Electronic books aren't particularly
new. People have been using their computers to read them for about as long
as personal computers have been available. The only problem with
using a desktop computer to read a book is that it's a bit of an
unwieldy process. You can't take the e-book with you without printing
the entire book or taking the whole computer along.
Starting in the early 1990s, various
companies have tried to make reading e-books easier by developing and
marketing portable e-book readers. Most of these devices haven't
fared well because of several inherent disadvantages: small screen
size, mediocre display quality, and poor battery life.
Laptops, tablet computers and some
Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) solve some of the problems by
offering bigger and better displays with advanced text rendering and
graphics capabilities, but at the cost of so-so battery life,
washed-out displays under bright light, and eyestrain from glare in
By comparison, e-ink displays are thin
and light. And unlike conventional LCD displays which use phosphor
technology, they use ink that responds to an
electrical charge in order to print text and graphics on the display.
As a result, e-ink displays offer very low power consumption, wider viewing angles, crisp
text in bright light, and few of the disadvantages of laptop or
tablet computer displays.
E-ink Makes a Splash
In the late 1990s, E-Ink Corporation of
Cambridge, Massachusetts began work on electronic paper displays. In
2004, they produced the world's first functional e-ink display
screen, It would prove to be invaluable to manufacturers seeking to
create portable document storage and display solutions.
In 2005, Sony started marketing its
Librié e-book reader, the first commercially available e-reader to
use an E-Ink display. The device never found its way to North America
or Europe, but remained in Japan as a 'home-market' item.
the Librié was replaced by the PRS-500, which offered a bigger
display and more memory.
Sony might have been first to pioneer a
marketable e-reader using E-Ink technology, but it wasn't the only
one entering the field.
In the same year that the PRS-500 surfaced,
Jinke Electronics of China introduced an e-book reader of its own.
US-based Amazon followed suit with its Kindle reader in 2007.
The entry of Amazon and Sony into the
e-book reader market has sparked considerable interest in both
consumers and manufacturers. As of this writing, Sony has sold
300,000 of its new PRS-300 Pocket Reader devices. In addition, there
are now ten e-reader manufacturers competing for top spot in the e-reader
market, with more expected to enter the fray in 2010.
In fact, e-readers are selling so well that retailers are expecting them to be among the hottest-selling items this Christmas and one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal retail sector. One employee of a Sony Store even admitted that he could “barely keep them in stock”, even though the Christmas shopping season is still several weeks away.
So why the huge interest in e-readers
and e-books? Why read books using an e-reader, when plain old paper
books don't need batteries and would do just as well? Are e-book
readers just a fad? And what does the rise of the e-book reader mean for the future of reading? Are we on the verge of a revolution?
Why Buy an E-book Reader?
On their own, features like light weight and displays
that are easier on the eyes aren't compelling enough to make people
buy an e-book reader, which can cost several hundred dollars.
However, what does make the proposition more worthwhile is the fact
that most e-readers can store hundreds of books. Many people,
particularly students, can now have a well-stocked library and take
it virtually anywhere without the bulk or weight of conventional
Book publishers will find themselves
able to generate rapid and easy updates without needing to print a
new run of books. Conceivably, they could even be able to offer
several updates a year instead of once annually. As a result,
textbooks and other similar reference documents could be kept
Some of the more expensive and sophisticated e-readers like the iRex Technologies' 1000, offer the ability to make handwritten annotations on any page of a digital document and even create separate notes. Also available is a search function that permits quick location of a specific passage, something that's not easily done with a traditional book
The iRex 1000 has a 10.2-inch screen
and the capacity to display newspapers, complete with photos and
Through services like PressReader, users of the iRex
1000 and other e-readers can download and read digital versions of their favorite newspapers.
Considering the waste involved in
producing and disposing of traditional newspapers and books,
e-readers appear to make good environmental sense. The world's
forests are quickly shrinking and progressively less able to meet the
increasing demand for paper, even with good forest management
It's not yet clear whether e-readers will ultimately prove to be better for the environment, though. Paper is easy to recycle with little environmental fallout. By the same token, the materials used in making e-readers are somewhat more costly and complicated to recycle.
Perhaps the biggest potential benefit of using an e-reader is convenience. Soon, you will be able to buy
(or borrow) the latest bestseller without having to drive anywhere,
pay for parking, or waste time trying to hunt down the book you're after. Public libraries are also getting in on the act by
offering patrons downloadable e-books. When the lending period expires, your ability to access the book stops, too.
A few of the newest e-readers even have built-in WiFi or 3G capabilities, meaning you'll even be able to download e-books while near a WiFi hotspot or through your cell phone service. Books will come to you, rather than you having to come to the books. The end result will be small but meaningful savings in time, money, and energy.The Future of Books
One major drawback of e-books is their
impermanence. With proper care, traditional books can last decades or even
hundreds of years. On the other hand, data storage media like flash
memory and CD-ROM discs have a finite lifespan, as do the devices
used to retrieve the data. Without some reasonably secure and
long-lived means of archiving e-books and other digital documents,
future generations may be deprived of important historical knowledge.
Despite the potential of e-books, traditional books are not likely to completely disappear. They will still have a place, most likely as works of art or as specialty items that deliver visual information in ways that e-readers cannot. However, it seems certain that fewer of them will be printed as the e-book revolution continues apace and changes the way we publish, distribute, and read books.E-Reader Resources:
E-Ink Corporation: http://www.eink.com/
Free E-books from Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org
iRex Technologies: http://www.irextechnologies.com/
Jinke Electronics: http://www.jinke.com.cn/Compagesql/English/index.asp