eBooks Return (again)

In a October 27th entry on Dave Mainwaring’s Publishers’ SIG at www.printplanet.com/scripts/lyris.pl?enter=publishers-sig, someone named Chet Ensign wrote: “I have just read the press release at
Editions.html for Adobe’s beta release of Digital Editions. It is an eBook reader that uses PDF, XHTML, Flash and includes digital rights management support, subscriptions, ads, etc.
He continues: “I have not seen anything like a groundswell of excitement in publishing around eBooks so I don’t see this as a major development. In a review on ZDNet, Ryan Stewart wrote: “Users have been slow to take to eReader solutions, but I think technologies like the New York Times reader and Digital Editions are going to change that.” I don’t agree. I think people are not adopting ereaders because they add nothing new; they still just move print to the screen – where I personally just turn around and reprint so that I can read it in print.
“What do others think? Is there more excitement around eBooks than I have been seeing?”
I wonder the same thing…
Somehow I think iPod when I read in Adobe PR of the new software:
“With native support for Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) as well as an XHTML-based reflow-centric publication format, Digital Editions delivers an engaging way to acquire, read, and manage content, including eBooks, digital magazines, digital newspapers and other digital publications. Initially available as a free public beta for Windows®, Digital Editions will support Macintosh systems as a universal binary application, Linux® platforms, as well as mobile phones and other embedded devices in future versions.”
I’ve always thought that the big problem with eBooks was/is the name, with the implicit connotation that we should be reading lightweight paperbacks on heavy digital readers… I now refer to ‘e-content’ rather than e-books. There’s a lot of digital information — most of it much shorter than book-length — that makes more sense to be consumed digitally than it does to be printed before consumption.
Somehow I also think about pending competition between Adobe and Microsoft on file formats, the long rumored battle of the PDF versus the XPS (although Wikipedia informs us: “XPS is viewed as a potential competitor to Adobe’s portable document format (PDF). XPS, however, is a static document format that does not include dynamic capabilities similar to those of PDF.”)
Microsoft doesn’t seem too hot on eBooks right now. Microsoft Reader was last updated in November, 2002 (the Tablet edition), although I was surprised to find today on the MSoft website: “Microsoft Reader Catalog of eBooks: search over 30000 free and retail ebooks, with direct links to downloading free content and samples…www.mslit.com/default.asp?mjr=FRE
However, looking more closely at the site, one finds that most of the eBooks are for sale, not free at all.
The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF, formerly the Open eBook Forum), the trade organization that speaks for the eBook “industry” (if that is not too grand a term) reported earlier this year that eBook sales increased 23% in 2005. Not bad, until one realizes that this represents under $12 million in revenue, and that unit sales were flat. As in all things digital, the result led publishers to increase title output by 20%, year over year.
The Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia Library does offer 2100 free eBooks (old titles, out of copyright — http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/ebooks/)
Still, it turns out I hadn’t bothered installing Reader on this 6-month-old computer — I’m doing it now — to find out if I get any more pleasure out of reading Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities on a computer now than I did (not) four years ago (http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/ebooks/lit/DicTale.lit).
As my friend Crad Kilodney once wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, it was a Monday.

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