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Old 11-09-2004, 06:28 AM   #1
Colin Dunstan
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Essay: The Future of E-Books

The following is an interesting essay posted by Michael Hart on Yahoo's ebooks-community. It should be great material for further discussion, so post your thoughts in this thread

The Future of eBooks

eBooks have been with the public a third of a century now, though most are probably barely aware of them, if at all.

Most of them are still available free of charge on the Net and a few are available for perhaps an average of $75 each from several companies selling mainly to libraries with an entire collection of a million books or more, but it would be rare indeed, if there is even one example, for such big libraries to have even 1% of their catalog as eBooks.

Many such libraries simply haven't figured out how to make catalog entries for free eBooks and one of the attractions of the pricey eBooks is that they come with prepared MARC, MAchine Readable Catalog, records, that free the libraries from having to make their own catalog entries.

*Obviously one of the requirements for getting eBooks into *wide use in libraries is to take care of this problem.

Besides that, of course, is the situation concerning facts that no major players are playing in a major way in eBooks at all, just a few putting their toes in the water without actually trying swim anywhere.

At the present time, the vast majority of eBooks have been prepared and released by private citizens of the Internet, with somewhere over 100,000 eBooks currently downloadable, legally, free of charge.

Of course, countries are still extending copyrights, right and left, to make it illegal to put these books on the Net and new countries are adding to their copyright term every single year, until eventually, nearly every single country will have ruled out a million eBooks that were slated into the public domain before this anti-eBook legislation began when the Internet was first coming on the scene.

Even so, it is quite obvious that Project Gutenberg should be recognized as continuing a growth rate in excess of the famous "Moore's Law" that states that some computer things will double in size ever 18 months.

The Project Gutenberg collection has grown from 10 eBooks, in 1990, to 25,000, in 2004, far in excess of Moore's Law, which would have predicted only 6,451 by the end of 2004.

Thus we can only expect 100,000 Project Gutenberg eBooks a couple of doublings later on, and 1,000,000 10 years after reaching 100,000.

Once we have this collection of a million eBooks online it won't be long before much more organized systems of eBooks become available, either from inside the libraries or from the outside, as it is inevitable that search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, and MicroSoft new engine, would continue their massive coverage of eBooks. Just Google "Hamlet and Project Gutenberg" in Google right now for an example, you get over 10,000 hits.

The more eBooks we make available, the more people will do things with them, including making them more available for everyone to find and use, and also make them available for use in much wider varieties of format, catalog information for wider range of international library systems, etc.

Once a million eBooks are available, which I predict would be within a decade, several things will happen:

1. Libraries will make a greater effort to catalog them.

2. Search engines will increase their eBook listings.

3. Machine Translation will begin to translate books into what should soon be 100 different languages, which are going to drive the international cataloging efforts to even greater heights.

4. Just as with the cell phone, some countries without an existing major library system will simply bypass steps through the physical library system to the eLibrary as they did by bypassing a million miles of copper wires, by simply going directly to eBooks that flow over that same kind of electronic transfer systems as cell phone technology makes their calls. All will be wireless.

5. Even today's smaller laptop computers have enough disk drive space to hold an eBook copy of every book I have ever heard of, and more. I have a DVD here that holds over 20,000 eBooks in only 4.3G of space, meaning that laptops with DVD drives could easily carry all 100,000 eBooks on a one inch stack of plain DVDs. When double sided, double-density DVD burners get cheaper, it will be four times as easy to carry 100,000 ebooks, in fact it might only take two DVDs. Thus carrying a million, once thought to be totally science-fiction when I said it first, back in 1971, should become easy enough that they weigh only about one pound.

6. My furthest dreams for my expected lifetime, up to the year 2021, are for there to be 10,000,000 eBooks up on the Net for free downloading, just about all of what I estimate to be in the public domain, and 1,000,000,000 if you count them each being translated into languages far and wide. . .a process I expect would still be "in progress" in 2021, barring some unexpected growth from the machine translation area.

7. There you have it, my guess at the course of eBooks of about half a century, from the first 5K file posted on the Internet on July 4, 1971 to perhaps a billion book files by the end of 2021, or shortly thereafter.
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Old 11-10-2004, 07:08 AM   #2
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What's the barrier ?

I have to admit that I'm a very big fan of e-books. I currently have a "queue" of about 12 books waiting to be read, and I invariably read these on the train going to and from work. I should mention right now that these are nearly all from Project Gutenberg and similar libraries and they're all free. I've also paid for short story e-books on Memoware and have enjoyed these immensely. I'm happy with the situation. My weapon of choice is Plucker, which is a very good application indeed.

So what's the barrier to wider acceptance and use of e-books ? To my mind it's partly the cost of the hardware, but this is becoming less of an issue, especially as I'm now able to read some of Chairman Mao's "On New Democracy" on my Nokia 6600 thanks to Handybook/the PDB format. Definitely a step in the right direction and potentially one less device to carry.

The bigger issue though is the plethora of file formats. There are just way too many. Also I find it really annoying that many publishers are choosing PDF format: this is fine on a laptop, but on my Sony Clie TJ37 that means I invariably have to use Picsel. This is a handy tool to have but I find it impractical to read a book with. Quite apart from having to scroll and resize it's just not the right thing to use.

I feel that if the number of formats could be reduced, perhaps combining the best features of many into one, then we'd stand a better chance of having more e-books. With a clearly-defined format to work from, manufacturers of hand-held/mobile devices might be able to bundle reader software in with their devices and this would benefit everyone.
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Old 11-10-2004, 08:09 AM   #3
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PDF stinks, I have to admit! It is the worst format when you try to convert it into another format such as html. My favorite format would be (x)html or xml, which is open-source and can easily be converted to anything you want.

Unfortunately, I wasn't too happy with Gutenberg's library, mainly because I prefer to read new fiction and non-fiction, which falls under copyright laws. So I was forced to buy eReader Pro and purchase my favorite books from their online e-book store. Though I prefer reading e-books over reading paperback books, I still don't understand why prices for commercial e-books must be so high.
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