we think of chip fabs as nice clean places with no smoke stacks doesn't mean they have a low impact.

    Chip fabrication consumes quite enormous amounts of water. I've no idea how much energy goes into purifying all that water.

    All the devices consume vast amounts of power. Your average webserver draws, say, 1.5 amps. That means a rack of 1 u machines in a data center is getting close to, say 60 amps, errr say 12 kilowatts (UK power). That's 12 kw per rack in a datacenter that, while admittedly not really running at that density throughout, is still drawing a massive amount of power.

    Add to that every home PC, all the littel ebooks of the future charging their heavy-metal batteries every night. The power requirements become massive.

    Now, because of the massive cost of fabs for chips and so on, there are very few factories in the world for these items. Because of that, they all have to be shipped all over the world, with assocciated use of fossil fuels, not to mention all the disposable packaging consumed each time.

  • I have several books in my collection that were printed in 1500; quite a few from the 1800's. I reasonably expect that these will all be readable in 2300 as well.

    Now, how long do you expect your "e-book" reader to last? Will PDF still be a usable format in the year 2300? What happens if a very large software company puts a propriatary lock on all digital book files?

    And this doesn't scratch the surface of the ergonomic issues. Perhaps rather than the Luddites, the appropriate parable for e-books is The Emperor's New Clothes?

  • Assuming that (a) the problem CAN be solved. It is possible that paper is the optimal solution for human-readable output. (b) the "solution", once forced upon the consuming public, is BETTER than the previous technology (paper). As Seymour Hirsch used to say of hi-fi systems, once a thing can be done digitally, there is a tendency to always do it digitally, whether or not the results of the digital method is superior (he was speaking primariy of tuning and other controls, not the method of reproduction).

    I have seen very little convincing evidence that e-books are a better solution than paper, but I have seen a lot of arguments that contain hidden and circular assumptions that they are superior, well, because. Remember, just because it is _possible_ to put text on a computer does not mean that it is necessarily better to do so: you must prove WHY it is better.

  • I hope you will join the Project Gutenberg
    efforts, then. It is a good thing to do if
    you're bored. They even have wishlists.
  • I got used to it after a while. Took some practice, though.

  • Thanks! Needed that!
  • Issue #1: if it's between an ebook reader and hemp-paper books, the books win hands-down. But never mind that for now.

    Assuming the hardware is sturdy, an ebook reader shouldn't go obsolete so quickly. Just because you can double a computer's speed every 18 months doesn't mean you need to, if all you do is display book pages on the damn thing. So ebook hardware should become a long term investment. There is also the issue of carrying capacity, but after 20 or so books, you don't even need more. Frankly, my Palm IIIxe gives me enough reading for a long flight. A memory dongle for a Palm will give me enough reading for a coast-to-coast ride on Amtrak. We don't need to put more books on these things than we will read between syncs. So, hardware may break, but it won't go obsolete.

    Hopefully, any hardware company in this business will keep this in mind rather than go all bubbly like Cisco did.

  • (on another note) I got me my Palm IIIxe. I'm not much of a gamer, and I haven't packed my date book and address book to the gills. But I have several books on board for when I'm bored. Right now, I have Clausewitz's On War, John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism, a novel called Tartarin of Tarascon, and Sun Tzu's Art of War. And I still have 4 megs free. Beats reading the tabloid headlines when the line at the supermarket is long.

  • There's nothing anyone can do about existing copyrights. But the cost-free and absolutely
    hassle free availability of pre-1920 works
    is going to make ebook reader owners lean
    toward the works available on PG, and
    drive a harder bargain when it comes to
    copy-control hassles with new ebooks.

  • by Apuleius ( 6901 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2001 @12:29AM (#159020) Journal

    The article goes into thorough detail on the problems that could be posed if publishers are allowed to use the new medium to redefine intellectual property rights for text works. A scary portent of the future, and a distillation of those paragraphs would make a good thing to keep on hand to give (for example) your fellow students if your college wants to switch out of textbooks.

    But, the article omits the importance of sites like Andamooka and the Gutenberg project, and also the significance of wireless technology and the Web. If I buy an ebook reader of some sort, it had better 1. do HTML, 2. do PDF and PS, 3. do ASCII, 4. let me make downloads of these from whatever sites I want. What does that mean? Any ebook reader must also be a Web pad to get me to buy it. I do believe that thanks to the Web and to sites like those two (and Nupedia, and many more), and thanks to upcoming Web pads, we have dodged a bullet here. (A Web pad with good handwriting recognition would be dreamy. Mmmm..)

    Is this enough? No. We need more content on those sites, not to mention more effort to clue in Joe Sixpack about these issues. But things do look good IMHO. Since any ebook reader has to be able to navigate the Web (either through wireless or through a well thought out Web-suck program), ebook buyers won't be too eager to have to buy books with insane reader software and rights management software hassles.

  • First Monday, a peer-reviewed journal on, and about, the Internet, has published an excellent and thought provoking paper by Clifford Lynch

    Heh, heh, you said "paper".

  • Ancient mesopotamia :

    In the race to put everything into writing, we forget that the best solution is not always the most technologically advanced. I mean, we've abandoned barter for letters of credit and there is even writing on the walls of toilets in Xanchu. Dear Lord, what will they be writing on next?

    Word-of-mouth is close to the ideal form for people to digest information from. You can take a story anywhere and it never wears out and it doesn't rely on all the equipment that writing does. Hell, with the clay shortage in Cresus at the moment, you'll be lucky to find a peice of tablet to write on! :)

    And more to the point, people feel comfortable with the oral-tradition. They know where they stand. In Mesopotamia, where there is a very healthy streak of techno-skepticism amongst the general public, the story is what they want, not the latest fancy writing from MIT that promises to "revolutionize" the way information is disseminated. And the storytellers and bards knowhere where they stand when they tell a story - who gets paid and so on.

    No, the oral-tradition is here to stay for a long time. As for yet, I have seen nothing that has any compelling reasons to change. Don't let a techno-fetishing blind you to the obvious solution to such a non-problem.

  • Ebooks become as convenient as printed books
    when the monitors become small enough.
    The "first generation" ebooks about the size of an
    EtchASketch (TM) are still too bulky.
    E-paper may result in clipboard-size monitors.
  • A big advantage to me of this media would be
    saving shelf spacing. I probably have a 100 feet
    each of books in the office and home. I'd acquire
    more books, but don't like having to move them
    when I move. Books are among the heaviest portion
    of my possessions.
  • A 1000 year non-obsolescence requirement is a little over the top, don't you think? Almost no original copies of any books from that period have lasted until now, so it's not like paper book technology has been that long lived. And in many cases you couldn't just sit down and read a book from 1000 years ago - even if it was in your language, the script and conventions used might make it fairly difficult. Yes, we still have paper books today, but in large part they're not the exact same ones or even the same technology we had a millennia ago (heck, they were hand-copied!), so why should an ebook have to do so well?

    As long as it's possible to migrate ebook content onto the next generation of devices, we'll be OK. The only problem will be if ebook manufacturers make that impossible through technical or legal means.

    Caution: contents may be quarrelsome and meticulous!

  • In The budding e-book controversy [], the retired founder of Random House Electronic Publishing bemoans how "Random House's lawyers are trying to stretch the definition of the word "book" in order to justify a grab of author's rights." (Beware the phrase "mechanical reproduction rights.")

    Worth reading.
    • Can I toss an ebook reader in my pocket without worrying about sitting on it and breaking something?No, nor can you do that with any books other than paperbacks. Can you fit 3 of the biggest brand new hard covers into your carry on for when you're going on a long plane flight? No. But my ebook stays the same size no matter how many books I have with me.
    • With books I own, they get torn up... They're bent, torn in places, the spine is messed up. Can I do that with an ebook?Why do you want to? Just because you can?
    • What happens when the power goes out and I don't have any charge left in the tablet or whatever I'm using to view the digital text?What happens when the power goes out and you can't read your traditional book at all? My ebook is backlit so even when the subway car stalls in the tunnel and it's pitch black I'm still reading.
    • Can I dogear parts of a digital book and go back to them by simply picking it up and opening it?Sure. My ebook always starts on the page I left. That's actually better than dogearing, because I don't crease pages, and my pages won't un-dogear themselves accidentally.
    • Will I be able to read an ebook for hours like I can do with regular books and not have any form of eye strain?Good question. I read it for about an hour a day and don't seem to have too many problems. What usually causes the eyestrain people associate with ebooks is the fixed nature of a computer monitor, and not being able to move where the text is. The ebook is in your hands and you can move it around just like a regular book, changing the distance to your eyes, etc.
    • If I like the book enough that I loan it to friends or family, will they all have to pay additional licenses or transfer fee just to read it?Finally, a good question. No, the proper billing/licensing model has not yet been determined. That's the big issue right now. Personally I feel it's the exact same as the whole Napster thing, but I can't get people to agree with me.
    The arguments against ebooks always start by saying "Let's think of features of books that ebooks don't have, then think of why those features are good, and presto, ebooks therefore must be bad." I mean, sure, crisp page turning and getting ink on your fingers is kinda neat, but is it really necessary? In the days of typewriters (before word processors), you'd see typos, crossouts and whiteout on a typical page. We don't miss that, though, do we? I agree that the billing model needs work. There's actually a more simple problem with billing right now, and that's price setting -- if the new Stephen King hardcover comes out for $22, the ebook costs $22. 6 months later when it's in paperback at $12, the ebook costs $12. That's hardly fair. I'd rather see them fix that problem first and get more people to buy the dang books, and THEN worry about how people are going to loan them to each other. Personally I have hundreds of books, but it's not like I'm a library. I might loan out a small handful a year. It's just not that big a deal to me.
  • (June 6, 2001) WIRED reports that e-books are doing poorly. Not a big surprise for me, since that's what I predicted three years ago. In contrast, e-reports are doing well. As an example, I am selling about a million dollars a year in downloads of my usability guidelines for things like designing the PR section of a corporate website, designing for international users, and improving checkout and registration.

    (Emphasis is mine. Those downloads are in PDF format.)

  • An audio CD player costs a few hundred dollars, as does a DVD player. But it can cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace an LP collection with audio CDs or a video cassette collection with DVDs, and this within a span of only a decade or two. Are we willing to burden our personal libraries (and our institutional libraries) of books, music, and films with such costs in order to make a technology transition every decade or two in order to satisfy the economic models of the content industries? And to lose some precious, but perhaps not widely popular, works with each technology transition because they are not made available using the new technology? Do we have, and will we continue to have, the rights and ability to preserve content that we have already acquired in the face of changing technology? For existing materials the answer isn't entirely clear. We certainly have the ability, but the legal rights of consumers and institutions such as libraries are less clear. In a future world of license agreements and digital rights management technology governed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, both rights and capabilities are questionable.

    As someone else has already said, we can read printed material that is hundreds, or even thousands of years old. Should would-be content controllers start applying their pay-per-view-we-own-it-you-don't mindset to books, they shouldn't be surprised when it doesn't sell.

  • I can still read paper written on 2000 years ago. Try and do that with *any* digital technology...

    Today's paper (and ink, btw) isn't made to last that long. IIRC, a sheet of common dead-tree printed paper should last ~70 years (probably more if special care is taken), and this says nothing about the action of ink/toner/whatever.

    If you take this as true (which to me seems to be the case, but I'm not an expert), it means that in a couple of centuries or so only a little fraction of what is available on paper as of today will survive, unless it is reprinted over and over.

    OTOH, digital media suffer a similar problem, expressed in term of file formats and media format, so your point is basically true, but not because paper lasts longer: reprinting an already printed book is a straightforward task compared to having to understand a peculiar document format which requires making assumptions about the environment in which it should be interpreted, sometimes down to the "How am I supposed to read files from this media?" problem.

    As with paper, the problem with digital media is easily solved by moving files to other media/formats from time to time, but copy protection schema surely don't help in doing this, and while this perhaps maximizes the profits, the initial publisher becomes the main responsible (read: single point of failure) for preserving the data in a intelligible format.

  • Bruce Sterling, tangentially, on e-publishing.

    Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier
    by Bruce Sterling

    From the Preface to the Electronic Release []
    "However, if you were so foolish as to print this book and start retailing it for money in violation of my copyright and the commercial interests of Bantam Books, then Bantam, a part of the gigantic Bertelsmann multinational publishing combine, would roust some of their heavy-duty attorneys out of hibernation and crush you like a bug. This is only to be expected. I didn't write this book so that you could make money out of it. If anybody is gonna make money out of this book, it's gonna be me and my publisher."

  • Why I prefer Textfiles 2/27/87
    - Jason Scott - Written during an illness.

    Being the owner of one of the largest Textfile Clearinghouses in the US, I've
    been asked a few times why I prefer textfiles over anything else for computers.
    So, I decided to put my reasons into a textfile (Wraparound city) and exaplin
    to you my reasons:

    Textfiles won't erase yer Hard Drive, then print "HeyHey EATME!"

    Textfiles don't require a joystick.

    Textfiles don't make you rely on your hand-eye coordination at 3:00am.

    Textfiles never have to worry about compatibility, or DOS versions.

    Textfiles don't feature little green things on the screen named "Glorks".

    Textfiles don't become "Old Warez" in 3 days.

    You can change one byte in a textfile, and the computer won't crash.

    Textfiles don't take up a whole disk every time.

    Textfiles don't require 4-color advertising in COMPUTE!

    Textfiles don't need programs, but most programs need textfiles.

    Textfiles can be drastically changed in a matter of minutes.

    Textfiles won't watch you log on, and copy your password to a secret file.

    Textfiles are cheap, or free.

    Textfiles won't do anything if you're not there.

    Textfiles don't need to be compiled.

    Textfiles don't can run at any speed you want.

    You can tell how good or bad a textfile is, AS you're downloading.

    Textfiles don't make sounds in the middle of the night, while your parents
    are sleeping in the next room.

    If you take your eyes away from a textfile, it won't go "GAME OVER".

    Textfiles don't bring out hidden surprises.

    You can bring textfiles to school, and the teacher won't accuse you of
    being a pirate. [Usually. My old Computer Teacher took away some Blue Box
    plans I was printing on the school computer. Fuck him.]

    You can read textfiles during a blackout, with a flashlight.

    You won't be accused of being a nerd if you have textfiles in your school
    notebook [Unless you're Scott B. (Heh)]

    Everyone can use a textfile on the first try.

    Ahhh.. it takes me back. [] My small contribution [].
  • If you want something to last for 2000 years, clearly it needs to be in a very simple encoding. SGML is probably fine as it is very easy to extract the text for it. The bigger problem, of course, is what digital medium actually will be physically readable in 2000 years, and what physical device will we use to read it. With a papyrus scroll, you pick it up and you're good to go. Even with relatively long-lived media like CD-ROMs, it's not clear that our decendents would figure out the physical encoding, then ISO-9660, then the SGML DTD.
  • by Shadowcaster ( 58728 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2001 @12:33AM (#159035) Journal
    Well, I'll always go for books myself, even with the Gutenberg (sp) project. Books don't give you that I-want-to-gouge-out-my-eyeballs headache like a CRT can.. and when was the last time you curled up in a chair next to a crackling fire with your pc in your hands? Somehow that doesn't strike me as the next Rockwell style painting..
  • ah, but if you use a pocketpc device, you could be playing freecell on the crapper. that, my friend, would be a little slice of heaven.
  • But I dont think that reading an e-book can compare to reading printed materials with todays technology. If you have ever read on the beach or in the park on a sunny day then you know what I mean. Todays displays do not work well enough in the sun to be useful. When the prices come down and the screens get better, maybe the personal tablet for uploading books will be feasible. Until then, its just not a workable all terain idea.
  • a pair of glasses. Optically you just see a hi-res screen in full color. You could take it to bed with you and read it in total darkness without disturbing your sleeping partner. You could wear it in the bus or the train (not a good idea todrive while wearing it though). It might have a little clicker (wireless or not) that you can use to flip the "pages" , add bookmarks, notes, etc... You get the picture.

    Until that happens, I'll continue to frequent my favorite antiquated, tree-consuming bookstore, thank you very much.

  • by Louis Savain ( 65843 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2001 @12:57AM (#159039) Homepage
    But how is this step any different from those we've seen thus far? This is not a paradigm shift, it's the reflection of the impact of technology and innovation on a process.

    The revolutionary shift has to do with the fact that a book can now be archived electronically. With the aid of digital communication and file sharing technologies, it is now possible to copy and transmit an entire book almost instantly to someone half way around the world. And that's not all. It does not take any special sort of expertise to do so: the entire copying and transmission process can be done with just a few mouse clicks.
    This changes things dramatically, in my opinion. It will have pronounced consequences not only in the continued viability and enforceability intellectual property laws but may also affect the financial livelihood of content authors and distributors, and the way they market their wares.
  • Covad Faked DSL Trouble For Verizon

    Um, right words, wrong order. The headline was:

    Verizon Faked DSL! Trouble For Covad!

    Verizon pounded Covad into the ground by strangling the technology with problems. Free marketplace my ass. Now that Covad and the CLECs are running out of money Verizon is putting the nail in the coffin with groundless, bogus lawsuits. Read the 100's of posts here: anyone who tried to get DSL from Covad failed due to intentional Verizon negligence.

    Falsified bug reports. What about falsified fucking lawsuits! The only upside is that the public is so fed up with Verizon's shit that the cable companies have seized the whole broadband revenue stream away from the RBOCs (baby bells) so they don't get to play.
  • I'm also interested, but as a content producer.

    I've written half a dozen novels, none of which have been published. Each of the last three has gotten a personalized rejection letter from a senior editor, with comments relevant to the book, so they don't suck completely.

    With the high cost of paper, publisher catalogs are shrinking quickly. E-books are beginning to become a good marketplace for new writers. If you can make it as an e-book author, you can get "promoted" to real book author.

    On the other hand, I don't want my books either a) pirated, or b) chained down.

    Writing is work. Some day, I'd like to pay the rent doing work I love. If it's spammed all over the Net, I can kiss that dream good-bye.

    I've discovered my favorite authors by someone handing me a battered paperback and saying "Read this." If I liked the author, I went out and bought their works. Heck, I have everything Philip K Dick and Tim Powers ever wrote, thanks to someone handing me a book.

    In fact, one of my friends just said that I'm the only person he knows that "has three feet of Dick, and isn't afraid to show it off." All from a hand-to-hand paperback.
  • > I also can't see someone sittin in church and looking at a computer screen bible...

    I have. Usually the bible in church is NOT used linearly but for searching / looking up a few scriptures. Computerized books work very well for this.

    > But as for the paper back/hard back novel, I just can't seem to see that going away.
    I agree. I would rather take a small pocket book to bed to read then my laptop any day (or nite ;)

    For something to be read sequentially, computer books suck compared to the "natural" high resolution flicker-free paper.

  • 1) If I break the spine on a hardcover book, I can still read it. I've done something careless and damaged the carrying medium of the data but the data itself is still readily retrievable. If I crack the screen of an ebook device, the data may well still be intact but I have no simple way of retrieving it (unless the data is stored on a removable media and I have another, compatible player). Also, the replacement cost of an ebook device is substantially higher than the replacement cost of a hardcover book. Your point about the potential storage capabilities of an ebook player is well taken and part of the reason why ebooks will eventually dominate.

    2) Obviously people who aren't burning books are generally not interested in damaging books for the fun of it. Your response to this question was disingenuous. The point is that things do accumulate wear. Presumably an ebook device will be a bit tougher than a shredded tree device, but the downside of damage is far greater. If I crack the spine on one of my books, only that one book is damaged. If I get a scratch on my ebook device's screen, *all* of my books have that flaw. That is a problem.

    3) "The Sun is a mass of incandescent gas." I have found my electronic goodies to be short of battery life in times of bright sunlight more often than I have found myself wanting to read a book when no electric light was available. Still, this is really just a technical problem. Eventually, tiny fuel cells or super capacity batteries or Area 51 solar cells or something will allow an ebook device to go indefinitely (or at least weeks) without recharging.

    4) Bookmarking and other indices are where ebooks can kick ass. Not just the page but the word! Not just margin notes but hyperlinks! Full text searching! Woo hoo!

    5) Ebook devices are not as hospitable as books. Eyestrain is just one of the ergonomic issues. But again, this is just a technical problem. It isn't hard to imagine a device of comparable size and weight to a trade paper book that has a 600 dpi screen, is tough enough to stand up to some abuse, has vast storage capacity, offers wireless communications, has all the text analysis goodies one could want, and is even waterproof so you can use it in the tub or at the beach.

    6) The license terms are tricky. I'd like to think that a viable model of inexpensive titles and vast storage will emerge. But who knows? As for it being "the exact same as the whole Napster thing," what do you mean?

    The problem with ebooks, today, is that they aren't compelling to most people. "Ooooohhh more expensive, fragile, and less convenient? I'll take three!" Still, it is obvious that the technical problems will be overcome eventually. The rest will be up to authors and publishers.
  • I can still read tablets inscribed 10 000 years ago. Try and do that with *any* paper.
  • Hmm, that's funny. I've got several books from the middle 1800's and although pretty beaten up, are still very much readable.

    Contrast that to ANY digital media or digital format.

  • Well, whatever books become they've got to be portable, not need batteries, be easy on the eyes, and last hundreds of years.

    Hmm, sounds like a book to me *shrug*

  • With books I own, they get torn up... They're bent, torn in places, the spine is messed up. Can I do that with an ebook?

    You could try overwriting parts of the ebook with random characters.. That should screw up the book the way you like it.

    Here is another question: can I set the ebook on fire???


  • Your velum from the 16C should be alright, some of the 19C stuff as well, if high quality, but when was the last time you looked at that precious first edition paperback of Dick's Martian Timeslip? The majority of books printed in the US in the 20C used cheap paper with a high acid content and these books are quietly composting on your bookshelf. It is unlikely your great-grandchildren will be able to read them, let alone your 23C Duncan Idaho.
  • What foxed me, was that in one scene for example, Miles O' Brien takes a half dozen or so of these readers,

    That's nothing. Try the (semi-regular) scene where someone in on the bridge tells an ensign/flunky to "take these readings to engineering," and hands them a bunch of electronic pads.

  • well if you want to play games you should bring your GBA (if you have one), I dont do this yet... but maybe I will ;)
  • um I love the idea of digital books and digital paper. and I'm all for freeing the information. rights management would prolly be a hassle, sure. but, think realistically here, who pays the content provider? the writer that spent a year or in some cases twenty years researching and writing a book only to have some hacker/cracker take his book and copy it to usenet (a place where you can get quite a few books). why would a writer want to engage in that kind of business and never recieve any compensation? I mean. thats just rude. I mean i bust my ass to provide this content that i hope you all love and I'm glad you all like it enough to download the cracked version but I gotta feed my kids ya know. now the majority of you are good law abiding citizens and say you would never do such a thing but there are just as many people out there that could give a shit about my rights or my deisre to feed my kids. so instead of writing the lord of the rings why don't i just stick to teaching or something.
  • get your usenet-client and get your ass to these groups:

    alt.binaries.emanuals (computerbooks)
    alt.binaries.cbts (computerbooks)

    I have a fairly large collection already (3gb) and I'm waiting for the faithfull day when I can put it in my futuristic reader.
  • Hyperthetical Suituation :-

    Lets say most 'wealthy folk' have an ebook viewer of whatever format.

    If a book I want to lend to a buddy is only available in 'ebook' format, how would I transfer that book so he can read it ?

    The answer - unless I break the law, I couldn't !

    Lets face it, people 'trade' books all the time - some of the best books I've read have been borrowed from friends - some of the best books never seem to have a permanent home.

    Take a look at your bookshelf and try to figure out exactly where each book came from - I can bet a good percentage are borrowed (or never returned library books :)

    You can bet your ass that whatever format is decided on, you will not be able to 'share' a book with a buddy - they will have to shell out bucks to read it legally.

    That sucks.

    I hope ebooks don't become the norm in my time.
  • True, but the technology will become such that an ebook will be as legible as paper.

    I'm all for keeping printed books myself.

    They said many years back (the eternal 'they') that computers would do away with paper.

    Bwahh hahah - well, here I sit in front of my computer with about 4000 bits of paper in various formats all around me.

    some of my work colleagues print out there email !

    ebook - bleh - it'll be a good long while before it replaces paper, if ever.
  • In the nearer term, ebook readers are going to create immense amounts of toxic waste, because, as you say, the marketplace may rule, but corporations need new sales - so each reader model will go out of production fast. There is no way to stop them.

    Longer term, the toxic garbage accumulating in a few thousand places will not be a patch on the devastation of all the worlds forests that the paper industry represents. Even if they replant trees, the loss of the trees causes a slow washaway of the topsoil. Nothing is without consequences. And also, the demand for paper will grow exponentially as 6.5 - 12 billion people become literate and buy more and more books. We NEED ebooks, for the human race's literacy, and for the prevention of the utter devastation of the trees (not that that would not happen for other reasons. Sigh.)

    BTW, it occured to me last night - building an ebook is totally within a bright technician's abilities -- picture a wooden frame, nicely done, housing some non-volatile MRAM, a generic processor, some DOS-like OS, a simple control interface, and mayhap an LED or organic screen... shouldn't be too expensive, and with copy control coming down with felony force, it may be the only way to have a truly free reader.

  • A random yet maybe useful thought occurs.

    If a series of eBook readers actually caught on, and if they were all using copy-controlled hardware and software, then eBook content would truly become a subscription service, because they would not pass through a general purpose PC, ever. Tho hackers might find a way somehow, the critical mass necessary to create a free library of "controlled" content would never surface. Somewhat like Gnutella, the only books available for free (and technically pirated) would be a fairly small geek library.

    May the publishers and distributors be greedy and nasty!

  • It's being done at some colleges as a pilot program, but, you'll not be surprised,they don't give a break on the price per copy. A little taste of the future: the prices stay the same, and the book company and the college keep the new profits generated by the savings by not printing the book on presses.

    I also seem to recall that the U.S. Congress has helpfully made any attempt to digitize a textbook a felony.

    God, my back... I remember how much those damned paper books weighted in high school and college!
    And you'd think that it would be an obvious application - those e-texts could be updated yearly, or even on the fly as mistakes were discovered. And they shouldbe cheaper.

    Don't bet on it, tho. The textbook industry is small and ferocious, and will go ape$%$@ if anyone tries to ease them out of the picture.

    Here's a frightening thought for the publishers to chew on... open source textbooks...

  • Your argument is a straw man that I've been fighting for over ten years. E-books will not supplant paper books; the publication of paper books will increase every year until the price of paper drags paper books into the luxury range. E-books will not replace them, in the sense of destroying their sales.

    What will happen is this: the actual number of "books", in e format, will increase exponentially until there are orders of magnitude more "books" stored as bits than as paper. You will look around you, and say, "There are more paper books now that ever -- e-books are a failure!". But the truth is that the e-libraries of the world will have more capacity than all of the Barnes and Nobles and Borders combined, by staggering factors. And you won't see any of it, not physically. Consider how many web-pages of text are out there... I think it likely that it would be inpossible to "print" them all on paper if the WWW wasn't there. There just aren't enough trees.

    Another reason e-books will go nuclear: not everyone in the world can afford $32US for a book. Actually, a miniscule proportion of the world can. Hell, I can't afford them. E-books will be the cause of an explosion in the planet's literacy. Books will be, even if it is via the undeground, flashed in massive batches all over the third world, and I'll be glad of that. You can't have too many readers. It will, I think, be a source of stabilization in many ways.

    As for the price of the reader -- well, tech is not there yet for a cheap reader. Maybe not now. But I can see it happening very soon. If you can build a few for $500US, you can mass produce it for $20, eventually. And even at $500, it's cheaper to have that reader and free books than it is to but the books physically, especially with the way the lumber companies are gouging the world.

    This rosy picture will be fought viciously by IP owners, so who knows how it'll turn out in the short run. I assume the manufacture of e-book readers will be constrained by copy-control and lawsuits. But we ain't the whole world, and eventually the books will go running free.

    Also, laptops are in no way necessary to view text. Nor is Windows, or evn Linux. One could create a rather SIMPLE OS that could do the job, and also be freeware. Ya know, this is so simple I bet it even exists.

  • Well...

    The people copying his book digitally aren't making money. So that dog don't hunt.

    And, his books have been converted to digital text, and they are already out there on the peer-to-peer networks, as well as FTP, IRC, and the USENET.

    No one seems to be crushed yet, and it also seems that Sterling is not impoverished.

    Everyone seems to be doing fine.

  • As a previous poster ingeniously pointed out, books are almost always printed on paper containing acid. Those books of yours will be paste in less than a century.

  • I've never had a problem. I guess I sometimes forget that I'm sitting there and my legs are quite asleep afterwards. Besides, what else is there to do?
  • The only 'horror' that I can imagine is that people would be paying a little bit more money to access said works

    It's a publisher's right, and in its best interest, NOT to license its still-copyrighted works to preservation societies at ANY price. Publishers want to sell copies of profit-dense new works, not less profitable classic works. Remember, the only morals a corporation has can be found in its bottom line.

  • We don't need to put more books on these things than we will read between syncs.

    Except what if e-books have a bit set to self-destruct after being copied n times? You'll need to buy more expensive Palm memory. And you won't be able to back up that flash memory when it wears out (all flash memory wears out after about 10,000 or so writes to the directory block) because the book won't survive a restore thanks to its copy and access controls.

  • I hope you will join the Project Gutenberg efforts, then.

    Project Gutenberg's goal is to place in electronic form every work that was first published on or before January 1, 1923, the effective date of perpetual copyright [] in the United States. When PG runs out of pre-1923 works, what will happen?

    Imagine if Shakespeare's works and the King James Bible were still under copyright. That's what the Bono Act amounts to in the long run, a situation where very few people can understand the language in public domain works because the English vernacular has evolved so far from 1923 to (say) 2400. (Works from before about 1500 are in Middle English, which sounds a bit like Dutch; see also The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.)

  • IIRC, a sheet of common dead-tree printed paper should last ~70 years

    And copyright lasts 95 []. Therefore, the publishers have succeeded in making literature disposable by making the copyright outlive the paper the out-of-print book is printed on. Preservation societies such as Project Gutenberg are having a hard time with this fact.

    Write your representatives in your particular federal government and tell them that effectively perpetual copyright has got to go.

  • No matter how hard I try, I just can't get used to using my Palm Pilot while sitting on the crapper.
  • want it to wipe your butt, too?
  • Even if they stopped making regular books tomorrow, there are enough of them floating around in the world to keep me in reading matter for the rest of my life (I'm in my 30s).

    I agree that there may be a problem for time dependent books (e.g. computer textbooks), but unless ebooks are free of odious restrictions I certainly won't be buying any novels in that format.

  • the progression from dead trees to bits:

    When I'm flying commercial, the pilot doesn't ask me to close my (paper) book everytime he wants to take off and land the plane. Unlike a laptop, Palm Pilot, Walkman, cell-phone, or e-book. Now, I think that the jury is still out on whether this is really a technical issue, or the airlines just being super-cautious, but one has to have something to do while waiting.

    Until that restriction is lifted, I'll stick to paper.

  • This article - one of the best ones I've ever read about the future of printed publications in the digital world - reflects itself a major problem:

    How long will it be that we won't be able to access it any more due to the ever-changing nature of the Web?

    The publisher will reorganize its Web site, may go our of business (think Suck []), etc. The author mentions in the article that still many digital works in the scientific field are converted to print once - this has clearly the advantage that we can reference them still in a few years.

  • There is a very important difference between an out-of-print paper book and a moved website: You've got good chances that you're able to get the book from some library, i.e., its content will still be accessible quite easily. I don't need to ask the one who wrote it or the publisher, there is a public infrastructure available. Your chances to get the content of a moved website converge[sp?] towards 0 - publishers are shut down and author contact information is often not available. The content will be lost.

  • [...]
    The problem is more likely to be noticed because most of the information on the web isn't indexed and archived externally. [...] Another part is the lack of an "official" effort to provide such an index/archive.

    Eventually, we are in full agreement. This was exactly the point I wanted to drive home. In the traditional printing world, there is an external index/archive; in the online world there isn't.

    And your're point that URLs are not URIs is right, of course. I should have emphasized this more. (I took it for granted too much - I seem to be too long aquainted with that stuff, starting with work as member of an IETF working group on meta-information for IAFA (Internet Anonymous FTP Archives) back in 1994.)

  • Whan that aprill and his shoures soote,
    Hath perced the droughte of Marche to the roote,
    And bathed evry veyne in swich liqour,
    That vertue is engendred in the floure

    I can read this no problem. Considerably less difficult than C.


  • Computers, generally, are made of plastic, fiberglass and metal, which can be reclaimed and used over and over.

    Paper, on the other hand, can only be recycled so often. Each time paper is recycled, it's fiber length shortens, decreasing it's end quality. Eventually, that same paper is no longer usable and must be disposed of.

    Given the number of different materials in a computer, it's probably harder(relatively) to separate them than it is for paper products. The upside is that you can use computer scrap over and over again.
  • The article says the same thing about many kinds of books. However, it also discusses certain categories of books for which the electronic form is very successful, such as electronic encyclopedias, which have mostly replaced print encyclopedias. It also talks about electronic self-publishing, which is a lot easier to do than print self-publishing.

    The Assayer [] - free-information book reviews

  • Everyone seems to be doing fine.

    So it worked out as expected. The text was published in electronic form with exactly that kind of distribution in mind. Do follow that link.

  • The near-term future of the book doesn't look to bad, but mid- to long-term, paper books will be an absolute niche product. What are the key arguments against electronic books?

    • Can't be read whereever you want, in bright daylight for example
    • Are heavier and less robust
    • They need a lot of battery power to work
    • Stupid licensing schemes scare readers away
    There are however important advantages to electronic books:
    • More compact if you need access to many conventional books' contents
    • Can be updated, which is an excellent feature for technical manuals or other rapidly changing content
    • Electronic books can contain active content. A dictionary could help reading foreign texts, for example.
    I'm not counting environmental aspects on either side, because it isn't obvious which side has the better balance in the long run.
    New display technologies like high resolution electronic paper will remove the bad readability, the high weight and energy consumption and probably the not-too-stellar robustness from the cons list. That leaves us with stupid licensing schemes to battle. I get the impression that more and more developers are jumping on the open hardware development train again, after that has been totally "out" for some time now. Microcontroller based this and thats spring up everywhere. And they are not left out in the cold by the software guys: Linux is running on anything from watches to gaming consoles to homebuilt mp3 players based on you-haven't-heard-of-that-one-before processors. I don't think it's too optimistic to say that should corporate marketing insist on pay-per-read, the "underground" will have an alternative ready, either in the form of selfmade machines or in the form of "debugged" firmwares for commercially available "books".
  • What good is a reference if you can't get the referenced text? There is not much difference between an out-of-print paper book and a moved website. If you really want the text, you can always ask the one who wrote it (or the publisher). You do of course need to give proper references, and that means to name much more than a URI.
  • Reading "Art of War" when waiting in line at the supermarket is not for the aggresive type of person. Kids, do not try this at the supermarket. He's a trained professional.
  • I didn't mean to say that asking the author is the best option when an online document has moved. First you should of course try to find its new location. In the scientific field, which you mentioned, there is a good chance that the document has just moved instead of having been removed. References are not locators. They are sets of information which describe the cited text in enough detail, enabling the reader to find it. Maybe people need to be educated that removing something from the web is the equivalent of recalling every unsold printed copy and almost all library copies of a book. But it is important to see that this problem is not inherent to the medium. The problem is more likely to be noticed because most of the information on the web isn't indexed and archived externally. Part of that problem is the extremely fast growing pile of information. Another part is the lack of an "official" effort to provide such an index/archive.
  • insightful?

    maybe the fact that 2000 year old digital technology doesn't exist..

    i'm pretty sure that if you stored a book in .txt format, that in a thousand years we'd be able to open it up again.. even if the .txt format is dead.. we'd be able to figure out what it originally meant by decoding it.. it'd be the equivlent to finding an old book in a long-dead language..

  • That is correct. :-)

    I think improvements in low-power display technology such as OLED's and improved battery designs may finally make electronic books a reality soon.

    I expect the ultimate ebook reader to be about the size of most trade paperback books, using the latest in flash memory storage. Imagine holding a bunch of long novels you can read anywhere without lugging around a big book or worrying about unduly-small text font size (since ebook readers can adjust font sizes for visually-impaired people).
  • that's exactly what a large portion of the referenced paper is concerned with: the changes in the privacy, ownership and control of books that are likely to be inevitable companions to the rise of the e-book.

    the author came out on a positive note, but only just...

    [having just got to the end of the paper having been snatching excerpts from it all day between bits of program design. sometimes i wish there was a forced hiatus in between the posting of a /. article and people being allowed to post replies to it. (gap proportional to size of link pointed to). then one might get some interesting replies from people who'd actually read the article in question...]

  • by Jon Erikson ( 198204 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2001 @12:55AM (#159084)

    In the race to computerize everything, we forget that the best solution is not always the most technologically advanced. I mean, we've got e-commerce, e-money and even e-toilets in Singapore! Dear Lord, what will they stick a computer in next?!

    A book is close to the ideal form for people to digest information from. It's portable, durable, and doesn't rely on the vast amount of necessary infrastructure that the net, or even just a single computer, does. Hell, in California at the moment, you'll be lucky to be able to read a book without some kind of powercut! :)

    And more to the point, people feel comfortable with books. They know where they stand. In America, where there is a very healthy streak of techno-skepticism amongst the general public, the book is what they want, not the latest fancy gadget from MIT that promises to "revolutinize" the way you read. And publishers and authors know where they stand when they produce a book - who gets paid and so on.

    No, the book is here to stay for a long time. As of yet, I have seen nothing that has any compelling reasons to change. Don't let a techno-fetish blind you to the obvious solution to such a non-problem.

  • by b0bby ( 201198 )
    Personally, I am happy reading books on my Palm. I guess I've read about 20-30 novels, mostly from, some gutenberg texts that I've converted myself. It's not what I read at home, but when I have some downtime at work or I'm travelling, or when I'm sitting in the car with a sleeping baby it's great to have a couple of books on hand. The screen could be better, but I haven't had any problems with eyestrain. Dedicated units & proprietary formats don't do it for me.

  • People seem to have the impression that it's impossible to invent the perfect machine. I disagree. Eventually, you have to get as close to perfection as is physically possible. This can't go on forever - eventually you wind up with something WORSE than what you started with. The good, old-fashioned book is right near the closest you can get to a machine being perfect. What's left now is improvements in durability.

    It's fundamentally intuitive, to use one all I have to know is how to read. If I want to let a friend borrow it, the only thing I need to know is how to operate my limbs. I don't need to learn how to command my book to transfer over to his book. What if he doesn't have his reader with him at the time? With a regular, I just hand it to him. Very quick, very painless process. Also very intuitive. I understand that letting someone borrow something by actually HANDING it to them is a truly novel concept, but after a while you get used to it.

    I keep noticing from e-book proponents one thing that stands out: They're constantly struggling to make the point that "It's just as good as a regular book!". About the only benefit they can ever quote are the ability to store a large number of books in one reader, and back-lit displays. Neither of which outweigh the fact that old-fashioned books feel better, and lack the flaws of their electronic counterparts. From a business standpoint, those advantages simply aren't enough to make e-books a successful product, especially when you consider the cost of the reader, plus the fact that publishers are unwilling to sell e-books for a lower price(it would require a MUCH lower price, we're talking $3 for the electronic version versus $30 for the paper version).

    This is like natural gas cars - something which will always be on the fringe because the benefits are insufficient. And old-fashioned books are much more popular with people than gasoline is.

  • "How many electronic devices you buy in a week?"
    Depends - this week I bought 3 :-)

    "How many books, magazines, newspaper you buy in a week? " I never buy newspapers or magazines. Books - it varies as the mood strikes. Maybe 1 or 2 a month. Depends how big they are, how much spare time I have and whether I am in the mood for reading or not. However, I never throw out any of my books, so they pose no waste disposal issues, unlike electronic equipment. Yes, I keep ALL of my books - it is nice to sometimes dip in to them from time to time. Other times, when friends are round, they might notice a book and borrow it - not as easy or likely with books purely in electronic form...

    "The idea is to have one device for a person...which will serve you for years, may a life time and more"
    And there is where your argument falls down.
    Do you seriously, for even one second, believe this will happen? I mean just look around you at the moment. People with mobile phones upgrading them all the time ( I do not know ANYONE who has a mobile phone more than 2 years old). People with PDAs upgrading them regularly - mine is 18 months old and I feel like I have the oldest one around at times!
    So it will be with electronic book readers - there will be a constant stream of newer ones coming to market, and people will keep upgrading because the "have" to have the "l;atest features / style / whatever".

    In order for the product to be a huge success, it will have to be priced as a commodity item, otherwise only small groups of people will buy it "Hell, I can by 10 years worth of books for that much, why should I buy one of those?". HOWEVER, if it is a commidoty item in price, people will treat it as such and upgrade regularly when newer flashier ones come out :-/

    Personally, I still prefer paper at the moment anyway - far more versatile, much easier to read, etc. Maybe that will change with technology, who knows, but for now, I'll stick to books (as it were).


  • I'm very surprised that this [] document was not referenced in the article. It makes a very similar point, but in a powerful and compact narrative format.
  • I own one of those 'early e-books' mentioned in the article. Specifically, I have one of the early Rocket e-Books. At least two or three other folks in my office also have them.

    One of the guys in my office used it to read children's stories to his kids. I've found it relatively handy when reading documents on a train (I can jump from book to book without having to carry all of them). And, of course, there's geek value.

    The early Rocket e-Books came with a 'publisher' that allowed you to take HTML content and turn it into e-Book content. It wasn't perfect (couldn't handle frames or tables, as well as some graphics), but was enough.

    The current generation of e-Books, as sold by NuvouMedia (sic) fail to give this option; you're stuck having to wait for whatever e-Books folks will make for you.

    Further frustrating matters, the library of free material that used to be available through was taken off-line several weeks ago, supposedly because folks were publishing copywrited material. I didn't see any copywrited material on that site, but I can't say I was keeping up with the library, either... still, all-in-all, given this evidence, I can't help but believe that the current owners of the e-Book hardware intend to perpetuate the disadvantages of the book instead of siezing the advantages of an e-Book.

    I doubt anyone here has heard of it, but if you could ever get hold of an old Hold Paperback called Guerrilla television, you'll find one of the best descriptions of the evolution of information that I've ever had the joy of reading. In it, print is described as a media of control by its very nature. In the evolution of information, control has increasingly been lost to the few to be gained by the many. Consider that Gutenburg's press took control away from priests to give to publishers (or kings, if you will). Similarly, television's centralized control has been usurped by the ubiquity of cameras. And, ultimately, the internet has given the greatest measure of control to the masses.

    If the e-Book doesn't permit the kind of freedom found with the internet (or at least approaching such), it will very likely fail.

  • When my first novel, The Narcoleptic Dialactic [] was serialized on The Baltimore Sun's web site, I was sure that my hunt for a publisher would soon be over. After a nearly 200 ding letters, I realized this was not to be. Back in 1996, the industry was much more interested in new books about cats than some unvetted bit of web fiction.

    After spending years selling Kinko's-generated copies of the book on Amzon, I decided to post the book for free [] on my web site- hoping that I might do better selling t-shirts with the logo on them than the books themselves.

    Clearly, the publishing game is changing in a way the industry itself does not understand and cannot control. With the increasing popularity of digital books, donation-supported web content, and fan fiction, publishing is becoming faster, more responsive, and much more exciting (and perhaps confusing) for consumers.

    I can only hope this means fewer books about cats in the best sellers lists.

  • by kubla2000 ( 218039 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2001 @12:15AM (#159096) Homepage
    This is quite an interesting and well written article. Indeed, given yesterday's /. posting [], there's little doubt that there will be some dramatic changes in the very near future.

    However, why is taking the printed word off dead-trees necessarly equivelant to the end of the 'printed' book?

    The process of 'printing' has changed dramatically over the years. Once, scribes copied from a master by hand. Then, Gutenberg brought the press. Then, we got automated typesetting. Then the dot-matrix printer. Then, bubble, laser and thermal. Now we're talking about 'setting' pixels on flexible digital LCD-like displays. But how is this step any different from those we've seen thus far? This is not a paradigm shift, it's the reflection of the impact of technology and innovation on a process. Just as books today aren't hand-written on parchment, books a few years down the road will not be printed on pulp.

    Also, the leading paragraph sets up a straw-man. So what that Star Trek has embedded images of paper books as rare collectors items in the public's mind? The public's mind is generally vacuous and what's been impressed upon it is no more permanent than what's been drawn on an etchasketch (sp?).
  • If you have ever read on the beach or in the park on a sunny day then you know what I mean.

    Whatever attempts to replace the printed book must be rugged enough to withstand




    Various food like substances

    Being dropped

    Time (once set in this format, readers must ever be backward compatible to it)

    Any form of physical neglect

    The humble book, and I've got a few which can testify, withstands some pretty harsh treatment, same for newspapers, which makes them very convienient, not to mention they don't run out of power (unless you want to read in the dark and don't have a light) It'll probably come to pass, but these things will probably be with us (unless we continue along the lines of the disposable society and get a new model every 9 months) for years and look like something dragged behind a jeep for a few miles.

    All your .sig are belong to us!

  • by GrandCow ( 229565 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2001 @12:31AM (#159102)
    Microsoft has produced a software product called Microsoft Reader, which turns a PC into an e-book reader, and Dick Brass, the Microsoft executive in charge of the product, is making predictions (supported by a rather flamboyant marketing videotape) that publishing will shift rapidly to electronic formats.

    Can I toss an ebook reader in my pocket without worrying about sitting on it and breaking something? With books I own, they get torn up... They're bent, torn in places, the spine is messed up. Can I do that with an ebook? What happens when the power goes out and I don't have any charge left in the tablet or whatever I'm using to view the digital text? Can I dogear parts of a digital book and go back to them by simply picking it up and opening it? Will I be able to read an ebook for hours like I can do with regular books and not have any form of eye strain?

    And I guess the most important question on my mind:

    If I like the book enough that I loan it to friends or family, will they all have to pay additional licenses or transfer fee just to read it?

    I think for now, you can count me out for electronic books


  • This was a vary interesting piece, however Lynch could have explored further the transition of human knowlege to a far more dynamic digital form as an overlay of his discussion of the demise of printed books. Lynch seems overly focused on the method of ppublication rather than the nature of the information provided.

    Human knowlege has become much less statis with the introduction of these technologies. e-books and web publishing have made it far easier to publish information, however that information, once published, is far less static. First, the content must be sponsored in perpetuity, rather than the up front cost of publication, there are continuing costs of content delivery. For this reason, knowlege has become a sponsored comodity. If an academic paper is published in digital form, it is only afailable at the whim of the sponsor who published it on the web, or provides it as an e-book. Once the author dies, or if the information is considered to be of little value when it is published, it will not be available to an audience, and will not have any static physical presence in the future. What would happen if Galileo, or Aristotle had not writen their works in printed books (and instead published it in some digital form...). Their ideas were haracy, and considered to be of no value, durring their lives, and yet today, their works are of great scientific and historical significance. Information in a digital age has become transient. If it does not reach an audience imediately, it is discarded. What will historiens find of modern thought, 1000 years from now? Will it be the fringe thinkers who expressed ideas decades ahead of their time, or will it be a plethora of popular cultural iconism... ?

    Ok, I'm done ranting, back to Lynch's paper...
    On a more humerous note, I also vary much enjoyed the introduction witch mentioned the technology known as Napster, which I guess ranks up there with the Operating System known as RedHat.


  • by Fatal0E ( 230910 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2001 @12:41AM (#159104)
    (at 4.30am no less)

    My company publishes PDF's. Me and some of the sales guys are tight and they tell me that they suspect a lot of clients are sharing their publication with the rest of their network effectively pirating our materials. We're relatively small with only about 100k readers so every buck counts. The future of secured (notice I didnt say secure) text would be of a lot of use for me and other small publishers like mine.

    Novelists IMO have nothing to worry about, no one likes to curl up to a laptop/e-book when they can't sleep. Besides, if ain't disposable for us, it ain't profitable for them.

  • In order to successfully pull off the ebook effort, they'll first have to pull a coup in changing millions of peoples habits from reading dead-tree format to reading off a computer screen (with associated annoyances: have to have power, might not work so well in sunlight, can be dropped and your $99 reading unit is broken). Probably this will require a relentless marketing campaign, although the web helps a lot, they can maybe do it in a generation for really wired countries.

    Of course, they'll have some sort of SDBI for it, but once that's cracked by a bored teenager in Toledo, all those secure books will be downloadable and swapped around with free reign. And there'll be high demand for those, because everyone will be used to reading off an lcd screen. And the industry won't see any money from it (the Grateful Dead argument for pro-copying could be made, sure, but my intuition is that since books take so much time and effort to digest compared to bootlegs played in the background of a friend's crash pad, you won't get the same results).

    Instead of an ebook initiative, from the book industry's point of view, I don't understand why they don't do everything possible to make sure people stay extremely comfortable with the quaint, warm, style of reading. They should pay big attention to cool cover art, print on the most tactile-pleasing type of paper they can find, and lace books with pheromones.

  • Also, let it cost nothing (my current paper book reader costs exactly that), let it be completely self-powered (my current paper-book reader does that - OK, I have to feed it from time to time, but it doesn't stop working just because the power supply is a bit low).

    Let it not become obsolete in the next 1000 years.
    (current paper book readers have been around at least that long, as have some of the books)

    Let the electronic books give me exactly the same freedoms as the paper editions - freedom to lend it to friends, to read it as many times as I like without paying additional fees, freedom to copy parts for reference and or research, (and the ability to copy the whole thing when allowed by copyright). Oh, and the freedom to start and stop reading it whereever I choose, without having to skip past loads of adverts first.

    Let it be as light as a single paper book, and not
    stop working if I drop it, or if it gets slightly
    wet, or if I accidentally sit on it. And if I should lose my reader, make sure that I don't lose my entire library along with it.

    When electronic books can do all that, then, and only then, will they be the equivalent of paper books - and only then will I even consider buying one. And then they'll have to have a price advantage over the paper version.

    Just let me know if it ever happens.

  • My company, a research agency, has an inhouse library. We buy books and let everyone read it. As a further service, the library staff even borrows books from other libraries, again for everyone in the company.

    What do you think, who is going to ruin whom? And who do you think will design your next copy protection scheme if R&D has died because of every single bit of thought being licensed material without any option to share it with others?

    Oh, BTW, every buck counts for us, too. To us scientists, pay per view would mean we had to fill in a form for every access to any publication, calculate the number of readings needed in a project in advance, and being unable to work if the planned amount had been spent.

    Now research is much older than your business, as are old-style publishing companies, who survived it. Did you ever consider the possibility of your business model being seriously flawed in that it relies on people who paid you to enforce your rather arbitrary do-not-look-over-my-shoulders rules?

  • Numerous people have commented on the problems with presently available hardware (display quality and lighting, breaks if you bend it, battery life). But these problems are going to be solved within a few years. A quite likely replacement is "electronic paper", discussed yesterday [] on /. This is apparently close to giving you the same contrast under ambient light as ink on paper. It should eventually be possible to make it flexible (sharp creases would break electrodes and pigment capsules, but gentle bends should be OK). It doesn't require power to hold a picture, just to erase and write. It does have the disadvantage for many computing applications of being very slow to change (about 1/2 second to rewrite the entire display), but for reading it sounds ideal. And the slow display speed means a slow, tiny, low-powered CPU board would do just fine.

    The other question is how the text is distributed and stored. Until we get a dramatic cost decrease in solid-state storage, that's probably going involve CD's or something similar. Three inch CD's would hold any book, and allow a drive (including batteries and tiny CPU board) that measures about 3.5 x 5 x 1 inch. That is just a bit large for "pocket size", but you could clip it on your belt with a wire to the flexible e-paper display. I think first we'll see a paperback-sized unit with the (inflexible) e-paper on the top cover; this would allow the larger batteries or AC supply you would need to download books and write them to CD-R/RW.
  • by markmoss ( 301064 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2001 @08:47AM (#159117)
    E-books _could_ have several real advantages:

    1. Cost: Stamping a CD costs a few cents, less than the cost of shipping it by US mail. Downloading it (if available on-line) and burning your own CD also costs less than a dollar. Printing, binding, and shipping a book costs a few dollars. (Authors only get about 10% of the cover price, the rest is expenses, advertising, and profit to the publisher and bookstore.) Of course, you also have to figure the cost of the reader--but in 20 years that should be about $10.

    2. Availability of unusual editions: Specialized books such as college texts often cost around $100 if you can get them at all; a large part of that is the cost to the printer of setting up for a short run, and to the stores of storing less-popular books. On-line, these could be distributed at the cost of download & burn, plus maybe a couple of dollars for the author. Writing stuff like this is motivated more by "professional standing" (ego?) than by financial considerations, so the authors might be happy to give their book away if they know no one else is going to make money off of it. And once a book is on-line, it costs nothing to keep it there even if only one person a year downloads it.

    3. Searching. In any electronic text format, you are no longer dependent on the author to anticipate what you want to look up and put it in the index.

    4. Readers for the blind.

    5. Storage space: I've got a whole room overflowing with printed books. A stack of CD's would be much tidier--and I suspect the cheap paper on a lot of those books is not going to last as long as a good CD-R.

    Against this, of course there are several obvious disadvantages: battery or power cord, less portability, and (for at least a few more years) lower readability. But if with e-books I can find more books meeting my particular tastes and spend less....
  • A paper on the death of print media? Why not just have web news story [] on the survival of newsprint dailies?
  • by BIGJIMSLATE ( 314762 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2001 @12:16AM (#159120)
    This makes me wonder though.

    Are the environmental hazards of disposing an obsolete electronic device (such as a laptop, a palm, or an ebook) equal to, or greater to that of the loss of a few dozens of trees to produce the paperback books?

    I'm all for doing most things to help the environment, but with computers filling up landfills at record numbers, along with the toxic chemicals that they and their monitors contain, it makes me wonder if the ebook is really an environmental solution, since that would just cause consumers to purchase more electronic devices to use them on. Which ALSO implies that they'll junk the product in about 4 or 5 years for a "better" model.

    Tress grow back. Lead stays in the water.
  • by zauber ( 321909 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2001 @12:17AM (#159124) Journal

    This is a great overview, and it goes in some interesting directions. I think it is right to look at the copyright issues as being of primary interest. (Multimedia books: yeah, in limited instances. In most cases, narrative text is still the way to go!)

    There is a model, still prevalent in IT, of giving away the razor (hardware) and making money on the blades (software/content). The early stages of radio took the opposite approach: commercial-free radio was supported by the manufacturers of the radio sets.

    Hardware is never going to be free, but I think we need to make content free. MIT's efforts to open up course materials are a good step in this direction. There really isn't a good middle ground. We need to recognize that any limits to copying screw things up. And we need to fight to un-screw them.

    We need to do what with books what has already happened with genetic foods and with music. We need to scan and release as many books as possible in order to make it a technological imperative. We need to push the genie out of the bottle.

  • This reminds me of one of my co-worker, who was against using the PC for customer order maintanance. His argument was "Can I add comments to an entry using a pencil?" "Can I access any entry just by turning a few pages?" "Can I carry it to meetings with customers? "What about when I travel?"

    This was a few years back. Today with the availability of PDAs he can do almost everything he wanted. The issue is not the idea itself, but the format in which it is available now.

    Just imagine a device which is as big as a paper back novel of present time, which can hold a few hundred titles in it and display the text with the printed quality of today's books? Let it come with an idiot proof outer cover!

    Even today's e-book readers have the option to mark where you left reading and go back to it at a latter time. If I recall correct, you have the option of picking from any page, furthest read page, last read page etc

    You want to lent it to someone? One solution will be to connect your reader to their's ---SWISH ---the copy of the book your are lending goes through to your friend's machine and your machine loses the copy. It is a move rather than a copy action. When your friend is finished you move it back into your reader. Pretty close to what you have with the print books! eh?

    Eye strain? When there were no books, and knowledge were transmitted orally you never strained your eyes by reading, and I am sure one of the argument against the first written word would have been the eye strain! :-) Be open to new ideas! Come on!!

    Look at the millions of inventory in each book store, consider the amount of paper each avid reader is holding, e-book will be a great leap forward for man kind in terms of dissemination of knowledge in the most efficient form.

    If you further read in the article, it talks about books talking to each other (reminds one of MS "smart tags" :-). I would love that feature. When you read 'A Brief history of Time" you can flip into parts of John Gribbin's "In Search of Schroedinger's Cat". Will be really cool!!

    In my opinion, what we need is a good medium and format for accessing e-books and it is a matter of years before we can all enjoy the ultimate reading pleasure.

    PS: I really think that the original poster read till the Microsoft part and posted his comment! It is a pretty lengthy article. To read and digest it will take the best part of an hour. I am one quarter of the way into it :-)

  • There are certain things that E-Books will have to do before I'll even consider touching one:
    - Can you throw one you don't want to read again at a noisy cat?
    - Can you use one of your collection to prop up the desk, while still being able to read all the others?
    - Can you rip pages out and use them during a toilet paper shortage?
    - Can you impress strangers with shelves and shelves of them?
    - Can you drop them in the bath tub and have them emerge an unreadable glob of pulp?
    - With a collection of several hundred, can you light them on fire to keep yourself warm for a few days?
    - Will a library with the same number of them still be heavy enough that it's foundation doesn't begin to rise and destabilize?

    Where these narrow-minded technocrats fail is in focusing on the words contained within the books. This is obviously ridiculous, as books spend 99.95% of the time with nobody looking at the words in them, and any one word spends 99.99995% of the time not being looked at. This means the words play an insignificantly small role in the use of a book, more a rationalization of why to keep the book around than a real rational reason.

    Let's be reasonable, here. The only way for E-Books to succeed is to give up on the content, and concentrate on duplicating the physical existence of paper books. While simple enough to do, I can't see these eggheads ever recognizing the obvious necessity.
  • by Ubi_UK ( 451829 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2001 @12:47AM (#159134)
    I can still read paper written on 2000 years ago. Try and do that with *any* digital technology...

The absent ones are always at fault.