It all began in the mid-’90s. Technology was rapidly evolving and its role in our everyday lives was in the infant stages. At this point, when cyberspace was a wide-open frontier town, an exciting new technology (digital books aka electronic books or eBooks) emerged and hailed the dawning of a new era in the publishing world. But what happened then?
The predictions of the demise of the printed word did not come to fruition. Why haven't we all adopted the eBook if it was such a promising idea two decades ago? The fact of the matter is that digital publishing failed in its first attempt. The Internet was twenty years younger, high-speed and wireless had not yet been introduced, and social media carried little to no meaning.
However, the past five years have seen a rebirth of the eBook. Once again, the seers suggest that within five years, a majority of colleges will integrate the technology; within seven years high schools will; and throughout that span, Kindles (our review of the original Kindle here and the later K2 here), Nooks, iPads (our preliminary take on the iPad here), and many more tools for digital reading, will saturate the market. Will this happen? Or is it just another series of false prophets claiming that the future is at hand?
The consensus in the industry is that seems like the real deal this time. eBook form and function is far superior to the models of 15 years ago. Also, the developments of high-speed and wireless Internet access, and thus the ability to buy media instantly and without getting up from your chair make a world of difference. No doubt the virtual bookstores of today are far superior to those of the past as well, and excluding a few reference and technical books (yep, the textbook sort), I found the Kindle and iPad libraries fully stocked with anything I could ever want. And apparently others are finding plenty of what they need and want as well; eBooks sales have seen an annual growth of 55%, as compared to traditional print-book sales growing by only 2.5%.
So what's the right approach to the eBook? Amazon now has the ever-improving Kindle DX available, and from its reviews it looks like a simple, affordable, and user-friendly creation. The iPad, Steve Jobs's new baby, is sure to play a role in the future eBook market. But maybe something better is just around the corner and who wants to spend hundreds of dollars on a device that could be obsolete tomorrow?
An equally important question is who does the eBook really benefit (other than Amazon and Apple). Nature? It surely reduces the necessity to cut down more trees to print new books. Publishers? The cost of production, shipping, and handling are all virtually erased. Authors? With the reduced cost of production, publishers are now keeping more profits after incurring fewer costs, which means higher royalties for authors. Readers? Versatility, compact design, cheaper books certainly do add to the lure of the eBooks idea.
So yes, all of the above parties seem to benefit in one way or another. Now who loses when it comes to eBooks? Well, the real losers are the bookstores as publishers can now communicate directly with their readers using the Internet and purchases are made online and content downloaded without a physical retail store.
How soon is this going to happen? It already is, but it has been for some time, though momentum is building. The current eBooks (readers, selections, and delivery models) are far from perfect. Note taking, marking, and finding a certain position in a book are far simpler with a hard copy (for now). And some people just miss that feel of a book. However, traveling with and accessing books in your collection are far simpler with a Kindle or iPad or Nook. And of course the ease of expanding that collection is close to effortless.
Now is an exciting time to see how technology and print converge. No one can know the timeframe in which this convergence and subsequent transition and transformations will take place, but all factors suggest it will happen and happen sooner rather than later. For some, the eBook is the perfect solution for modern literary needs, but only the coming years will tell if this technological trend, a further shift into the digital, will truly endure and how popular it will be.