The E-book Debate

 

Understanding the Issues

A vigorous public debate has opened up in the national media since the appearance of the Amazon Kindle reading device: whither the book?

Special Essay
Book Publishing TodayBook_Publishing_Today.html
ncreasing steadily in intensity over the past several years, with a growing stream of related articles appearing in the popular media, the question of e-books exploded into national prominence in the winter of 2007 with the release of the
Amazon Kindle, a reading device that linked directly to the Amazon store through a cellular wireless connection. Even though Sony had come out with a similar device a couple of years earlier (see image above), the combination of a reading device with the sheer size of the Amazon book store seemed to ignite the imaginations of the technology-friendly book-reading public. Few early e-book adopters would have anticipated that the e-book would make the cover of Newsweek in November of 2007.

In the 1980s and earlier it was the futurists who imagined a time when we would read books with portable electronic tablets, in the 1990s it was the academics who pondered and debated how the emerging digital era would impact the world of books and reading. The book cover reproduced above on the future of the book contained essays based on a conference held in July 1994, only six months after the release of the Windows and Macintosh versions of the Mosaic Web browser that would go on to transform the use of the Internet as Netscape a short time later.

The participants of the book conference were presciently aware that we were on the brink of a major transformation in the transmission of ideas in society, and the comparisons with Gutenberg and the Printing Revolution were already being made. I was a member of Penn State’s Gopher Implementation Committee at the time, in some ways a primitive predecesor to the World Wide Web, and members of the committee watched a year’s worth of work developing a robust Gopher infrastructure disappear before our eyes as we watched our first demo of Mosaic in 1994. The speed in which the World Wide Web took hold was phenomenal by any measure, and I still recall, during a taxi ride at a conference, a member of the original implementation group of the World Wide Web Consortium sit stunned as we passed a bus in San Francisco with a URL printed on a large banner for an advertisement. He noted, still shocked, that the final protocol for URLs had just been released a few weeks earlier.

The contributors to The Future of the Book were not far off in their predictions. I began reading e-books, just as the conference papers were being published in 1995, with my Apple “Newton” (actually the MessagePad 120), an early PDA that was released just before the Future of the Book conference and that anticipated the Palm era a few years later. With my Newton I
immediately recognized the potential of digital readers, since I quickly filled it with a number of books that I could carry around all the time. It would still be several years before commercially published e-books could be purchased, but by the mid-1990s a relatively large corpus of literary classics and works of philosophy had already been digitized and made available by university libraries. The largest centers of digital library development at the time were the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan, where I worked in humanities computing in the early 1990s. The Newton was one of the first commercially available portable devices that allowed one to carry electronic books around like a printed book, and for the next several years a variety of “personal digital assistants”, really mobile computers, appeared that also permitted one to load and read e-books.

Outside of the relative handful of information scientists and other scholars attending conferences such as the Future of the Book, the general reading public was blithely unconcerned about major changes or the potential transformation of book reading. Making use of such portable devices for e-books was not generally known outside the still-small circle of PDA users, and throughout the 1990s most people associated e-books with desktop or, later, laptop computers. For office workers and others, it was bad enough to sit at a computer reading documents and spreadsheets for hours at a time, reading an entire book, or even a novel, on computer was unthinkable. For such bibliophiles, the future seemed safe.

I graduated from my beloved Apple Newton, which Apple had decided to discontinue, to the Microsoft Windows-based Pocket PCs in 1998. A couple of years later Microsoft released its much-anticipated Reader software. Though other e-book reader applications existed, when such a large company like Microsoft

By the end of the 1990s the pace leading to a growing but still nascent culture of e-book reading had picked up noticeably. Se

Though initially limited to the more general computing literature, articles on “e-books” and “ebook readers” began appearing

Kindle by Amazon.com (2007)

Sony Reader by Sony (2006)

iRex iLiad ER-100 by iRex (2006)

▪The Franklin eBookMan - 1999(?) - 2002

Rocket Ebook - 1998-2001(?)


How Reading Is Being Reimagined

By MATTHEW KIRSCHENBAUM

There is no doubt that it is time for a serious conversation about reading, not least because books themselves are changing.

Google, in cooperation with several dozen research libraries worldwide, is digitizing books at the rate of 3,000 a day. The noncommercial Open Content Alliance is scanning at a more modest pace but gaining ground, especially among institutions who chafe at some of the restrictions imposed by Google and its competitors. LibraryThing, an online book catalog that allows readers to list their books and find other readers with (sometimes uncannily) similar tastes, has almost 300,000 users who have collectively tagged some 20 million books. Newsweek ran a cover story on "The Future of Reading" in their November 26 issue. And on Monday, the same day that the National Endowment for the Arts released To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence, the follow-up to its controversial 2004 Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America report, Amazon.com launched Kindle, an e-book reader device that the Newsweek story describes as the "iPod of reading."


High-profile projects like Google's and new devices like Kindle suggest what I call the remaking of reading, meaning that reading is being both reimagined and re-engineered, made over creatively as well as technologically.


That is the model of reading that seems compatible with the Web and other new electronic media. Yet it also raises fundamental questions about what it means to read, and what it means to have read something. When can we claim a book to have been read? What is the dividing line between reading and skimming? Must we consume a book in its entirety — start to finish, cover to cover — to say we have read it? Pierre Bayard, a literature professor in France, recently made a stir with a naughty little volume called How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read. When I read it (well, most of it), the book provoked the most intense author envy I have ever felt — not because I too secretly enjoy perpetuating literary frauds, but because Bayard speaks to a dilemma that will be familiar to every literate person: namely, that there are far more books in the world (50 million or 60 million by the estimates I've seen) than any of us will ever have time to read. Reading, Bayard says, is as much about mastering a system of relationships among texts and ideas as it is about reading any one text in great depth. He quotes the extreme case of the fictional librarian in Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities (a book Bayard admits to having only skimmed): The librarian resolutely reads no books whatsoever for fear that undue attention to any one of them will compromise the integrity of his relation to them all.



The Chronicle articles on the ebook debate...


Using Internet-based online ebooks for developing countries:

Started by 2 professors, the Global Text Project uses volunteer writers to keep costs down

By ANDREA L. FOSTER

Learning is valuable, but in Africa it is more than that: It is prohibitively expensive. In Ethiopia, where the per-capita income is about $100 a year, a single textbook at Addis Ababa University can cost $50.

In order to get more textbooks to students in developing nations, two people are leading an ambitious project to produce and freely distribute 1,000 original titles online.

Richard T. Watson, interim head of the department of management information systems at the University of Georgia, and Donald J. McCubbrey, a professor of information technology and electronic commerce at the University of Denver, have started what they call the Global Text Project. This semester the project's first book, Information Systems, is being used at Addis Ababa University and at Atma Jaya Yogyakarta University, in Indonesia.

"The major problem we face is, professors don't deliver chapters on time," he says.

To complete the project, Mr. Watson figures that he'll need 20,000 volunteers. How he arrived at the figure might be worth including in a Global Text math book: 20 chapters in 1,000 books equals 20,000 chapter authors.


Tablet PCs, laptops, and textbooks

JSTOR and e-journals

reading ebooks with laptops


I’ve been purchasing and using ebooks for the past several years, and I see the biggest challenge not being ergonomics, which continues to rapidly improve, but rather a stable DRM platform.
The current situation is a disaster, with the two major platforms: Microsoft Reader and Adobe’s DRM, leaving us with nothing less than a train wreck. The platforms are primitive and are given little support by the two companies. The licensing with these two platforms are highly volatile and bug-ridden. They currently embed a license activation that is tied to your current PC configuration; any changes to your hardware or your operating system will likely render your ebooks unreadable, with no recourse to reactivating their licenses. The blogosphere is filled with legions of frustrated ebook consumers who have been left in the lurch by retailers like amazon and the platform providers Microsoft and Adobe. Many have threatened a class-action lawsuit in their frustration, not knowing they would lose their books at the first change in their computing environment.
Neither the retailers of ebooks or the two software companies accept responsibility for the situation; their basic stance appears to be that you should quickly read the book and not worry about keeping around a copy. Under the current DRM model, ebooks are ephermeral; they are not intended for building a ‘library’ as one does with music and iTunes.
Until a retailer like Apple enters the arena, I don’t see the situation changing. I lost some $200 in ebooks when amazon abruptly decided to stop supporting Adobe ebooks shortly before the Kindle’s introduction—is this a company you would trust with a $400 outlay just for the reading device? I complained to amazon, but they sent a form message, which I’m sure was sent to many many others, stating, essentially, sorry but tough luck.
I do own the Sony Reader, which I really like, and clearly demonstrates the potential for a robust and ergonomic reading platform. But it is a closed platform and the selection is relatively limited. The Sony Reader had no problems permitting me to work with my Reader Library after reinstalling everything with the Vista upgrade.
— Roger Brisson    Nov 20, 06:52 PM  

   2.    As a librarian, I tire of articles and blog posts that give every conceivable reason as to why NOT to use a technology rather than trying it out and giving the technology a chance to find its market. As a confirmed user of the Sony eReader, I offer a relatively short response to Steve’s too-long posting about the Kindle.
1. If you want free stuff on your Sony eReader you can load your own Word documents, PDFs and free e-books (e.g., from Project Gutenberg). Library ebook services also have supported other e-book formats in the past and will probably support these new ones as well. Finally, if you want to buy books, they are much cheaper electronically than in print. equivalent.
2. I travel a lot for work, often on long flights. I want multiple books with me so when I finish one (or tire of one, or if I want to read multiple books simultaneously) I can do so. With the luggage weight limitations on planes, stuffing the printed books into your suitcase these days can lead to hefty overweight charges.
3) I don’t know if Steve actually has used a device with e-ink for an extended period of time, but the screen is very readable. And, I don’t know of anyone who got a sneezing attack or a mold allergy attack from reading an eReader, but there are certainly many librarians who have complained about book dust, mites and the like.
4) No, the Kindle will not supplant a cell phone or a laptop on business trips, and it also won’t replace a briefcase or a spare pair of socks. Who cares? Would you have made the argument a few years ago that you wouldn’t carry a cell phone on a business trip because it wouldn’t supplant the laptop? And, by the way, when was the last time you bought a waterproof printed book? I brought my eReader to the beach and it did just fine. Does it smell like a book? No, but my iPod also doesn’t smell like a vinyl record.
5) I hardly know where to start with this one. Suffice it to say that failure of the Kindle to load your PDF documents wirelessly is a pretty abstruse reason not to use it to read printed books.
6) The technology isn’t perfect yet, but let’s not assume that Apple will make it perfect. Did you not own your first cell phone before this summer because the iPhone was not yet invented or wait to get your first MP3 player until this fall because the iTouch was not yet available? Furthermore, Apple has had their share of duds in the past. (The Apple Newton didn’t exactly set the PDA market in motion – the Palm Pilot did.) So, while waiting for perfection to arrive I will continue to enjoy reading many more books on my eReader and have enjoyed the experience, and I will do so in a way that is not possible with a printed book: reading hands-free while resting the eReader in my lap, while reclining in bed, or running on a treadmill.
— Arnold Hirshon    Nov 20, 06:22 PM    #


Cost and question of being too expensive is simply another way of expressing priorities  


E-ink technology is great, but you can’t beat ink-on-paper technology for cost, efficiency, convenience, or permanence. And you can’t beat that new-book smell (I wonder what the new Kindle smell is like, and how long it lasts, and will it give you cancer?). It must be daunting for little e-ink, competing with a 500-year-old technology that still has good legs in the digital age.




$350 Price Tag

The Sony Reader could be called a book simulator. It looks like a book, measuring about 7 inches tall, about 5 inches wide, and half an inch thick. It weighs about nine ounces, as much as a thin hardback novel. And it has a leather cover flap that opens just like a book cover.

The retail price is about $350, which for now includes $50 in e-books from the Sony Connect store. Each book costs between $3 and $16, and the store boasts more than 10,000 titles, though academics are quick to point out that most are best sellers and not the kind of works that are on most college reading lists.

It is possible to load content onto the device from sources besides Sony's store, as long as the texts are in the popular portable document format (PDF), in plain text format, or in rich text format, which can be created using Microsoft Word. Some PDF's do not seem to work on the device, however. For instance, the Reader failed to display a couple of books downloaded from Google Book Search, which has a feature allowing some public-domain texts to be saved to a computer in PDF form.

The main benefit of the device is that it can pack the texts of more than 80 books into the space of one slim volume. "Students carry around a lot of heavy books, and they don't like that," says Saul Levmore, dean and professor at the University of Chicago's Law School, who recently went to a Sony store to check out the device firsthand.


Kindle premiered to Applesque hype, complete with adulatory broadcast interviews and fawning magazine articles quoting Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos calling the gizmo, "the most important thing we've ever done."

But the long, sad history of e-books demands skepticism, even from favorable reviewers.

"This is probably the first e-book reader that's worthy of criticism," quipped Michael Gartenberg, a consumer technology expert for Jupiter Research. He thinks the Kindle, although not perfect, has better visuals and wireless access, which make it "potentially a game changer."


"Print books work really well," says Ben Vershbow, a researcher at the Institute for the Future of the Book. "They're a really good technology. They're not broken."



























 

The Ergonomics of Reading

Whenever the topic of e-books is raised, one will inevitably hear the complaint that you can’t cuddle up with an e-book in bed like you can with a good (printed) novel. The ta
ctile feel of paper is frequently mentioned, as well as, curiously, of the “smell” of a book. From these comments, it becomes clear that books serve a purpose beyond just being a vehicle for carrying words and ideas to a reading public.
In terms of its physicality, the book itself has undergone a significant degree of change over the past several centuries, both in its nature and its quality.

  Common argument by the skeptics is that the ebook ‘fad’ is driven by commerce, by the computer industries that are out to make a buck. They see little or no advantages to digital books, and they point out a number of disadvantages, such as their having to be read on unergonomic devices, inability to ‘thumb’ through them, the ‘tactile’ feel, etc. The standard take is that you can’t cuddle up to an ebook in bed, or the warmth of turning pages in your chair. So there’s this whole ambience of how wonderful ebooks are, it’s more of an aesthetic experience that is emphasized as to why printed books are so valuable.

What is completely lacking from this critique of ebooks is the most important thing regarding books--the sharing of ideas. This is what is meant by focusing on the conceptual foundations of what books are about. One doesn’t read a book just for the tacticle physical experience, it isn’t just for visceral entertainment. The real purpose of reading a book is to enter the mind of the author. You find something very compelling, a drawing power, in wanting to read further. This may be entertaining as well, but it’s on a completely different level, it’s the content itself that is producing the entertaining experience. If this really is the case, then it doesn’t matter what the vehicle is in communicating those ideas.

What we really need to focus on is therefore the exchange of ideas, and how these ideas are transmitted and received, and how we provide access to these ideas. The latter is also a key element: how do we satisfy our information needs. There can be a whole range of reasons for why we need to pick up a book, or to search in Google, or whatever. There’s always some need, or hook, that leads to the formulation of a search query. The same is true for when we decide to pick up and read a particular novel out of the thousands that are written each year. Why does someone pick up The Kite Runner and spend the time reading it today? could an obscure story of an Afghani boy been a bestseller 10 years ago?

Transformation of scholarly communication: this phrase alone is indicative of the core interest here. It’s not dealing with a book or other container, it’s not dealing with an industry or a form of entertainment or aesthetic experience. What is being dealt with here is what we are doing with information, what it is really all about when we share information, ideas and thoughts.

In these terms we come to understand the real dynamic in the shift to digital information. What is really going on here in terms of the powerful advantage over books is that with digital information you have a much more dynamic and interactive environment for the exchange of ideas. The vehicle is much more pervasive and present. Think of what revolution the iPhone represents for ready access to information. On the road it is possible at any time to pull up a Shakespeare play on through to checking the latest stocks.

Key benefits: spontaneity and the potential of integrating the universe of information into your personal life in a way that was never possible before. Consider how this will change the way we think about information needs. Most of the difference relates to the time it takes to seek, gather, and find the information we need. Often this is so cumbersome and time-consuming that we don’t even bother to formulate the question. This information-gathering potential changes radically with devices like an iPhone. The difference can be a few minutes versus many hours to days for the same activity.


In contrast, consider how primitive the world of books is in providing access to the universe of information. The lovers of printed books are the lovers of status quo.


We are now entering an age in which all of this will radically change. With the introduction of ergonomically comfortable reading devices like the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle, and information/communication devices like the iPhone, people will be interacting with information in a radically different way than with the printed page, and the latter will be used less and less.


Will the concept of the “work” be possible in such a world?


This characterization is completely neutral, it has nothing to do with an agenda, or with an insider advocacy of the computer world.


The development, maintenance and support of this world. What will libraries look like in this brave new world?


What role will powerful little laptop computers play in this? Again the arguments against the ergonomics of laptops for readability just aren’t valid today: the latest generation of laptops, like the MacBook Pro I am writing this on, are eminently suitable for long-term reading.


The costs? Are these devices expensive? I have been using laptops since the late 1980s, my first was a wonderful Toshiba laptop that weighed 6 pounds, had a 9” display, and cost $1100. Today that $1100 would be worth much less, but in spite of this you can buy a new Apple MacBook, an incomparably more powerful machine, for the same price!


The issues of ergonomics and preservation do not stand up to comparison when scrutinized carefully. I own books in my library from the 1970s and 80s that are barely usable today, only 20 or so years later. I will not be handing over these books to posterity after I’m gone. These books are so deteriorating that they will be gone in a short time.

Some are the classics that one can find at most anytime in retail. But a number are scholarly studies, important books, that are no longer being published. This is it; with only a few hundred to a few thousand ever printed, these books can be very difficult to find.

The waste of the publishing industry, and the primitive inefficient economies of anticipating markets, etc. Consider the deGruyter example.

Two issues with digital books: the platform--the problem of data no longer being readable. Old software and old operating systems. Ironically, one I can no longer read is an ebook by Richard Lanham written in the early 90. The book is entitled The Electronic Word, and

The other issue is storage: where and how do we store this data for the long term. It’s tied in with the strengths of the format: it’s highly dynamic, but it is also volatile. You can shoot 100s of megabytes across the Atlantic is seconds or minutes, and this dynamic is also it’s weakness. Solutions are developing as we speak: the cost of storage continues to fall precipitously, and raid drives are now available at BestBuy.

Personally, I have been able to develop my own solutions: I have been able to save most of my emails from the early 90s.




And with huge digitization projects under way, such as Google's effort to scan millions of books from university libraries, more people may soon want to curl up with e-books in their favorite reading chairs.


Mr. Seperson, of Sony, says that its e-book store will grow, but that some publishers and authors are still wary. Some in the publishing world fear that they might lose control of books the way musicians and record companies lost control of recordings in the file-sharing era.

"I hate to pass the buck, but it's not our fault," Mr. Seperson says, noting that in some cases the company is asking publishers for digital copies but the publishers are refusing. Even some popular authors, like J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame, refuse to allow their works to be distributed in electronic form, he says.


"It's hard to say which has to come first — is the scholarly community waiting for a perfect piece of technology in order to move forward, or are the technology people waiting for the publishers to come forward with an extraordinary level and amount of content first?" she says.



Random House message:

am having one print copy of the books you ordered mailed to you now. Unfortunately, this will only be a one time occurrence, as all of the rules and regulations re/ our eBook purchases stated that the eBook could not be transferred between computers after our eBook store ceased to exist.



This paper argues that the evolution of e-book technology is related to the penetrating impact of networks and information technology on society. It defines the concept of e-book and describes some aspects of e-book technology. By focusing on book production processes, the paper examines what probable consequences the development of e-books and a global network economy will have for publishers and book industries. E-books, along with other electronic formats, will trigger major changes as the digital products and distribution channels will force the logic of the network economy on the book publishing industry.

Information technology and especially the Internet have profoundly changed the ways of publishing. Newspapers, magazines and periodicals have for years been published online and all kinds of texts are now available in digitised form. At the turn of the century this digitalisation of the written language finally reached the book publishing industry; electronic books - or e-books - can now be bought and downloaded from various kinds of e-bookstores on line. E-books can be read on different handheld multipurpose devices like PDAs and pocket-PCs and on dedicated e-book readers like the American Rocket E-book (now RCA REB 1100) [1], the French Cybook [2] or the Italian Myfriend [3].

In this essay I shall define the concept of e-book and describe some aspects of the e-book technology. I shall argue that the development of e-books at this stage in history is by no means accidental. On the contrary, considering the rise of the network society, with its flow of information and money, where all kinds of digital media content are sold and spread through the networks, it was only a matter of time before someone started to tear the vast quantities of content of books out of their printed paper pages and attempted to generate income in the networks of the new economy.

Digital media and networks have created new products and marketplaces; e-books are the books of the network society. By focusing on new value chains and book production processes, I will examine some of the changes the network economy will bring upon the publishing industry. In doing so I also hope to shed some light on the changes awaiting booksellers, printers, librarians, researchers, students and readers.

The E-Book Question

To support my argument that the innovation of e-books was inevitable, I shall refer to some scholars who have reflected on the relationship between media technologies and society. They all claim, in different ways, that the development of technology and society are deeply interdependent and that it is impossible to analyse one without considering the other. The development of e-books can be seen as another, further step in what Walter J. Ong calls "the technologizing of the word" [4]. With e-books the creation, storing, uttering and receiving of literary works have been liberated from both the sound of the voice and the print on paper. In a Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan-inspired, media deterministic way of the 1950's and 60's, it would be tempting to ask: How will e-books alter our concept of a book, our thinking and our consciousness? How will the digital word change the powers and patterns of society? Simply, will e-books change the world? [5]

These questions imply a media-deterministic and one-directional view on the causes and effects of technology, making technology the primal cause of change. This position has been criticised and modified by both media theorists and by many other scholars.

In the 1970's Raymond Williams complemented technological determinism with his own intentional view on technological research and development. He showed that many technological innovations, like motion pictures and television, were not only causes and agents of change, but just as much effects, the result of intentional research and development based on foreseen practices and social needs [6]. For Williams, technology is not a self-acting force, a more or less accidental activity, isolated from the rest of society. On the contrary, technological research and implementation is a central part of the economic and cultural development of modern society and as such technological development is embedded in society itself as one of its core activities [7].

According to Williams, in order to understand a technology like e-books, one should not just focus on its consequences, but more importantly analyse the development of e-books as part of a broader economic and social pattern. Why were e-books invented in the first place?

In the 1980's Joshua Meyrowitz, a medium theorist, tried to fill the gap between the grand theories of media determinists like Innis and McLuhan and micro-oriented social interaction theorists like Erwin Goffman [8]. By using a situational approach, Meyrowitz illustrated how new media are changing the structure of social situations. By changing the patterns of information flow, new media are creating new situations with new roles, new behaviour and new actors [9].

Even if Meyrowitz and Williams rejected the one-sidedness of media determinism and pointed to the fact that the theory did not explain exactly how media cause changes, they still recognised that many media deterministic analyses have substantially contributed to our understanding of media and society. But not all recognised these insights.

In the 1990's Brian Winston challenged the concept of communication technology revolutions. Supported by findings in extensive empirical studies, Winston claimed that developments of new technologies are much longer and slower processes than usually assumed. Winston also argued that the innovation and development of new media is dependent on general scientific competence in society. More importantly, the acceptance and later diffusion of technologies are dependent on supervening social necessities and influenced by cultural and economic forces. Winston gives the social sphere primacy as the conditioning and determining factor in the development of new media [10].

Reflecting on the deterministic view on media influence, one could be attempted to drop this perspective all together, or at least minimise the ambitions of questions on the potential effects of e-books. Instead of asking global questions on the nature of the digital e-book galaxy and how e-books will change everything, including our minds, it would be safer to more cautiously ask if the invention of e-books will matter at all. Will e-books change anything?

Of course e-books matter, and the invention of e-books will have consequences. The point is that e-book technology is not the only agent of change and probably not the most important agent of change. Instead of isolating e-books as the focus of our research, we should broaden our perspectives and see e-books as part of larger and deeper economic and technological trends. In addition to view the e-book as a cause, we should look at the e-book as more of a symptom and itself an effect, the result of intentional research done with certain purposes and practices already in mind. Winston has an important point which can be applied here. The development of e-books is the result of social and economic necessities, rather than the consequence of ingenious ideas as technological myths often want us to believe [11].

In accordance with the governing ideas of non deterministic perspectives, we should ask questions like: What were the scientific and technological premises for the development of e-books? What purposes are e-books meant to fulfill? How will the economic interests of publishers and rights owners influence the spread and use of e-books? How will the conservative habits of readers slow down the diffusion of e-books? And most importantly, what economic and social forces created and shaped the e-book technology?

Brian Winston and many other theorists have in the past decade tried to describe and explain the information and network society that evolved during the most recent quarter of a century, much of it as media deterministic thinking. Manuel Castells, for example, remarked that a technological revolution, centred around information, transformed the way we think, produce, trade, consume, manage, communicate, live and die [12].

Castells argues that the dilemmas of technological determinism are false dilemmas. Technology is simply society and society cannot be understood or even represented without its technical tools. Castells has been criticised for not taking social conditions into closer consideration. His analyses therefore end up echoing deterministic positions of the past as well as those of the digital economy of today [13].

In spite of this criticism, Castells has been given credit for his overwhelming documentation of the impact of network technologies on both the global economy and on our daily lives [14]. At a micro level, we are all part of the network society when we use our credit cards, order a taxi, pay a bill, use a card key, pass a surveillance camera, watch cable TV, use our PC, surf the Internet or use our mobile phones.

At a macro level network logic is the central organisational principle of management and production in multinational companies. It is also a driving force in the ongoing concentrations of companies in most branches. Networks make the infrastructural basis of a global flow of information, money and commodities. In the modern economy both productivity and competitiveness are dependent on an ability to generate, parse and make use of information.

Thus information is one of society's most important end products. Since information is digital, it is available at all times to those who have technological competence, financial resources and access. Patterns of presence in networks and patterns of access to information constitute, according to Castells, the patterns of power in modern society [15].

As part of this general tendency media industries have been transformed. New media are evolving, most of them centred around networks, especially the Internet. Radio, television and newspapers, as well as photography, music and movies, have been transformed into digital media [16]. Increasingly, these media are concentrated in multinational conglomerates like AOL/Time Warner, Disney, Viacom/CBS, Murdoch's News Corporation and Bertelsmann [17].

In addition to Castells and Winston, other theorists have examined central features of this transformation, that is the digitisation of media and their convergence on telecommunications networks. All media and telecommunication are based on related technologies, converging towards access and control on the Internet [18]. Networks and digital devices give traditional media new and common ways of distributing their content. This tendency is also a part of the development of printed media, of newspapers, magazines - and now books. The book industry, as all other media, is becoming an integrated component of the global communication industry [19].

It is exactly here, in the penetrating impact of network and information technology on society that we find the deeper reasons for the development of e-books. Perhaps traditional book technology is not suited to, or at least not sufficient for, the network economy.

It is a fact that information in a book is analog; it is locked-up in ink and printed on paper. In the network economy information is digital, which of course is essential for its migration and use. To be part of the new economy the content of books can no longer be longer locked inside the covers of books and stored in warehouses or libraries. It has to be freed and read. And e-book technology is a digital and network based technology for both distributing and reading books.

Was the development of e-books inevitable? Are e-books the vehicle for the book industry to play an important part in the network society of today and tomorrow? Or does the information society and network economy need the content of books available in a faster and more efficient way? Are e-books an answer to a social necessity?

In this essay I will claim that e-books are a social necessity and make this claim the premises of further arguments. I will argue that exactly because e-book technology meets the requirements of the network society, its development and diffusion will trigger major changes in the book industry and in our concepts of books and reading.

The Method

In support of these arguments I will follow the advise of Joshua Meyrowitz in neither being too macro- nor too micro-oriented in my perspective [20], but rather operate at a level of middle range theories. I will focus on the challenges book publishers face in the current information and network society. Information and communication technology, with all its publication forms and distribution channels, have created new value chains, giving traditional publishers both new competitors and new possibilities. I will show how this new situation forces publishers into new roles and patterns of behaviour, moving from traditional book producers to content providers with a whole range of products for sale, including e-books.

I will more specifically show how the new economy, with its network supported flow of information and money, in a fundamental way not only changes the distribution and trade of books, but also in a rather fundamental way alters the ways book content is produced and, ultimately, changes the nature of the book itself.

By focusing on the situation of publishers and book production processes, I hopefully will shed some light on the actors and institutions surrounding publishers. If my assumptions about e-books are correct, then it will gravely affect authors, artists and illustrators, book distributors and retailers, educators, students and of course readers.

This is an uncertain way of predicting the future. We do not know how readers, teachers or publishers will respond to e-books because the technology could have unforeseen effects and new technologies not yet anticipated could change the picture altogether. But these uncertainties must not prevent us from pursuing this analysis. I will start by defining e-books, describe their development and indicate a probable pace of diffusion.

 


E-Books and the Book Production Process

E-Books: Definitions and Development

E-books are all about mobility and information flow. In its digital form the content of an e-book escapes the pages of an ordinary book because simply the content is no longer tied physically to paper. An e-book can in principle be available anywhere through the Internet, accessed any hour of the day. All you need is an Internet connection, an e-book reading device and money.

So what is an e-book? A narrow definition treats an e-book as a digital object designed to be read on a handheld reading device or to be listened to from a speech-generating tool. The core of this definition is that an e-book is content, a digital object containing an electronic representation of a book, most commonly thought of as the electronic analog of a paperback or cloth-bound book [21].

However, to think of an e-book as one digital object is misleading. An e-book is usually a collection of several digital objects or documents, which in turn are packaged and formatted with the intention of being displayed on a handheld device or read by a speech generating application. An e-book is a digital publication containing content files and style sheets in many forms, with metadata, digital rights, navigation and other components. The content is made up of text documents, digital pictures and illustrations. Style sheets give typographic and layout directives on how to display the content of the book while other files organise the order of the book's content. Metadata provides a summary about the book (for example, authors, publisher, ISBN and price), while digital rights management (DRM) files specify the rights of the owner of the book. All of these different documents are collected in one publication in a proprietary format, such as the .lit format used by Microsoft Reader [22] or the .rb format used by Gemstar [23].

In a narrow sense an e-book reader is most typically a handheld electronic device capable of displaying e-books. E-book reader software operates on an e-book reader providing copyright protection and book display functions [24]. PDAs, pocket PCs, laptops and dedicated readers like Rocket E-book, Cybook and GoReader [25] are examples of e-book readers, while MS Reader for the Pocket PC and Peanut Reader [26] for Palm and MobiPocket [27] are e-book reader software.

E-books in the strict sense are read on handheld devices. In a slightly wider sense, e-books are also those digital objects formatted in order to be read on e-book reading software made for personal computers, like MS Reader and Adobe Acrobat E-book Reader [28] (the former Glassbook). In many cases these applications themselves are called e-book readers.

In a much broader sense, the term e-book is applied to all linear texts of some length that can be shown on a computer screen. But in this sense e-books are difficult to distinguish from all other electronic texts, like those created in word processors and desktop publishing programs. Most of these were not created as "books". If they are and can be shown on a screen, they are definitely not made with the purpose of always being read on a monitor.

In the broad sense e-books have been around for several decades. In the Gutenberg Project [29] thousands of books, mostly classic and public domain literature, have been made available for free as digital documents since the 1970's. These kinds of books are usually available as simply text files, so they are not e-books in the narrow sense of the word. To be treated as e-books, they have to be converted into and formatted using a specific e-book reading application, for which a simple text file makes a good starting point [30].

Before the term e-book came around in the late 1990's it was not unusual to talk about electronic books in terms of files collected in the Gutenberg Project or books formatted on compact discs. There were also early unsuccessful attempts at making reading software for computers. These programs were meant to be reading software for what was then called electronic books [31]. Today the term e-book refers to digital objects specially made to be read with reading applications operating on either a handheld device or a personal computer.

This modern concept of e-books came into common use after Martin Eberhart and Jim Sachs both started their own companies and developed Rocket eBook and SoftBook, the first two handheld e-book reading devices. This meaning is frequently used in the Open E-Book Forum (OEBF), which is working towards standardisation of publication structures and copyright protection systems in e-books [32]. It is also in the narrow meaning that Microsoft most often uses for e-books.

Adobe uses the term e-book in a slightly different way than most others in promoting the Portable Document Format (PDF). PDF is first of all popular. Even if they are made to be printed, PDF documents can be read with Adobe's Acrobat Reader, certainly the most widespread reading software of all. In 2000 Adobe acquired Glassbook and their e-book reading software and made Adobe Acrobat E-book Reader a specific e-book reading program. Adobe, like Microsoft, is also developing font-rendering technologies to improve screen reading. This, and the fact that PDF documents can be optimised for screen reading, makes it natural to include PDF in our concept of e-books. E-book retailers like Amazon.com [33] and Barnes & Noble [34] are selling e-books in several formats such as Adobe e-books, Microsoft e-books and Gemstar e-books (Gemstar being the new name of both the Rocket and the SoftBook formats after Gemstar's acquisition of the Rocket and SoftBook companies).

Adobe and PDF demonstrate that it can be difficult to distinguish e-books - documents mainly made and meant for reading on screen - from other documents, like files developed in word processing applications and desktop publishing programs. On one hand digital objects that are meant for print, such as documents intended to be printed on demand, like PDF files, will in many cases be called e-books, mainly because they are distributed as digital objects, often read before they are printed locally. On the other hand, narrowly defined e-books, files meant for handheld devices or PC reading applications, in many cases have the technical capability of being printed and reproduced like traditional books and documents.

E-books, both in the narrow and in the Adobean sense, are distributed via Internet and sold in many ways. Some authors are selling their own e-books from their Web sites, such as Stephen King. Some e-book stores have specialised in selling e-books of one format only or books of one specific genre. Other complete e-bookstores, like Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, are selling all kinds of e-books in several formats from all of the major book publishers. In the e-book trade there are many different business models, but there are commonalities: they all use the Web and online payment systems and they usually include some kind of copy protection scheme.

E-books are produced by many kinds of electronic publishers, from bestseller publishers to university presses and multinational publishing conglomerates. Most traditional publishers are moving gently and cautiously into the e-book business. For example, in Norway and Sweden Aschehoug and Bonniers have stared to sell a limited number of e-book titles online. In the U.S., major publishing companies, like Random House, Simon & Schuster and McGraw Hill, have launched extensive e-book production plans and are rather optimistic about the e-book future [35].

In the mean time the rest of the world's book industry is waiting, watching and asking: When do we have to act?

Diffusion

When will e-book reading and sales of e-books take off? How fast or slowly will e-book technology diffuse and become a widespread way of reading?

Today there are two factors working against e-books and hindering diffusion. These factors include the overall poor quality and high prices of reading devices and the lack of proper and interoperable digital rights management (DRM) systems. The quality and prices of devices critically influence consumers; proper DRM systems cool the eagerness of publishers to take on the costs of producing e-books.

E-books in some way will compete with traditional books. The developments of writing systems, script and printed books are, in spite of new technologies, among the greatest achievements of mankind. Traditional book technology has evolved over five centuries and has reached a very high level of performance. Even if we all take it for granted, the book is a highly developed and extremely complicated technology [36]. The readability of a book is the result of many interdependent factors and features that affect the rhythm of reading - page size and layout; font face and size; inter-character and inter-word spacing; word shapes (including kerning and ligatures); line length, hyphenation and inter-line distance (leading); the use of margins and indents, paragraphs, headings, chapters, footnotes, page numbers, pictures, graphics, charts and tables of content; and, the quality of paper and print. All of these factors are based on the knowledge of typographers, book designers, editors and publishers [37].

E-books cannot yet beat traditional books as reading technology. E-book reading devices and software applications of today are far from being competitive in terms of legibility - and the main problem is the display. Even if LCD screens of handheld devices did not have the same problems of flickering and glare as typical displays of personal computers, LCD screens are by no means optimal for reading. They are often too small. If they are large, then they are too heavy, reflect light too easily and can't be used as reading devices in outdoor daylight. Most importantly they don't have the resolution needed to properly render highly legible serif typefaces like Times and Garamond. Even sans-serif types, like Arial, are not very well represented on screens today. In the use of pictures, illustrations and sophisticated layout, e-books are not even close to the possibilities and qualities of printed books.


The problem of resolution is not likely to be solved in the near future. Reading devices today have display resolutions from 72-106 dpi; at least 200 dpi is an acceptable level of character representation. The development of LCD screens has been surprisingly slow and there are no indications that commercial 200 dpi screens will be available in the next several years [38].


New and different screen technologies are being developed. Both OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) screens and e-paper technologies are promising. In five to ten years there can be great improvements in the readability of screens. Other improvements will also occur with handheld technology in terms of processors, memory cards, batteries, materials, wireless connectivity and software, all of which will make these devices easier to use and less expensive. Even if the readability of handheld devices will not match traditional books in many years, there will be millions of devices and mobile terminals around that could be used for e-book browsing and reading [39].

Parallel to the development and spread of hardware, new e-book reading applications will optimise legibility. Both Microsoft and Adobe have developed font-rendering technologies based on the characteristics of LCD screens (ClearType and CoolType), improving representation of letters as compared to letter representation on traditional monitors. Microsoft, and probably Adobe, will design new typefaces exploiting the possibilities of ClearType and CoolType. In addition, the underlying parameters controlling the rendering of texts on screens will be optimised for screen reading. Screen rendering will no longer be influenced by print parameters as they are today.

The research and development of screen-reading applications has only just begun and great improvements of these applications can be expected in the near future. These efforts will not only benefit anyone reading e-books on handheld devices but also those reading books on personal computers using word processors and Web browsers. The development of the e-book technology has put a new and fresh focus on display reading.

Even if e-books cannot beat traditional books yet, these collective efforts will improve the legibility of e-book devices and make e-book reading more tempting for larger audiences. Readers will also consider the benefits of the e-book technologies such as potential lower unit prices, immediate access, large storage capacities, highly developed search functions, hyperlinks to both internal and Internet resources, adjustable fonts and sizes (according to individual preferences), speech generating plug-ins and the combined use of e-book readers with PDA functions, e-learning applications, music and video playing, and mobile telephony.

As Winston and others have demonstrated, diffusion is not only a matter of technology. Diffusion correlates to cultural and social needs [40]. Even if e-book technology improves remarkably within the next three to five years, it will still meet a lot of resistance. There is no reason to assume that e-books will replace traditional books in the near future or that readers will abandon paper for handheld readers.

Groups most inclined to start reading e-books are those that are interested in new technologies and devices, for example those naturally using computers, networks and cell phones. Rapid diffusion is likely to be dependent on how quickly schools and universities take advantage of e-books, how fast e-books become a natural part of network-based e-learning and on how fast e-book reading devices are established as indispensable lifestyle items among really serious readers. It is not a very daring guess to say that this will take some time.

Diffusion of e-books among readers is also heavily dependent on publishers. For a technology to be widespread, there must be a great and varied number of e-book titles available. It will be up to publishers to bring this variety to the market. There will be resistance since publishers have, after all, built their businesses and fortunes on the production of traditional books. The major concern among publishers is a reliable copy protection system that protects the publishers' investments in new technologies [41].

DRM systems distribute rights among participants in an e-book transaction and provide a secure distribution of e-book titles, protecting copyright against unauthorised duplication or reproduction. A DRM system is both an encryption and distribution system.

Some e-book distribution systems, like those of Gemstar and Cytale, already have secure DRM systems. These are proprietary systems closely related to their own Web servers and their own particular types of reading devices. Specific devices contain a hardware-based unique identifier that allows content retailers to encrypt each purchased title uniquely for download to that device. Other systems designed for a broader use are being developed; both Microsoft and Adobe have their own DRM systems.

The main problems of DRM are not technical, but social and cultural. Authors, readers, booksellers, libraries and authorities all claim their cultural and legal rights and some of these rights and interests are in conflict [42]. A customer thinking of buying an e-book may want to keep her privacy and resist being registered in a remote database in Ohio or Paris. As the owner of an e-book, she may also want to give the book away, lend it to a friend or to make a copy or two for her own personal use, all of which may be in conflict with the terms a publisher wants to offer when selling the book. The publisher on the other hand does not want to lose sales due to perceived illegal copies of an e-book in circulation.

In addition to the many conflicting interests and rights on a micro level, these interests and rights also differ on a macro level, that is from culture to culture and from country to country. Customer rights and copyright laws are not the same everywhere. For example, publishers and e-book retailers in U.S. are not regulated equally in other places in the world.

In a global e-book economy, there will be no DRM system that will comply with all the different interests at the same time. There will be many different and competing DRM systems, all with different compromises. There will be many different and competing reading systems. This situation will reduce the interests of both consumers and publishers and thus slow down the diffusion of e-books, largely because the number of available titles will grow slowly and consumers will not have easy access to all titles at any given moment.

Publishers will never be completely confident in their DRM systems. If one unprotected copy is created, it can easily be made into many multiple copies easily accessible on networks [43].

This problem is not specific just to e-books. Printed books can be scanned just as easily as any e-book. It is a problem for any content in digital form, be it music, video and software. Much effort is being dedicated to develop efficient and fair DRM systems that will make digital content easily accessible to customers and at the same time protect the rights of authors and publishers. The balance between acceptance by consumers and demands for control by publishers, though, has yet to be established. The danger is, as Clifford Lynch points out, that content and copyright owners are all too eager to control access to digital content. This interest in control of content will disturb a time-tested balance between individual and social needs for free access to information and the economic ambitions of corporations [44].

Because of its many social, cultural, legal and economic implications, the DRM question will affect the diffusion of e-books. Many DRM problems will need to be sorted out before e-books really tempt large numbers of readers. Acceptable DRM solutions will probably also be in store when e-book technology becomes part of the ever-growing wirelessly connected world of mobile devices.

E-book technology is in a very early phase of development and its diffusion is starting very slowly. Improvements in the basic technology will accelerate the pace of the e-book diffusion in the next three to five years. If that occurs, e-books will be fairly widespread in ten to fifteen years.

Book Production Processes

For the last three decades, book production has been largely digital. Writing, editing, layout and pre-press preparations are computerised and the publishing workflow is all network based. Distributors and retailers are heavily dependent on databases and ordering software and on online communication. Libraries have collected vast amounts of information about books in databases; authors and researchers can easily browse all of the major libraries in quest of relevant literature. References and abstracts can, in seconds, be downloaded to personal bibliographies.

The only missing component in this network is the physical content of books. E-books will change this situation altogether. As a digital document, an e-book will be accessible and downloadable at all times and from all over the world, requiring only an Internet connected computer and some way to complete an online financial transaction. In the near future theoretically all you will need is wireless information.

Networks will provide whole new ways of representing and distributing content, giving authors, libraries, distributors and publishers new challenges and possibilities [45]. This new situation will create new roles and new patterns of behaviour. Publishers will no longer be mere producers of paper books, but digital content agents, producing content in several formats and for different distribution channels. Publishers will produce books on paper and on demand in various digital formats, changing the structure of book production.

Today, traditional books start with an author using word processors and other programs to create text and illustrations. As the book evolves, the author works with an editor and publisher, by e-mail and post, to refine the book for a targeted audience on a specific schedule. Much of this editing and correcting is done both on paper and computer. When the book is completed in a form acceptable to all parties, text files and illustrative material are sent to a graphic arts designer where the physical creation of the book begins, with desktop publishing programs like QuarkXpress or Adobe InDesign. As these programs generate output, there is further editing and proofreading of the content. When the files are finally ready, digital master files are created for pre-press work and printing.

This workflow is well suited for production of traditional books, but does not work well for multimedia. In different media environments, content must have the ability to be represented and stored in various formats and modified in different digital ways. A condition for the varied and rich use of book content is therefore a separation of the semantic content structure of the book from formatting information for typography and layout.

Desktop publishing applications of today do not separate content from style. On the contrary, when typographers and book designers have added their elements to files, it is very difficult to separate semantic content and formatting instructions. This is especially troublesome, as much of the content editing - proofreading and other linguistic changes - has been done directly into these documents, making the master files the containers of the final and authentic text content. These documents are often stored by a pre-press or printing company and generally are unfit for use in most networks.

Publishers have several ways of breaking this deadlock. The easiest way out is to rely on Adobe and their Portable Document Format (PDF). PDF-files are platform independent and highly transmittable documents and PDF files can be extracted from all kinds of printable formats, preserving the original content, typography and layout. This makes PDF ideal for later print on demand. Its application means that a publisher makes only minor changes in the book production process. But to rely on PDF as the only e-book format could be risky.

As an e-book format, PDF is, in many ways, self-contradictory, static and made for print only. The capability of PDA documents to preserve the exact visual appearance of a printed page is highly cherished. However it is a liability in the e-book environment, where flexibility, dynamic typography, screen reading optimality and re-flow are preferred qualities.

The pages of a PDA document seldom fit the display sizes of handheld reading devices, and if they do they are rarely optimised for screen reading. Adobe, however, is working on improving their e-book reading software and they are creating features in desktop publishing applications (like PageMaker 7.0) to make it easier to pre-format books and documents to fit different display sizes and e-book reading applications, still using PDF. Only time will show if Adobe succeeds in transforming PDF into a dynamic, e-book-friendly format.

Publishers that rely exclusively on PDF reduce opportunities to take advantage of other e-book formats, sales channels and possible market shares. Other that PDF, most e-book formats use the Open E-Book (OEB) standard as a common file format in the production of e-books. Inaccurately, OEB is called by some as a subset of HTML adjusted for the rendering of e-books. OEB is actually a more elaborated format, following the rules of XML (extensible markup language) and XHTML (which is the XML version of HTML), where separate style sheets format e-books. XML is a language used for structuring of information and for transferring of data across different platforms. XML is a format publishers will eventually use a great deal, because it can be used for metadata, business transactions and DRM solutions as well as in e-book production.

In a period of transition most publishers will rely on some kind of conversion process. They will edit and produce their books more or less as they are used to, using word processing and desktop publishing tools. The desktop publishing application files will be converted into suitable XML or OEB documents and from these documents new e-books will be produced. Today this conversion is quite difficult and resource consuming, but some vendors are investing heavily in XML, hoping to make conversion as easy as pressing a button.

Most book publishers with intentions to exploit the digital marketplace will examine their backlists and decide on which books will need to be converted into a digital form. Many older, out-of-print books, over which publishers control the rights, are not digital; if they are in some digital form, the files may be in some long lost format or are incomplete or obsolete. A great deal of scanning and conversion may be required to get these books into circulation as e-books. In the course of this digital conversion publishers will probably select XML as the preferred format [46], reducing further opportunities for PDF to appear as the sole e-book format.

The most demanding process for publishers will be to change radically the whole production of books, making XML the preferred format. Unburdened by book publishing traditions, new e-publishing companies are automatically using XML [47]. In this new production line authors work in word processing applications using templates, enabling automatic conversion into XML and OEB, from which all kinds of books can be produced. From this XML starting point, content can be used in other digital environments, such as Web sites, e-learning courses, CD-ROMs or in online encyclopaedias. XML-based workflow is by far the most flexible way of producing book content.

Nevertheless, in this new workflow the tasks of authors and editors are very much the same as they were before - to produce high quality content. The main difference is that all content editing, including proofreading, has to be completed before styling in different formats begins. If last second changes are made, there have to be routines to make sure that these changes are also made in XML. This new way of production requires detailed planning, as some of the input has to be produced in several versions depending on the nature of the eventual output formats. On the other hand, when a carefully prepared production scheme is mapped out, the separation of content and formatting makes both multi-format productions and frequent updating easier. Authors and editors are essentially preparing one new XML-based version of a book that can be used to generate a nearly infinite variety of new editions in different formats.

Whether publishers choose a transitional or a radical adoption to production, books have to be finished and produced in their final formats. Today most publishers use external graphic arts, pre-press and printing companies to make up and produce physical printed books. This situation will probably continue as these companies often do a good job in preparing book content for further print-on-demand utilization. Conversion services as well will be outsourced; a variety of conversion companies will offer publishers formatting services, creating books in different e-book formats. Other companies, specializing in digital text services, will offer formatting, along with DRM, Web site construction, maintenance, hosting and payment systems. Obviously, content or digital assets management will be rapidly growing businesses.

Strategically, publishers will have to consider whether or not they want to do preparation and formatting within the house and to what degree they want to outsource these and other functions related to e-books. Given the variety of business models, publishers will chose according to their size, abilities, industry relations and corporate position. Whatever choice, the book production process will forever be changed.

Book Production Structures

Even if the core activity of publishers and authors will be the same - to produce quality book content according to scientific and literary norms - publishers will face some challenges in changing the production process to fit the digital use of content. The challenges will be both cultural and social.

Books have for centuries been more or less synonymous with printed books. E-books and digital publishing challenges traditional concepts of books. The features of e-books allow new genres, quality norms, uses, and, as we have described, ways of producing books. Most authors, editors and publishers have little understanding of XML-based production processes and the potentially rich uses of digital content. They do not understand the language of the new actors invading the book industry.

However, some publishers are already changing their production process making it far more flexible in terms of multiuse of content. This change requires learning a new vocabulary and realities of XML-based production. It also means communicating with new actors, in addition to the familiar pre-press and printing companies. Whatever policies publishing companies choose regarding outsourcing, the company's authors, editors and graphic designers will have to relate to new display rendering technologies, with their special requirements on structuring and formatting of books. To be competitive in the world of digital books, a certain level of competence in these areas will therefore have to be developed within the organisation of publishers.

E-book technologies involve new ways of representing and distributing book content. For publishers this mean using the Internet as both sales and marketing channels. Publishers will need to have in place digital asset and rights nanagement systems and Web hosting facilities so they can interact with e-bookstores and other publishers online. Given the variety of business models and technological solutions, publishers will develop marketing and sales strategies to take advantage of many new possibilities.

This new diversity of distribution channels will in turn alter book production. Many new questions will have to be answered. Will new printings of traditional books be issued on demand, or printed in advance and warehoused? What updating routines will be required for new editions? Which e-book formats will be produced? Can the content of the book be use on CD-ROMs or in e-learning applications? Can parts of the content be used in online encyclopaedias? What parts of the book should be used as "teasers" online? What interactive features should be implemented? What marketing strategies should be developed? Should authors have independent Web sites?

In order to answer these questions, publishers will need to gather much experience about these new ways of collaboration. Exactly how publishers will develop their organisations in order to meet these new challenges is too early to predict. Some publishers will continue developing their multimedia departments, others will integrate ordinary print and digital content productions. Most publishers will reorganise their marketing and sales departments. In all cases more teamwork and project-oriented workflow will likely have organisational consequences. It is also likely that different publishers will cooperate more extensively than they already do. Whatever solutions must come, what seems obvious is that new book content production processes and distribution and marketing channels will demand new ways of organisation.

 


Will E-Books Change the World?

Book Industry Structures

The Internet, handheld computers, liquid crystal displays and enhanced font rendering are the technological basis for the development of e-books. E-books provide new ways of representing content as well as new ways of distributing and selling books. This new medium has created a new situation and shaken some elements of the publishing industry. New patterns of behaviour and new organisations have started to evolve in order to meet these challenges as publishers and authors, especially in U.S., have started to recognise the potentials of e-books in the network economy.

Depending on scale and pace, the diffusion of e-book technology will also affect the rest of the book industry. In a research study made for the Association of American Publishers, Andersen Consulting predicts e-book sales will represent 10 percent of the total book market in 2005 [48]. If this prediction partly comes true, no part of the book industry will be unaffected. Let me point out some of the probable effects.

As digital publishing spreads, the graphic industry that handles traditional books will see fewer books; traditional books will, in increasing numbers, be printed on demand. This will increase competition; parts of the printing industry have already started to reorganise in order to meet the change. Future skills, in design, typography and photography, will be directed towards digital publishing. The design of e-books will be, in the future, a new occupation. Parts of the traditional book production industry will probably become extinct in this process.

E-book sales and print on demand will leave book retailers with fewer printed books to sell; fierce competition will force some traditional (and probably independent) booksellers out of business. These changes will concentrate retailers into national and international book chains. Many consumers will see their local, independent bookshops vanish, but at the same time a world of books will become increasingly accessible through the Internet. Instructors and students will probably see less expensive and more up-to-date content. E-books, print-on-demand and the Web have given and will continue to give education new instruments to explore. Education and our concepts of reading and learning will certainly change. What will be the role of libraries? [49] In the digital future will libraries be able to collect and gather information and continue to provide it freely, as they do today?

This, and a lot of other questions, cannot be answered yet. But it is obvious that the diffusion of e-books will bring changes. In many countries there are fine-tuned balances between different parties of the book trade; even a moderate spread of e-books could therefore bring major changes in the structure of the book industry.

In this paper I have argued that in understanding these changes one should broaden the perspective and not focus just on e-book technology itself. One should rather look at e-book technology as a vehicle bringing the book industry into the new network-based digital and global economy. A broader perspective will also help explain what has happened to the e-book industry itself during the last few years.

In 1999, the e-book industry was dominated by small U.S. start-ups like NuvoMedia (Rocket eBook) and SoftBook and many small, Web-based, often amateur-looking e-book retailers. Happy e-book enthusiasts discussing the future of reading dominated newsgroups and e-book mailing lists. In these same discussion groups there was a significant change in mood during the spring of 2000. Gemstar acquired NuvoMedia and SoftBook and with the launching of MS Reader it became clear that Microsoft had serious intentions about e-books. Many participants in newsgroups realised that the times for innovation by creative individuals had already past.

And indeed they had. Today great multinational companies like Gemstar, Microsoft and Adobe dominate the e-book industry. Gemstar has joined forces with and licensed production of e-book readers to the electronic giant Thompson Multimedia (under the RCA brand). Microsoft's reading technology is an integral piece of its move to be a player in every facet of the e-book market. Microsoft wants every reader on earth to use MS Reader software, operating on Windows; they want all publishers to use their e-book editing applications and all publishers and e-book retailers to use their content asset servers and digital rights management systems. The same ambitions apply to Adobe, ready to strengthen its along important position in the world's graphic and publishing industries. In the background, the telecommunication and mobile phone giant Nokia hopes to develop its wireless appliances into popular e-book reading devices, delivering wireless technology to handheld e-book readers around the world. Palm, Casio, Compaq and Hewlett Packard all reckon e-book reading software will add value and attract customers to their electronic devices.

All these companies are at the heart of the information economy. Many of these are world leaders; their strategic moves into the e-book business are part of larger plans to strengthen their dominant positions in the digital content delivery infrastructures of the world.

Nearly all of the major U.S. publishing companies have launched extensive e-book production schemes. McGraw-Hill, Random House, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins and Time Warner all have extensive e-book plans. They have all signed agreements with Amazon and Barnes & Noble, the dominant e-book retailers. Since many of these publishers are integral components of multinational media conglomerates, such as AOL/Time Warner and Bertelsmann, their strategic moves into the e-book business are part of larger plans to strengthen these companies as dominant digital content deliverers around the world.

In less than two years a large part of the e-book industry has been brought into the global economy by some of the most powerful companies in the world. They trust e-book technologies and see the medium as a way to increase revenues and profits. The features of digital books make them ideal for distribution and sales globally and media conglomerates have the infrastructure and market positions to exploit these possibilities.

In the meantime independent publishers are a bit bewildered. Some have started small-scale production and sale of e-books, others are planning to do so while yet others are waiting for the right moment to make their move. Most publishers - in the U.S. at least - envision electronic publishing and e-books important to their future. Despite poor digital content sales and recent dot.com crises, U.S. publishers continue to convert their content into malleable digital formats like XML [50].

The structure of the traditional book industry has gone through a number changes recently, with the book trade becoming an integrated part of global communication industries [51]. This tendency will probably accelerate as digital books bring the publishing industry into middle of a network-based media economy.

Right now in the e-book business there are almost daily announcements of new ventures, alliances and acquisitions [52]. As publishers move into e-books, they will face a variety of challenges in coping with new technologies, production processes and sales and marketing channels. For most publishers this will call for collaboration and strategic alliances. The publishing industry will not escape the logic of the network economy. In most countries we will see a concentration of the publishing business into a few dominating companies. In spite of language and political borders, the book industry will be global, like much of the rest of the economy, with many publishers being part of multinational media companies. Ultimately who will master the game on a global basis?

 

The Sony Reader E-book Device