E-BOOKS: Will E-Books Make Paper Ones Obsolete?

Imagine nestling into a comfortable chair with a brand-new
electronic book lying in your lap. You read the text at your own pace as the
words move languidly across or up and down the page. The slow pacing becomes
more intense. The words move more quickly. The tension grows.

Suddenly, a scream. It startles you, but you quickly realize
that it came from your e-book’s stereo speakers. Relieved, you read on,
sufficiently frightened as you enjoy the thriller novel written by your favorite
horror writer.

This could be the future of reading. We got our first hint
just a couple of weeks ago. Stephen King fans crashed Web sites around the world
when they tried to download his latest work, "Riding the Bullet".

Replacement or addition?

The first shot in what I call the mini-publishing revolution
has now been fired. And I don’t think either artists or consumers will ever be
the same.

As the Internet emerged as a provider of news and
information, it sent shudders through the old-fashioned news media that publish
on paper. Some pundits predicted that the abundance of Web sites would drive a
stake into the heart of the slower, static newspapers and magazines.

But that hasn’t happened. News-based Web sites didn’t
replace newspapers. Instead, they complemented and enhanced what the old-style
medium offered. What couldn’t be provided to the reader because of space or
time constraints could now be provided through an Internet site. Such things as
video, links that provide further information, chat areas and other rich
experiences significantly enhance the information experience for site viewers.

Just as the Internet became an additional way for us to read
for news, I predict a similar change in the way we read for enjoyment. E-books
will enhance the reading experience in a way that may satisfy all tastes.

Now hear this

Skeptical? Then consider that books have already undergone a
multimedia transformation–of sorts.

A few years back, someone came up with the idea of audio
books. Today, they are a multibillion-dollar industry. Audio books now
constitute their own category in bookstores, and doing the voice parts has been
a prestigious assignment for more and more prominent actors.

Where we once could enjoy books only if we sat still and
looked down, audio books allow us to "read" while driving or riding
with our eyes closed. They did not, however, replace the old-fashioned eyeball

In the same way, the truer multimedia experience of e-books
will converge nicely with plain old reading in the publishing industry someday.

Companies have begun to produce "e-book readers"
such as Glassbook, Everybook, Rocket eBook and SoftBook. These are small devices
that weigh a few pounds and are about the size of a small cereal box. Text is
downloaded into the machines, and the reader uses a scrolling device to read the
text. Pages flip in a similar way to regular hardcover reading.

Technical advantages

I sometimes have problems with larger books. The outside
cover, while beautifully illustrating the novel, sometimes slides up when I’m
reading, making the cover become dog-eared. As well, when I am at the beginning
or the end of a book that is hundreds of pages long, it is sometimes tedious
when I am struggling to hold back hundreds of printed pages.

The key components of the Web will offer readers a much
richer experience. Imagine struggling with a word of whose meaning you are not
sure. Simply click it with a pointing device or your finger, and instantly a
definition will appear.

What if you are reading about a character and forget who they
are? A simple click would provide you with a review of what the author has told
you about the character.

Another click could display a drawing of what the character
might look like. For those who simply want to experience the richness of the
writer’s words, you don’t have to click.

For younger readers, or those who have trouble reading,
e-books can offer a way to help teach literacy.

As the audio book phenomenon has shown, some like to have a
long work read to them. For beginning readers, imagine the value of watching the
words light up as an mellifluous voice rolls across the words. With the power of
computerized books, this voice can be modified by being stopped, slowed down or
even the pitch changed to suit the user.

Economic advantages

As many benefits as the e-book could provide for the reader,
there are more important advantages for the writer.

Remember that King’s "Riding the Bullet" was just
a 66-page novella. For publishers of smaller, shorter works than novels, the
e-book format makes it more economically viable to publish a short piece.

When was the last time you read a long essay on a topic?
Generally, you have to pay for a thick, scholarly magazine, from which you might
enjoy only one piece. The economic reality demands that you have to buy an
entire magazine.

Choose your price

Today, such sites as mighty words.com provide many fine
examples of mini-publishing. Short and long essays are available, as well as
short and long pieces of fiction.

And each one is available for a "mini" price.

The consumer is offered a choice because he doesn’t have to
fork out $10, $20 or more just because a short piece by a favorite writer exists
among many other works in a large volume.

Eventually, publishers of music and the written word will be
offering more mini-works. That is when true choice will be available to all.

is senior news editor
for Global Television Network’s Globaltv.com sites. Copyright 2000, www.TheKansasCityChannel.com
and Internet Broadcasting Systems
Reprinted with permission


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