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When Will E-Books Become Mainstream? 350

An anonymous reader writes "IBM developerWorks is running an interesting article dicussing the difficulties faced by e-books and what it might take to help them to 'break out'. What are some other ways to give books a 21st-century facelift?"
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When Will E-Books Become Mainstream?

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  • by ctishman ( 545856 ) <(ctishman) (at) (mac.com)> on Saturday September 17, 2005 @03:01PM (#13585923)
    When you can roll them up and stick them in a back pocket. When you can sit for six hours under a tree somewhere reading it and not worry about your battery. When you can browse them in a store and load them onto your reader without worrying about multiple formats. In short, when they're as easy to read, carry, buy and keep as a paperback book, and not until.
    • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Saturday September 17, 2005 @03:04PM (#13585940) Homepage
      It'd also help if they were cheap (the cost of the book minus the cost of materials, shipping, etc.) and you could still lend them to a friend without lending your actual device and/or account (i.e. no/loose DRM)
      • Never? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Saeed al-Sahaf ( 665390 ) on Saturday September 17, 2005 @03:14PM (#13585994) Homepage
        But that's what the $500 reader you have to haul around and babysit is for.

        Hmm, adding to the above list, when you can forget your ebook at a bus stop / park bench / other location, and not worry about it because it only cost you $10 (or less). In other words, not for a long, long time.

        • by PhYrE2k2 ( 806396 ) on Saturday September 17, 2005 @04:45PM (#13586428)
          Hmm, adding to the above list, when you can forget your ebook at a bus stop / park bench / other location, and not worry about it because it only cost you $10 (or less). In other words, not for a long, long time.

          Well here becomes the issue- Why is this so? Think about the actual cost to develop and produce a very simple device that will display text. Forget crazy postscript formats. Plain text in a screen about five inches high by three across just like a real book. A couple hardware buttons for forward/back (with an ability to scroll like anything) and oh.... 16-32MB of onboard Flash memory. A display doesn't need to be backlit, as those $5 handheld video games (back when I was a kid...) that run on a couple AA's work very nicely.

          So maybe we're all overthinking this. We assume an e-book reader needs to cost hundreds of dollars and be rather complicated. We assume it needs to be backlit and hold hundreds of books. Make them $20-$25 devides with a prev/next button that displays only text in an easy-to-read font adn we're set.

          Think about it- Is this something that consumers are driving or manufacturers. Consumers don't need colour displays and touchscreens on their reader. That's why they're heavy. They need plain text input documents and to have a small device with a low-power processor (my XT (8086) and WordPerfect used to run circles around any modern 'tablet'-style e-book reader)- none of this PDF stuff.

          So there's my comment on the reader. Now the other thing to ask is do 99.99% of consumers want e-books or is it publishers who want to save the coin and cut out the middle-man?

          • As for power, make the flip side of the reader a solar cell panel. When the batteries run low, just flip it over for a couple of hours in bright light, and you're up to full power again.

            Calculators have been photovoltaic for years, so there's no reason why an ebbok couldn't be.

            As for backlighting an LED. Why not do the Viewmaster trick? Instead of a battery powered light source, why not make the back of the unit transparent? That way, you could simply hold it up, and any ambient room or outdoor light could
          • This is backwards. Part of the problem, from my perspective, is that people DON'T want yet another special-purpose battery-powered device to lug around. I think they'll become available when Apple enables the iBook store and they're readable on the new 3x5" multiMediaPod. (books, music, audiobooks, videos on one device)

            And to answer another question, I want them. I want to be able to lug my entire library in my back pocket. I move and travel constantly, and physical books are a pain...

          • I'm a consumer who doesn't want ebooks. Like basically every "e" thing it's removing the "feeling and soul" (for want of a more concrete concept) of owning a book. Why do people buy books when they can borrow them from a library for free already? Because there's a lot of emotion connected with actually owning and feeling a book that runs far beyond the information held within it.

            I'd like to liken it to e-mail. When you recieve a hand written letter from someone you get a piece of paper that they have touc

        • Re:Never? (Score:3, Interesting)

          All the earlier observations in this thread are correct.

          Really, the only reasons for electronic books (not e-books specifically) are the reasons software vendors offer them as free downloads: to reduce expense and speed up delivery. It makes sense for me to download the manual for a piece of hardware, or download developer documentation from Oracle. It's free, and it saves me the trouble of lugging a lot of heavy books.

          For smaller books, fiction or books I'll want to read away from my computer, the advantag
          • Re: Never? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by gidds ( 56397 ) <slashdot@nOSpAm.gidds.me.uk> on Saturday September 17, 2005 @06:32PM (#13586909) Homepage
            Aha, the old Slashdot I-am-the-world argument...

            Yes, I'm quite sure that Ebooks in their present form aren't suitable for you. But how can you assume that everyone has the same needs, restrictions, and requirements as you?

            I, for example, have been reading much more off the screen of my 5mx than off paper for the last few years. In terms of convenience, for me, it beats paper hands down -- my 5mx lives in my trouser pocket, whereas paperbacks would have to be carried separately. I find the screen comfortable enough to read from, and my CF card holds the equivalent of about 3 bookcases full, so I'm unlikely to have read it all in the near future. I don't have to worry about bookmarks, and the backlight means I can read in bed with the lights off. Battery life isn't a problem -- even with the heavy use mine gets, a pair of AAs lasts 20-30 hours (probably more if I was only using it to read books). I can search, and cut'n'paste the text. I can even edit it (e.g. anglicising the spelling).

            Of course, most people don't carry such a gadget around with them, so this method wouldn't apply to them; but it works very well for me, thank you.

    • DRM. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by matt me ( 850665 )
      Only when you can write notes and deface them. When they're not copy-protected, for sure. When you can lend them to your friends.

      When you can publish material without censorship.
      http://www.musicfanclubs.org/rage/pictures/imagery /19.jpg [musicfanclubs.org]
      • Re:DRM. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by NanoGator ( 522640 )
        "Only when you can write notes and deface them. When they're not copy-protected, for sure. When you can lend them to your friends."

        Wow, I can't believe the lists of demands. It's like a hostage negotiation, heh.

        Several years ago, I had a PocketPC. I downloaded a couple of e-books and found the experience quite enjoyable. The display and form factor were nice. It was so nice that I could hold the unit in one hand instead of using both to force it to stay open. The scroll wheel made page turning nice and
    • I agree, personally I think the biggest thing prevent alot of e only stuff is the format of the files. When people feel in ten years the files will still be readable is when the first-world will start the true paperless office untill then we just created a faster way to copy lots of infomation fast onto paper.
    • A few things will make the ebook rocket off:

      First, display must be non-powered. That OLCD stuff already makes this possible. Either that or the plastic paper that was recently demo'ed.

      Second, the battery must be long lasting. Lithium ion batteries will do the job.

      The killer is going to be storage, of course, and DRM.

      As mentioned if at least one other comment, one must be permitted to lend the "book" to a friend. Whether this means a one-off license that is part of an "uncopyable" file that transfers to the
      • But would book publishers be more willing to adopt the system than music publishers?

        DRM is perhaps the biggest issue here, since technology alone won't solve it.

        Almost nobody will want to publish without DRM and even then they'll be afraid the DRM scheme will be broken.
      • I mostly agree with you. A couple of things though.

        There is no need to have kiosks selling ram cards. Your book would have internet access, or at least a bluetooth connection to your mobile phone so you could buy them online from an itunes style interface.

        Secondly, it isn't a case of getting the finance to launch it. You have to persuade the book publishers that it is a good idea and that it wouldn't lead to rampant so called "piracy" that would destroy their business. At least one of them, Warner Publi
        • ofc if ebook reader technology became commonly availible i think its likely the publishing industry will have problems with people "sharing" copies of ebooks just as they do with music.

          afaict the main thing that controls book piracy atm is its a pain to actually make a copy of a book especially if you wan't it bound properly so people only bother copying things like textbooks which are far more expensive than most mass market books for the same size of book.

          • i should clarify that by ebook reader technology i mean technology that lets you treat an ebook like a paper book, carry it arround read it anywhere curl up in bed with it withhout worrying too much about damaging it etc.

            reading on a PC or laptop is just about acceptable but has major power and portablity issues and the current generation of pdas look pretty horrible for trying to actually read a book.
      • Here's the book publishers' terror:

        You, with your Apple iLibro, are reading the seventh book of the Harry Potter trilogy.

        Here comes your wide-eyed nephew. "Can I read it, please please please?" He's holding up his iLibro eagerly.

        "Sure", you say. Smiling, you tap on the "share me!" tab on the top of the iLibro's screen. Nephew's iLibro acks and receives the book in four seconds. MEEP.

        Nephew flops down on the grass, eagerly reading his new copy of HP.

        I've just made a publisher's heart skip four beats with th
    • Very well put. And I will add: when I can read them confortably in bed and not worry if I fall asleep on top of them.

      When you can use them with an indirect source of light. Having a screen next to your face as the only light source can put a pretty heavy strain in your eyes.
    • by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Saturday September 17, 2005 @05:22PM (#13586586) Homepage
      You're reading this, aren't you?

      If the internet is competing with television in terms of total amount of time people spend recreationally, and the internet is mostly text, then the electronic text on the internet is utterly stomping traditional books in terms of total reader time.

      I don't think e-books are going to take off to be anything other than niche. Why would people replace their books with the same thing, but digital? Long established technologies don't get overthrown by slight improvements, but radical departures. A three inch by four inch by one inch square can provide 40 or 50 hours of entertainment... why replace that with the an expensive, multi-step gizmo that provides functionally the same thing? That being said, people would accept their books being replaced by something different. That something different would appear to be the compellingness of news.bbc.co.uk, or slashdot, or any number of interesting sites and online texts. People are probably going to get wireless web-enabled phones, PDA's, and Palmtops, and will do a lot of reading through these devices, but they won't look like an electronic book any more than a PC resembles an electronic film projector.

  • When? (Score:2, Insightful)

    When will ebooks become mainstream?

    Publishers will more quickly adopt ebooks once someone can not find almost every ebook ever released by forming a proper ebook google search. [tech-recipes.com]

    If ebooks are copied this easily without punishment, publishers have no reason to push forward.

    Is DRM the answer? (Well, I can't even suggest that on slashdot, can I?)

    I buy programming books like candy. I've noticed that recently the quality of the printed texts are going way, way down. More errors in code, more misspellings, cheap
    • Re:When? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Saturday September 17, 2005 @03:08PM (#13585968) Homepage Journal
      I had noticed a few bugs in the code in a PHP book that I owned and discovered that there was no way to report them. The published errata list didn't list those flaws.

      One problem I have with ebooks is that publishers want to take all the benefits and push all the negatives on the user, pretty much by cost-shifting to the user.

      eBooks require proprietary programs or proprietary hardware, which the user is required to use.

      Publishers get away from the costs having to print, package, store and distribute paper, they cut out the middle man of distributors and book sellers and yet, they still often charged 90% the cost of the paper book, and the cost of reading the ebook in a portable fashion is high, one has to own and use a laptop. Laptops still have run time issues, books don't.
    • Re:When? (Score:3, Interesting)

      I think a huge factor is generational. My nephew is nine, and even he prefers reading paper books to ebooks on my IPAQ.

      Books are integral to human learning and we're extremely familiar with them; our earliest memories have books in them.

      When we start reading bedtime stories to our nieces and nephews from tablets and electronic paper, then children will grow up knowing that as the way to be.

      Because children growing up now are still being taught from and are used to reading books, it's going to take a long t
    • Is DRM the answer?

      No. Perfect DRM is a mathematical impossibility. Imperfect DRM will be cracked, eventually, if enough people care about it. It only needs to be cracked once and it is then nearly useless.

      I buy programming books like candy. I've noticed that recently the quality of the printed texts are going way, way down. More errors in code, more misspellings, cheaper paper, etc.

      I don't think quality is declining -- your standards are improving. I recently reread a few of the C / C++ programming books
      • That's nothing. In first year university we got a Java course in which we used non-standard libraries in order to display a gui which we could used to get input, using simple function calls. The result, in second year, none of us knew how to do input or output in Java. I've seen this same kind of thing at other universities too. They seem to think that system.in and system.out are too hard of concepts to grasp. They cut out the most important part of Java, which is the very powerful API. Why would th
        • what university course was this? CS? some kind of engineering?

          i'm studying electronic systems engineering and the blunt fact is most of the students have either never programmed in anything before or have only a very primitive knowlage of VB and nothing else. The last thing they wan't to do is have to teach the complexities of input in java before they teach basic programming.

          btw at my university they used a non-standard input unit to simplify input but it wasn't gui. They also used an IDE known as bluej wh
  • Personally? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LordOfYourPants ( 145342 ) on Saturday September 17, 2005 @03:02PM (#13585931)
    I'll start buying E-books when the price of mainstream ones is substantially lower than their physical counterparts. Why bother taking risks with proprietary readers and formats when I know my trusty hardcover -- short of disaster -- will be readable 75 years from now?

    On top of that, reading in front of a monitor at this point in time is not enjoyable. Maybe (hopefully) e-paper will change that.

    For me, when I first heard about E-books I immediately thought "no cost of shipping, no middleman warehouse distribution, no physical cost to print/bind, no brick and mortar store paying electricity, rent, stocking risky books at a premium, they'll be dirt cheap!" I was wrong.
    • Re:Personally? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by earnest murderer ( 888716 ) on Saturday September 17, 2005 @03:48PM (#13586149)
      For me, when I first heard about E-books I immediately thought "no cost of shipping, no middleman warehouse distribution, no physical cost to print/bind, no brick and mortar store paying electricity, rent, stocking risky books at a premium, they'll be dirt cheap!" I was wrong.

      That's because the publisher looked at those exact same issues and said "I'll be rich"!
    • Most books are printed on wood pulp paper. Wood pulp paper is slightly acid (the process uses sulphur dioxide) so the book will start to crumble appart after a few years of usage, I'm not quite sure how quickly they degrade, but from some experience 75 years seems to be pushing it. (I've had books a lot younger fall appart like they were moth eaten).

      Older books (pre UN drug treaty) were printed on hemp paper and can last hundreds of years without too many problems.

      • I have a number of 100+ year old books. Most of them are printed on good quality paper made from recycled rags (linnen, hemp, cotton, etc). They will likely last another few hundred years. My father has an autographed copy of Sir William Ramsey's "The Gasses of the Atmosphere" (I think that is the title) which must be close to 100 years old. The paper of these books is very distinctive. You can feel the difference.

        Even good quality (acid-free) wood pulp paper will last for this long. However, the qual
    • You weren't worng (Score:2, Informative)

      by Uukrul ( 835197 )

      On top of that, reading in front of a monitor at this point in time is not enjoyable.

      New devices as Nokia 770 [nokia770.com] can make read more enjoyable with good 800x600 screens. ePaper may be the future, but not the present.

      "no cost of shipping, no middleman warehouse distribution, no physical cost to print/bind, no brick and mortar store paying electricity, rent, stocking risky books at a premium, they'll be dirt cheap!" I was wrong.

      You can't say that on slashdot!
      You have a lot of free (as in beer, as in speech

  • Frankly, the feel of actually holding a book one's hand, being able to carry it around, pick it up and put it down at leisure, is a lot of what makes books worth reading. Additionally, not having to worry about whether it will actually "work" (let alone trouble from any kind of protection that might prevent you from accessing it short of the language its written in), just makes books a no brainer. There's just something pleasant about having a stack of books (not to mention its easier on the eyes to have pa
  • real books require no power, are cheap, have excellent contrast, great form factor, are durable, and last a long time

    why do we even need e-books?

    seriously, i'm no luddite, i just fail to see any compelling reason to replace something that isn't broken
    • One word. Trees.
    • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <richardpriceNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday September 17, 2005 @03:13PM (#13585989)
      I thought this - why do we need them? Im a huge reader, buying 6 or 7 new books from amazon every month and a huge library at home anyway. Then I discovered ebooks - 90% of my library was available in ebook format, the vast majority of what I wanted was on sale at ereader.com so I switched what I read most frequently over to ebooks, bought new stuff as ebooks, got a cheap ipaq as the reader and never looked back. I save roughly 30% on each new purchase, save loads of space on my shelves, and have instant delivery of the product.

      I recently went on holiday, and usually I take 5 or 6 books for a 2 week period, and thats rarely enough. This way I was able to take 200 or 300 books, and save on my airline baggage allowance.

      Will ebooks replace books? Maybe not for the vast majority of the public, but for me, tehy pretty much already have.
      • I have a palm Tungsten E and I love reading E-Books on it.

        With the press of a button I can be back where I was, I can turn pages with one hand so I can hold onto the subway, it glows in the dark if I want (Also useful to find way to the washroom at night).

        I can read about 50% of a book on one charge (Li-Ion no usb charge)

        Before that I had a Palm IIIxe not the greatest but available for $15-30 bucks and can read two books on 2 AA batteries.

        I have an increadible selection with me wherever I go and sin
      • One thing to add to this, my iPod allowed me to take my entire music collection on holiday without having to guess at what I would want to listen to before I went. My iPaq and ebooks have allowed me to do exactly the same with my reading material, so I dont have to limit myself to a preselected range, I can decide when I finish a book. When I go on holiday I take my entire music and reading collections - THAT is what technology is about.
    • The main advantage of e-books over dead tree books is similar to that of paper books over the (more durable) parchment ones: they are much easier (and cheaper) to produce, and also much easier to propagate -- at least in theory (in practice, it seems that we're still not quite "there" yet).
    • by aktzin ( 882293 ) on Saturday September 17, 2005 @03:16PM (#13586016)
      I agree with you that paper books are great as they are. Also the concern about paper is somewhat reduced by the re-planting of trees by lumber/paper companies. But in the "would be nice" category I can see the e-book benefits of a more compact form factor, convenient bookmarking, text search, built-in illumination and maybe someday lower cost.

      For example, I'm reading a hardcover novel at the moment that's about 600 pages long. It's so big and bulky (1.5 inches thick) that I can't easily carry it on trips in my laptop bag and it cost $25.95. Unfortunately it's not available in e-book format, and the books that are tend to be in proprietary formats, saddled with annoying DRM and don't cost much less than their paper versions.

    • why do we even need e-books?

      Because on one device, you could carry all your books, instead of lugging hundreds of pounds around with you.

      Very useful for those of us with huge college textbooks, for example.
    • real books require no power, are cheap, have excellent contrast, great form factor, are durable, and last a long time

      why do we even need e-books?

      "Real" books are *not* cheap. Production and distribution costs for a paperback book are typically $3-$5 US. Production and distribution costs of an e-book are almost zero, except that the reader needs a display device (~ $50 production and distribution cost). So if the average reader will purchase more than 10 books there are cost savings to be had.

      The problem
    • I agree with that. Books aren't just about transferring information - they're a cultural thing. I have about 800 or so books in my bedroom; I like how shelves full of books look, I read them regularly (well, some of them, anyway - there are also many who I read just once), and I like the feel, the look, and the smell of a book.

      Why do people go to concerts when they can buy all music on CDs, too? It's about the same reason, I'd say - music isn't just about the songs, and books aren't just about the words. I'
  • by Dark_Link2135 ( 812614 ) on Saturday September 17, 2005 @03:03PM (#13585936) Homepage
    This is completely stupid. The reason I read books is to give my eyes a break FROM the screen, so I can sit outdoors and breath some fresh air. I read so that I'm not sitting in front of a monitor all day, bathing my eyes in radiation and making my eyeglass prescription worse by the second. I think THIS is the point e-book retailers are missing - most people would simply rather sit down outside on their front porch, or maybe just lie down in bed with a REAL book. That's why I never caught onto e-Books. Then again, you have the piracy protection issue. Most you can basically only download on ONE computer, and if something crashes, or you upgrade your mobo and have to reformat and reinstall - too bad. The e-book is tied to THAT particular computer, and you basically have built a new one. Theres $15 bucks down the drain. Theres another point - the price of e-books. You can't sell electronic data for the same price as a real physical object - albiet, prices HAVE gone down on them a bit, but not enough to entice me. Of course, it isn't the price that bothers me, its the first reason I listed.
    • 1. Use a PDA, the screen is much better on the eyes than a CRT and you can take it outside, on holiday etc.
      2. Ereader.com has fairly 'loose' DRM, in that you unlock the book in their reader and thats it. You can download it to as many systems as you want.
      3. Most ebooks are actually pretty cheap if you shop around - most of hte ones Ive bought have been at 50% or less than their paper brethrens.

      Remember, not all solutions are best for everyone. If you dont like ebooks, fine.

  • P2P-"sharing". (Think libPod.) Wonder if Simon & Schuster will go for it...
  • by Dark Paladin ( 116525 ) * <jhummel@@@johnhummel...net> on Saturday September 17, 2005 @03:05PM (#13585949) Homepage
    Using my Treo, I been reading one book after another on travel - Quicksilver, Harry Potter, Ulysses, etc, etc, etc. Good number of modern books and classics over at ereader.com.

    But the main issue is in the reader. So far, they only work with Palm, Windows CE, and I think one cell phone device (not inluding PC readers, which is silly - I want a handheld unit). Most people aren't going to shell out $100 for a "ebook only" device - especially one that just works with cartridges or has a single purpose.

    Most PDA's are a good example - if more phones go the PDA style route, that may work as well. Odds are, as we see more "cell phone/internet access devices", and more support on the INternet for these devices (ever try to surf slashdot.org or most sites with a cell phone web browser? Yeah. Pain.), perhaps ebooks will take off.

    Until then, they're a side show, a novelty for people such as myself who don't mind looking at a little screen while I read about the Shaftoes and Waterhouses galavanting about the world.
  • How I read ebooks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Henry V .009 ( 518000 ) on Saturday September 17, 2005 @03:07PM (#13585957) Journal
    I have recently started reading a lot of ebooks on my Kyocera 7135 PDA/phone. The first was Burton's Vikram and the Vampire*, which I couldn't find in a print copy. I used iSilo as the reader. It turns out to be a wonderful way to read books. I now do maybe 50% of my reading on the Kyocera. I never thought I would find myself saying this, but I actually prefer it to paper.

    *Great story, by the way. King Vikramiditya (Vikram for short) is tasked to carry a vampire a certain distance. Every time he speaks, the vampire goes back to its tree and he has to start again. So the meat of the book is a dozen or so stories told by the vampire in order to get Vikram to react by saying something out loud.
  • If facelift means DRM'd time/copy/read/etc-limited electronic versions, then I don't really want any of that facelift. If it means books would also be available in some electronic form on reauest, with and without DRM, then I'd say probably okay. Generally I think I'd welcome much much more a solution where pritned books would be available as they are now, but a vastly enourmosuly huge electronic library with online access would be made available for a subscription fee where we could lend electronic version
  • by Noksagt ( 69097 )
    1)They must be comfortable to read. E-ink devices, like the Sony Librie [wikipedia.org] can bring this. These devices have high contrast displays, use little power, and work in broad daylight. They are about the size and weight of a standard pocket paperback, but they store far more information.

    2)They must be priced competitively. 10 cent chapters. $1-2 books. Free content which is in the public domain or put out by individual authors.

    3)They must not be so encumbered by DRM that people find them useless. One major f
    • I'd say that there are 2 hurdles to ebooks. An "ipod of ebook readers" won't fix either.

      1) It needs to work everywhere. No proprietary devices, software, or code. Like HTML... or the printing press. Just print out the book if you like.

      2) No DRM. That crap is killing everything, and making me consider moving to the bahamas or something. I wish I'd never heard of it. Well, it is hard to kill music with DRM, but easy to kill books. So we need something like HTML... or the printing press. Just print out the boo
      • I'd say that there are 2 hurdles to ebooks.Agree.

        An "ipod of ebook readers" won't fix either.

        Disagree, but because the iPod did get it right: it supports mp3.HTML is the best format for it.HTML is a lousy format for reading--it isn't prepress. Few browsers make it pretty & an ebook reader should be dumb enough to support it. PDF is my bet: it looks EXACTLY the way the publisher intended on any device. It is well-documented. It can support DRM (so publishers will buy in), but the DRM sucks (so tech

    • Once iPod supports PDF viewing, all Apple has to do is start selling eBook PDFs through the Store. Then it will become mainstream.
  • Never. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jb.hl.com ( 782137 ) <joe&joe-baldwin,net> on Saturday September 17, 2005 @03:12PM (#13585983) Homepage Journal
    They simply don't work as well as books. Books don't have screen glare. Books don't have DRM. Books can last hundreds of years in the same piece, whereas formats come and go. Books don't need batteries or recharging. If you drop a book it'll be more or less fine, unless you drop it in a puddle or something. Ebooks just seem like a pain in the ass.

    Your mileage may, as always, vary.
  • An e-book should;
      Be light enough to read in bed.
      have a built in dictionary(highlight word, get
      def , in language of choice)
      have built in pronunciation, (highlight word or phrase and hear it, in language of choice)
  • ebooks are erehwon (Score:5, Informative)

    by yagu ( 721525 ) * <yayagu.gmail@com> on Saturday September 17, 2005 @03:14PM (#13585998) Journal

    Ebook technology is backwards. The article pretty much is dead on (in summary:).

    1. physically uncomfortable to read
    2. not portable
    3. incompatible formats
    4. drm

    In addition, ebook readers don't feel like or smell like books. I saw Bill Gates give a presentation probably five years ago and he was hot for ebook technology. He described how ebooks would simulate the look and feel of a book to the extent that would be possible electronically. Virtually none of his listed features have appeared (e.g., the ability to "flip" a page with your finger as if it were a paper book).

    As for the above listed reasons:

    1. I purchased an early-on reader, a dedicated device. It was about 8x11 in size and had a four-level grey screen. I figured that would be good. It was horrible. Jagged fonts, poor contrast, after reading only a few pages I couldn't stand it any more. NOTE: the standard for acceptability is not readability, it's comfort! I returned that device the same day I received it.

      A year later I got the new and improved version, same size, higher resolution and in color! Virtually no improvement in the font rendering, I returned that unit the same day also.

    2. Portability is a big issue. While I can't carry 40 or 50 books around in my briefcase at time (a big "feature" of ebooks), I don't generally finding a need to do so. But the books I do want to carry around (usually one or two at a time) I can easily do, and they're pretty much everywhere with me. For the same portability with ebooks you have to manage your portability to the extent the provider will even allow (which may not be much). Not a good start.
    3. Incompatible formats may be one of the most maddening. I can buy books from Penguin, O'Reilly, heck, even Microsoft Press, and they're all compatible, i.e., I don't have to do anything to be able to read them anywhere. Of course they're quite inert, but that's a characteristic people are familiar and comfortable in books, they even expect that! If you're going to start extending into technology with ebooks, you better make the extensions interoperable. People partition themselves in camps in OS and computer technology. In books and ebook technology, that doesn't even make sense.
    4. Last but not least, DRM. That was probably the second most irritating feature of the devices I've tried. I could get cool things like newspapers, magazines, etc. in ebook format, but how I could look at them and where and how many times was in the hands of the provider. I'm just not ready to go there. I hope nobody is (but I fear they do).
  • Probably when Apple jumps into the market.

    IE, when there is a profit incentive. By the time Dell jumps in, the market is already "mainstream".

    Put another way: Before Apple's iPod, the big player was Creative Labs; mp3s were popular, but I don't think you can use the term 'mainstream'. Then after Apple jumped in, so did Dell.

    So wait until Apple jumps in, and creates a really popular eBook reader/format, and you should be okay. It's way past okay when Dell jumps in.
  • When you can goto the library checkout an ebook for free. Swap with your friends, and resell. ... on a reader that you can take anywhere, replace a battery on never (solar), and costs about $3.95...

    So round about... oh... when hell freezes over and people quit using DRM.
  • Ebooks are pretty good right now, except for the media that you view them on. When I bought a Cassiopea a few years ago, I found it really convenient to have a number of books with me (MS Reader fomat). But I found it really inconvenient when the darn screen cracked (and its nigh on impossible to buy parts for that kind of thing!)

    When you can buy a reader that looks, feels, and wears like a paper book, that isn't going to break from rough handling; when you can load new content easily on said reader; TH

  • About the only thing wrong with physical text books is the missing ctrl-f feature. Index works all right though. I've used a few of these so-called ebooks for university and these online and cd-rom features and it's all useless. I like my physical text book. Nothing beats it.
  • Price. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ltwally ( 313043 ) on Saturday September 17, 2005 @03:18PM (#13586023) Homepage Journal
    What needs to change?

    Well, beyond the fact that there aren't many companies putting out E-books as-yet...

    • Price. The price for the few E-books that I come accross is too high for me to accept.
    • Exportability. Who wants to buy an E-book (that costs nearly as much as the paper version) when it's digitally signed/encrypted so that it can't be exported into other formats? It may not bother you now, but a few years down the line it'd really piss you off if that copy of Harry Potter in .lit format couldn't be converted to a format that is still in existence. Hell, some E-books won't even let you print your copy out on paper. WTF is up with that...
    Just my 2 cents. YMMV
  • See the title. Plain and simple when they are put in an e-paper format I can see them being useful but till then they will be more a novelty or not as useful as paper (because of DRM)
  • epaper and html (Score:3, Interesting)

    by StonedRat ( 837378 ) on Saturday September 17, 2005 @03:26PM (#13586058) Homepage Journal
    When we have nice portable epaper to read them on. If epaper really does require little power it could be solar powered.

    Also the ebooks need to come in an open format, I personally think semantically correct (x)html would be perfect. Easily restyled to your personally preference.

    Blind users would also benefit from that as they wouldn't need to wait ages for the book to come out on tape, assuming it does at all.

    Firefox in my pocket is what i want.
  • As a college student in grad school who is writing lots and lots of papers, I would love it if all the books I have to buy for class were available as ebooks. That way I could cut and paste a quote without having to figure out a way to hold the book open and in a place I can see it while I type it in. Moreover, the ability to keyword search for a word of phrase in a book is invaluable whenever you remember the phrase and can't find it and it isn't listed in the index. I can't tell you how much time I've
  • Admittedly, I wouldn't buy an ebook. I might consider it a nice piece of added value if it was shipped with a paperback book, but I wouldn't waste money on an ebook alone. Ebooks do have other valid uses though.

    For instance, the Houston Public Library allows you to check out and read certain books online. Rather than hopping in a car and driving around town to find a physical copy of book X at one of the 30 library locations, I can simply fire up a browser and check it out. No need to worry about late
  • by SpryGuy ( 206254 ) on Saturday September 17, 2005 @03:37PM (#13586110)
    I've always decided that the main problem with eBooks was the form-factor and display.

    Give me an "eBook" that's about the size and weight of a standard paperback. Open it up, and there should be electronic paper on both sides. Visible in normal light and bright sunshine. Minimum 300dpi resolution. The two facing screens should display type much like a paperback does, with a nice mat finish (no shiny stuff). And it should be augmented by touch sensitivity, so I can "change pages" with "gestures"... by swiping across the right hand page (top corner down towards center) in the standard "turning the page" gesture. There should be touch sensitive spots along the bottom that allow me to call up the table of contents, an index (that also allows searches), and tools to allow me to highlight and bookmark passages. When I open the eBook it should open to right where I left off. It should be water resistent, shock resistent, and the screen should be flexible enough that I don't have to worry about breaking the damn thing.

    New books should be just a pluggable memory cartridge away. The memory cartridges should also store the bookmarks and highlights and "current position" so I can flip through several books at any time without losing my place in any one of them.

    Once an eBook experience is like THAT, then watch out, they'll actually start to catch on. Or at the very least, *I* would suddenly be interested in owning one.

  • The browser available with on the PSP makes a fantastic e-reader. Combine it with free books in available in html format from http://www.gutenberg.org/ [gutenberg.org] and you've got all the classics you can want.
  • Give me a relatively inexpensive, rollable, 11x17 display with 200dpi or better resolution, fast updates (at least as fast as flipping pages) and then I might start being interested.

    One reason people like paper is for sharp text and graphics. Low-end laser printer do 600dpi while urrent eReader devices use the lowest resolution they can get away with and that puts most of them under 100dpi.

    Add the facts that eReader documents can be DRM'd or otherwise uncopiable/undistributable.

    Paper simply always works. Un
  • When They give me all of the benefits I get from a paper book now PLUS all te benefits that can come with digital, searchable, shareable text.

    Not too tall an order if the players have a mind to give us what we want and not try to force us to accept what they want.

    all the best,

    http://www.ourmedia.org/node/57503 [ourmedia.org]
  • my books to be provided on a non-volatile storage medium. After the Great Collapse of 2027, with electric power scarce or nonexistent and our vaunted technology useless, at least some of Civilization's hard-earned knowledge will still be accessible to the survivors. You know, books with titles like "Farming For Dummies", "Fishing for Food" and "How To Skin A Wabbit".
  • read them as comfortably as a book. remember that looking at black text on a white screen is like staring at a light bulb. it fucking sucks! also, why even bother, paper books are so much more convenient, cost effective, long-lasting, and personal than an 'e-book'...
  • when Windows Vista and DRM become common place so there's nowhere to run?
  • http://level4.org/images/articles/200504140227479 3 0_1.jpg/ [level4.org] is what mine looks like and I love it!
    Shown is low contrast I usually use somewhere in the middle, and I find that I can read a page and put it away in about 10-15 secs.

    Hitting the button on the front set up for book opens to exactly where I was with just one hand.

    It's extremely convenient, for long term use I don't mind looking at the screen either using iSiloX text is easily big enough to keep the unit far from my face.

    My only problem has
  • Barring physical destruction, the text in a printed document will not change by itself and as long as the document remains in your posession you can be reasonably assured that what was in it ten years ago is still in it verbatim today. Depending on the technology and purchasing scheme, Ebooks allow the author, or anyone else with proper access, to make changes to the content without your knowledge or consent. The power to alter the record of history will be like a magnet.
  • Lets put eBooks on some sort of read only memory that is physically DRMed, its hard to copy, and be checked in and out for security. Also, having a contiunuous colum of text is intimidating, make dividers, call them pages, to make the text graspable and easily split into smaller sections for brief reading. Perhaps a convient package small enough to fit into a large coat pocket or bag would boost popularity. Find a cheap material to make them out of, perhaps something biodegradeable. Cheap manufacturing
  • Never (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bcnstony ( 859124 )
    People can read, right now and for free, 16,000 titles at Project Gutenberg http://gutenberg.org/ [gutenberg.org] but they don't. Simply, people prefer to hold the parchment, crease the pages, and bend the spine. If they were going to pay money for ebooks, they would have started by reading the classics for free.
  • I hope ebook's never become mainstream because I know the publishers will employ stupid digital restrictions management functions which will for example only allow the ebook to be read during a certain time (e.g. one semester). This was covered previously on /. The user who whoever is providing the license will have to re-purchase the book for another extended period of time. I would hate to live in a world where RMS's parable becomes true.

    On a lesser note, unless I can write and scribble "digital" notes
  • I posted before [slashdot.org] on this and listed a few of my experiences and reasons for the unfortunate premature death of ebooks. Let me add another reason...

    As always, I get all excited again when I think about the potential of ebooks and what they could bring. Seeing this slashdot article, I set out to google myself the latest and greatest. Turns out not much has changed.

    Probably one of the most egregious and unforgivable injuries visited on the consumers is the lack of a price break. Consider:

    • Neil Olson's Bo
  • When they can safely be taken into the bathtub, or pulled out of my pocket after four or five days of hiking with no recharging. Or I can leave it on the back seat of my car in hot weather during the day at work with no ill effects.

    In short, e-books will become mainstream when you can treat them as horribly as you can treat paper books. In the meantime, there exists an alternative which is much cheaper and a lot more durable.
  • by Robotech_Master ( 14247 ) on Saturday September 17, 2005 @04:26PM (#13586349) Homepage Journal
    I had thought that being on an IBM site, it would actually have some insightful commentary and discussion on the issues facing ebooks.

    Instead, it reiterated the same tired old points pro and con, totally missed the point of the Baen Free Library [baen.com] (and also didn't recognize that Webscriptions, its commercial counterpart, has been doing quite well for itself in e-sales alone), and went on to snark at the very notion of commercially-viable ebooks and talk about various things that don't have a darned thing to do with ebooks, like RFID tagging library books. Um, what?

    And the discussion is the Standard Slashdot Ebook Advocacy Debate, whereupon people mostly or totally ignore the content of the article and instead argue about how ebooks suxx0r or r0xx0r.

    And here I'd hoped I'd read something interesting. Oh well. Maybe next time.
  • You also have to realize that some people enjoy holding dead trees in their hands. I know a few people who read *lots* of books and, to put it simply, they're complete Luddites about literature.

    It's hard to get a mystical experience from reading some poorly written 16th century manuscript if it's on a computer screen or handheld, but if the same bad prose is printed on the fading yellow pages of a several centuries old stack of paper and wood it becomes a spiritual thing and no amount of poor editing can get in the way.

    Do I sound cynical? I have friends who are always complaining that they want to read certain things but can never get around to checking the books out of the library. I point out that I could just email them a copy and they get indignant. It's for this reason that I've taken to buying physical copies of books if I really liked them.
  • Why do e-books have to be exactly like books?

    Nobody is saying that computer documents (like web pages) have to be exactly like books. The Slashdot discussion you're reading right now is nothing like a book. It's not printed on anything like paper. It's not formatted into anything like a book page. The experience of reading it is nothing like reading the "Letters to the Editor" column of your local newspaper, although the length and content is (arguably) similar. Yet people read it.

    Things don't have to be in
  • by danila ( 69889 ) on Saturday September 17, 2005 @06:25PM (#13586865) Homepage
    E-books can be physically uncomfortable to read (whether you're sitting at a desk looking at a monitor or squinting at a tiny PDA screen).
    It doesn't matter how large the screen is, unless you need huge diagrams or maps. What matters for reading comfort is resolution and contrast. My Palm Tungsten E2 has about the same contrast than average book paper under average lighting and about 30-50% the resulution. On the other hand, a PDA is 100-200 grams, while a book can be 0.5-2 kg. It's physically uncomfortable to read books when you lie on your back, for example. And you won't get proper lighting then, while PDA screen is backlit. The author tried to mislead the readers about squinting - you don't squint because of a small screen, you squint because of small text. And who forces you to read in small font? With a PDA you can choose ANY font.

    They're not portable if you have to read them on a desktop computer; if you read them on a laptop or PDA, you can't read if you run out of power.
    You can't read an ordinary book if you run out of power too. I probably isn't be mistaken much when I estimate that about 80% of reading or more is done under artificial light. And if you have artificial light it usually means you have electricity, which means you can plug in your notebook or PDA.

    There's a number of often incompatible formats that the files come in.
    That doesn't affect those of us, who use compatible formats. It's like saying that cars have failed, because Model X is ugly or that Hollywood has failed because Actor Y can't act.

    And the user's ability to access the book's content is often restricted by various digital rights management technologies.
    Same as above. My ability is never restricted, because I simply don't accept (and will never accept) any DRM curses on my books. I prefer IRC (#bookwarez) to DRM. And again, this doesn't prove ebooks are bad.

    The guy doesn't understand the reality of the issue and he is really at the kindergarten level. Just ignore him and he will go away. BTW, everyone who brings up flying cars is dangerous to society and should get a court order restraining him from speaking about future.

    He is also clueless, because he thinks that electronic paper will greatly increase the popularity of ebooks. This is not the case, to put it mildly. Yes, in a decade or two we will have paper-thin computers that look better than paper. And at the same time ebooks will be mainstream. But the latter won't happen because of the former. Of course, someone who thinks that reflected light is somehow more pleasing to the eye than emitted light is better ignored (rather than asked to cover "technological issues").
  • by Ernesto Alvarez ( 750678 ) on Saturday September 17, 2005 @07:47PM (#13587227) Homepage Journal
    Let's comment a little but about the article (Yes, I RTFA!).

    First, the article highlight a few common points about the current state of e-books, but then it degenerates into some kind of rant (although it has some good points too).

    First, I have a few things to say about the "properties" of e-books.

    The reasons for ...[the ebooks commercial failure]... are numerous and pretty easy to rattle off:

            * E-books can be physically uncomfortable to read (whether you're sitting at a desk looking at a monitor or squinting at a tiny PDA screen).

    Fine, that's true. That does not mean they are destined to be a failure. One just has to know the consequences of using one technology (ebooks) or another (paper).

    I can carry more e-books in my PDA than I could possibly do with paper (about 20 books). I know perfectly that I'm forced to read from a tiny little screen, but that's something I know, that's the price I pay. If some day I wanted to read from a more "comfortable" medium, I could easily take a paper book from my home library. It's a matter of choices. It might be better for reading reference material, but that doesn't mean it's not workable.

            * They're not portable if you have to read them on a desktop computer; if you read them on a laptop or PDA, you can't read if you run out of power.

    This is related to the point above. You have to keep in mind that you cannot read a paper book either without power (cannot read in the dark). Okay, in the case of ebooks, you need TWO power sources.

            * There's a number of often incompatible formats that the files come in.

    He's right about that. That's why standards are important. We've got ASCII text as a las resort, though.

            * And the user's ability to access the book's content is often restricted by various digital rights management technologies. (It's notable that the Baen Free Library, one of the more successful e-book outfits, gives away books that are DRM-free -- and, for that matter, free as in beer. I guess it's easy to be successful when you don't expect anyone to pay you!).

    Cory Doctorow [craphound.com] already talked about that. He's right on target. Most of the e-books I read are either:
    1. Project Gutenberg books
    2. Other public domain books
    3. Downloaded from P2P apps

    No need to say anything else.

    About books and readers, even if there are no commercially available readers, that does not mean people wouldn't use one. People do read their reference material from somewhere. It would be great if they made that "electronic paper" cheap enough, but even if that level cannot be achieved that doesn't mean ebooks are not good.

    Then he proceeds to bash some (IMHO stupid) ideas from marketing people. The author's right about this. Most of these ideas are about trying to sell books to people that wouldn't want to read them (like a video-game-in-a-book).

    E-books are probably not successful because of the points mentioned in the first part, especially the DRM stuff. I think they would be a success, even with mediocre reader devices if people realised they have a place, not exactly as the paper versions, but as something not quite the same, more versatile (I'm starting to sound like Mr. Doctorow...).

    I think the show stopper is the DRM, that causes that more versatile, yet inferior thing to lose its versatility (thus making it an overall loser), with lack of good reader devices a not so important cause.
  • by mutewinter ( 688449 ) on Saturday September 17, 2005 @09:09PM (#13587484)
    I've heard plenty of reasons why e-books "don't work."

    Me, I don't think the e-book is a good format for fiction. If I want to read Lord of The Rings I don't want to be sitting at a PC or holding some device.

    How about the positives:

    -They can be published very fast.
    I wrote an e-book, made the first sale within a week. In the traditional publishing world that doesn't happen.

    -They have high profit margins for the writers:
    The only middleman is the billing processor. Whats that, 3% or 4%? High profit margins for writers mean you can write a book that has a small audience and still pay your bills at the end of the month -- and maybe even write another.

    -The can be easily updated
    Forget 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th editions being measured in years. In the e-book world it can be a matter of days.

    -Easier to make an interactive experience
    In the e-book world the author can personally work with readers. For example, he or she could charge a price that would sound outrageous on Amazon or in Borders, but makes sense for a reader who needs in-depth and personal support. The author can tie the e-book into a premium/subscription website.

    When I hear "e-book" I think positive. Very positive.

"In matrimony, to hesitate is sometimes to be saved." -- Butler