Electronic Books: To “E” or not to “E”; that is the question
Ardito Information & Research, Inc.
Picard always smiles at his crew’s bewilderment and, with great patience, tells them that there is nothing like the feel of running his finger down a printed page; there is nothing like hearing the sound of the pages turning; there is nothing like seeing how the author originally intended his words to be recorded and displayed. The crew members shake their heads in bafflement, but Picard continues to read his printed volumes of Shakespeare, his detective novels, and his books on ancient cultures and civilizations.
I cannot imagine a time when there are no printed books to curl up with in bed or in a window seat, no vacation tomes suitable for readers lying on a beach, and, truth be told, no bubble bath books. Like Picard, I am saddened by the thought of future generations who may never know the incredible pleasure of holding a book in their hands. At the same time, I am realistic enough to know that making books available in electronic form opens enormous possibilities for research and library acquisitions. I do look forward to the time when publishers in all disciplines make their titles electronically accessible to researchers and consumers.
Although the availability of electronic books across industries is growing, at this time, publishers of literary and government titles seem the primary advocates of the genre. Works written by authors dead for 70 or more years and federal documents supported by tax dollars exist in the public domain. Because publishers and database producers do not have to contend with author contract disputes, the costs of compensating rights-holders, or other potential copyright violations, literary and government print titles are the logical choices for digitalization and electronic availability. However, in the non-academic world, corporate researchers, marketing professionals, and consumers also have a vested interest in accessing and paying reasonable transaction fees for electronic materials.
Traditional publishers, particularly those producing medical and scientific texts, have yet to fully embrace this new technology. Such publishers continue to charge high institutional licensing fees for electronic texts, either insisting that print sales are the mainstay of their livelihoods or contending that encoding and other electronic development costs involve major expenses that must be passed onto their users  .
Without doubt, the purchase of electronic books has advantages for the academic and public library communities and their users. A single copy of a work can be loaded onto a server and made accessible to an unlimited number of users, technologically at least, if not contractually. Searching for specific information in large volumes of text can save time and turn texts into reference books. Links, graphics, and sound embedded in texts can provide additional resources of information. Electronic archives can preserve historical print texts in jeopardy of disintegrating. Because there is no physical inventory, electronic books can be printed or downloaded on demand; consequently, a publisher never has to worry about running out of stock.
Over a year ago, I read The Professor and the Mad Man , the history of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. It occurred to me then that if the worldwide literature from the time of Gutenberg forward had been stored electronically, the quest to understand the origin and history of every English word that ever existed would have become much easier. The nearly 100 years needed to create the original OED would have been cut dramatically, not to mention the possible increased accuracy of determining how words developed over time. This demonstrates another advantage of electronic texts — conducting word searches for computer-counted occurrences can help track the history of language and cultures.
Publishing electronic books has special appeal to authors. Ultimately, it could give authors greater control over their content and how their works are marketed and distributed. Authors could retain copyright ownership and directly manage the financial aspects of their publishing endeavors. In time, authors could even use the Web as a direct publishing medium and eliminate the need for commercial publishers.
However, publishing e-books has its potential disadvantages, too. Obvious ones include the size and weight of portable computers designed to display pages on a screen, the expense of purchasing portable devices, and the difficulty in reading digitized print. The transformation from linear text to hypertext may change the authoritative nature and understanding of the original works. Users of electronic text need to know the specific edition they have received and how well the publisher or database producer has maintained the accuracy of the electronic text. For example, marginal notes may become lost or placed out of context in electronic copies. Publishers and research editors may manipulate and change text. Value-added hypertext links may be added at the whim of a questionable source.
As for licensing and copyright, several issues for concern arise. If electronic books are “borrowed” from an electronic library, accompanied by encoding designed to prevent unauthorized copying and printing, will these measures invade the privacy of individual readers? When we buy hardcopies or receive printed books as gifts, no one knows how or whether we read the material or what we copy for friends or colleagues. In an electronic book world, it is quite possible that individuals will be monitored for their use of specific sections within the complete text. On the other hand, this monitoring does have its advantages. It promotes compensation for authors and other rights-holders by the number of hits or reads, a model of pricing that may lead traditional publishers who are presently resisting the electronic changes currently underway to open their archives.
Internet-based subscriptions to an electronic library collection are also troublesome if the subscriber decides not to renew. In the print world, a library gets to keep whatever its subscription payments have purchased; in all but a handful of cases, the library owns the material. But what happens to a library’s ownership position in the case of electronic archives of both electronic journals and books? Despite potential barriers, optimism blooms that current scholarly applications of electronic books will influence the marketing of a broader distribution of “practical,” work-related titles across disciplines and to a wider audience of users at an affordable cost.
Since the industry
only originated in 1998, I wondered about the history and key players in
the market today. What follows is an overview of the industry’s progress
to date. Searcher’s readers should know that I concentrated my research
on e-book companies that combine hardware and software on portable electronic
devices or provide subscription services on the Internet.
History of the E-Book Industry
and Current Trends/Issues
The theory of portable electronic books seems to have evolved as far back as the late 1960s and early 1970s, long before personal computers became popular with the mass public. In 1968, Alan Kay, then a postgraduate student at Utah, introduced an electronic book concept called Dynabook. Kay envisioned a portable, interactive personal computer, featuring a flat panel display and wireless communications. The Dynabook idea was further developed during Kay’s work on personal computers and graphical user interfaces at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center .
Andries Van Dam (Thomas J. Watson, Jr., university professor of Technology and Education and professor of Computer Science, Brown University) is widely credited for coining the term “electronic book” over 20 years ago . In 1967 and 1968, Van Dam led a team that developed the first working hypertext system. “The Hypertext Editing System ran in 128 K memory on an IBM/360 mainframe and was funded by IBM, who later sold it to the Houston Manned Spacecraft Center, where it was used to produce documentation for the Apollo space program.” During the 1970s, a File Retrieval and Editing System (FRESS) was used by Brown University faculty members and students. “FRESS featured dynamic hierarchy (like chapters/sections...), bidirectional reference links and keyworded links and nodes. On graphics terminals FRESS offered multiple windows and vector graphics”  .
Michael Hart initiated Project Gutenberg [http://www.gutenberg.net] in 1971, when he was given $100 million of computer time by the Materials Research Lab at the University of Illinois. Hart keyed in the “Declaration of Independence” and widely disseminated the electronic document across several networks. (One could consider this dissemination as one of the first instances of Internet “spam.”) Since 1971, the Project Gutenberg team has been responsible for loading nearly 2,100 Public Domain Editions, primarily “Light Literature” (Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, Peter Pan, Aesop’s Fables), “Heavy Literature” (the Bible and other religious documents, Shakespeare, Moby Dick, Paradise Lost), and “References” (Roget’s Thesaurus, almanacs, encyclopedias, dictionaries) .
According to The
Seybold Report on Internet Publishing, publishers have digitized books
for more than a decade. During the early 1990s, Sony attempted various
versions of portable electronic books, but did not succeed. At the same
time, encyclopedias on CD-ROM, combining interactive features and multimedia,
became popular with consumers. Adobe Acrobat (using what has become known
as the Portable Document Format or PDF, widely available free for downloading
was introduced as a commercial software product for publishing and viewing
electronic text. However, hand-held devices for reading e-books are a recent
phenomenon, only appearing in the latter half of 1998. 3Com Corporation
and its Palm Organizers may have been catalysts for publishers and entrepreneurs
to capitalize their efforts into developing electronic books. Seybold predicts
that shipments of hand-held devices were “in the tens of thousands of units”
[in 1999] with “more dramatic sales growth” anticipated this year 
Hardware and Software
Appliances dedicated to electronic books (versus books available on the Internet via computer connection) include hand-held, battery-powered devices and personal digital assistants (PDAs) . Displays are improving, but the development of a device that delivers the brightness and resolution of a printed page may be a long time in coming. As far as the feel of paper, Xerox PARC and E-Ink (a spin-off of the MIT Media Lab) are co-developing “digital paper” . IBM, Motorola, Lucent, and other technology companies are attempting to create “thin, flexible sheets that look and feel like paper, yet can hold an electronic charge and display electronic text.” E Ink [http://www.eink.com] is working on several e-paper prototypes . For the moment, software mainly works with Windows and Windows CE operating systems, with some support for Linux and Macintosh software.
Although the industry
is wrestling with new text standards (see below), for the moment, hand-held
devices generally support ASCII-, HTML-, and/or PDF-formatted texts. E-books
are directly downloaded from Web-based sites into desktop computers, organizers
(such as PalmPilot), and/or proprietary readers (such as Rocket eBook,
SoftBook, and EB Dedicated Reader) developed by e-publishers. Users may
need special software to read encrypted texts. A company named Audible
even offers talking versions of e-books via downloading into hand-held
personal computers or the company’s MobilePlayer. Some e-publishers preload
books (mainly dictionaries, thesauri, and bibles), but, for the most part,
customers have to select, pay for, and download titles from each company’s
Unlike the e-journal industry, in which publishers work together to develop common standards, e-book suppliers operate independently of one another, mainly because each e-book publisher has its own approach to encryption. The widely used standards, HTML and PDF, continue as dominant document formats on the Internet, but are not perfect standards for books delivered on hand-held devices. HTML displays can be difficult and Acrobat displays too large for small devices. E-book standards remain in their infancy.
In late 1998, the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) of the U.S. Department of Commerce formed the Open E-Book Standards Committee (OEBSC). Members include the Association of American Publishers (AAP), Microsoft, Random House, vendors of e-book viewing devices (including NuvoMedia and SoftBook Press), and traditional publishers (e.g., R.R. Donnelley & Sons). One project emanating from OEBSC is the Open E-Book Initiative. The Initiative’s committee met in March 1999 to review a draft of formatting specifications based on XML and HTML. Draft standards released in July 1999 called for electronic book publishers to use HTML and XML. [You can download a copy of the draft standards from http://www.openebook.org.]
In fall 1999, NuvoMedia
and SoftBook Press teamed with Microsoft “to create an open standard that
lets each manufacturer form and encrypt the material to its own satisfaction
without changing the initial format.” The standard is a subset of XML,
called Open eBook Publication Structure 1.0. At the same time that OEBSC
was organizing its efforts to develop industry-wide standards, the Electronic
Book Exchange (EBX) Working Group [http://www.ebxwg.com]
was developing a document that would establish copyright protection and
distribution standards    .
When you buy a print book, it’s understood that you can resell or give the book away. In an electronic world of digital books, publishers seem to be insuring that users no longer have the rights of first use. The Seybold Report states the dilemma perfectly:
A title is tied to the device for which it was purchased. Sharing titles is difficult, and resale is impossible. The underlying economic model has more in common with a pay-per-view theatrical performance or sporting event than with print publishing. While good for publishers, the model will create plenty of problems for readers and librarians .Buyers of electronic books have to figure out whether or not the purchase represents a licensing deal or a distribution deal. At least three options are at play. First, an e-book distributor might contract with publishers to load titles on the distributor’s central database. The distributor is responsible for preparing and maintaining the electronic editions. In this scenario, the distributor and publisher will likely sign a book licensing contract.
The second option is one in use by primary and secondary journal publishers (in the scholarly journal industry, databases — such as the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed and ISI’s Web of Science — furnish links to full-text articles that reside on publishers’ Web sites). In the world of electronic books, the full text might also reside on each publisher’s server. Customers may buy e-books from a Web bookstore, but are linked directly to publishers’ Web sites that deliver the electronic books in secure form. In this model, the publisher totally controls the look and feel, as well as the distribution, of its own titles .
The third model,
which has yet to be initiated, is one proposed by Dick Brass, vice president,
Technology Development at Microsoft. Brass predicts a large market for
kiosks that dispense electronic books in brick-and-mortar bookstores .
Additional Players and E-Book
Developments to Watch
At the end of 1999, Barnes & Noble bought a 49 percent stake in iUniverse.com, a new e-publisher based in California “that charges a modest fee to would-be authors to post manuscripts in electronic versions” . Barnes & Noble has partnered with Microsoft, which is developing Microsoft Reader software, to offer e-books in mid-2000 . Random House announced a 2-year project to digitize all books on its back list of 20,000 titles, and Simon & Shuster “is formatting all new books in digital form,” preparing to digitize “at least 4,000 of its 20,000 back-list titles” this year .
On the library front, the University of Texas-Austin plans to increase its collection of 6,000 digital books with a $1 million budget specifically designated for this purpose [see the University’s Books on the Internet at http://www.lib.utexas.edu/Libs/PCL/Etext.html] . Yale University has received a $42,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation “to fund a 1-year pilot project that will be conducted by eight of the 18 members of NERL (the NorthEast Research Libraries Consortium). The project is called “BYTES, Books You Teach Every Semester” and grows out of the NERL libraries’ desire to exploit and influence effectively the rapidly developing electronic book marketplace, which began clearly to emerge in 1999. The participating institutions include Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, New York University, Syracuse University, University of Connecticut, and Yale University” .
A few top-notch,
Web-based directories, newsletters, and e-bookstores have emerged to help
us follow the growth of the electronic book industry. The eBookNet.com
includes a free, subscription-based newsletter and online forum that provides
a wealth of information about e-publishers, the industry, and sources for
obtaining e-titles. FatBrain [http://www.fatbrain.com]
is a commercial e-bookstore endeavor, furnishing lists of e-books. FatBrain’s
eMatter service allows authors to upload and sell their original content
(in Microsoft Word, PDF, PostScript, or ASCII formats) on the FatBrain
site and to split the royalties. The Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts
offers an impressive “collection of digital documents from American literature,
English literature, and Western philosophy.” The catalogue describes each
e-book in detail, including title, author name, byte size, original publication
date, format, and whether those with portable devices can download the
The Future of Electronic Books
According to the writers of Star Trek, electronic books of the 24th century will not reflect the feel and sound of printed works as we have experienced them since Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1455. Based on my review of the industry to date, I’m not so sure. No matter what future direction the industry takes, I must admit that I admire the efforts of entrepreneurs outside the traditional publishing industry who have taken initiatives to design portable devices that one day just might give us print equivalents Martin Eberhard, a little more than a year ago, echoed my own intuition about this burgeoning e-book industry when he wrote that traditional publishers will “lose relevance in a world of primarily electronic formats” .
a long way to go before they completely satisfy print book lovers and prove
Captain Picard wrong. We need sufficient content to make the industry appealing.
Pricing has to be attractive. Portability and comfort are necessary (including
screens that emulate the feel of books, not to mention the wonderful pleasure
of hearing pages turn). And most important, we must be reassured that our
privacy will not be invaded.
Stephanie Ardito, Ardito Information & Research, Inc. [http://www.ardito.com], can be reached by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
|Players to Watch: Web-Based and Hand-Held Device Companies|
the electronic book industry still in its infancy, determining which players
will survive in the long run is very iffy. For example, a company called
GemBook Inc. went out of business in just 3 months. SoftBook Press, Inc.
and NuvoMedia, Inc. appear to be two of the strongest e-book publishers,
but in January of this year, Gemstar International Group (who also plans
to acquire TV Guide, Inc.) acquired both of them. The two companies will
continue to sell their individual reading devices, but will no longer compete
with one another. And on February 9, netLibrary announced its plans to
purchase Peanut Press [http://www.peanutpress.com/pr/
Traditional publishers, for the most part, are absent from this new industry. A few major consumer and trade publishers, such as Simon & Shuster and McGraw-Hill, have just begun to enter the market. And one should keep a lookout for developments between Microsoft and Barnes & Noble; sometime in mid-2000, Barnes & Noble plans to sell electronic books readable using Microsoft software.
New players that
I believe have a strong chance of surviving are profiled here.
The Web site offers more than 400 titles searchable by keyword, author, and publisher. Visitors to the site can read the first chapter of the book at no cost and receive a free author’s biography.
To view books, you click on the title of interest. A “Table of Contents” displaying each chapter appears. When clicking on the chapter for viewing, navigational aids display on the left side of the page. You can move to a specific page, a previous or next chapter, or return to the “Table of Contents.”
Books24x7.com prices access by “seat” (i.e., per individual use). The more users from an institution that sign up, the lower the subscription cost. A four-user, annual subscription costs $199 per seat; 5-9 users $179 per seat; 10-19 users $161 per seat; 20-49 users $145 per seat; with price quotes available for 50 seats or greater. In addition, a customer can take out a 2-month subscription for $17.95/month or a single month subscription for $24.95.
The company also
offers e-book content to consumers who own PalmPilots, VISOR PDAs, Windows-powered
devices (such as the Casio Cassiopeia E-100), or tablet devices (such as
the Vadem CLIO or Hitachi HPC). Books24x7 plans to extend support to users
of Symbian EPOC devices.
Two touch screens permit a customer to page forward and backward in the electronic books they have purchased and include access to indexes and tables of contents. A toolbar includes mechanisms for highlighting, annotating, and bookmarking texts. Printing pages depends on copyright and licensing restrictions imposed by the publishers. Customers can search by title, author, or subject. EBs come preloaded with a dictionary, thesaurus, and a Bible.
The Professional Model (12”x 9”x 1.9”) is expected to be released in the second quarter 2000 for a price of $1,600. A Personal Model (9”x 6”x 1.9”) will be made available late this year.
To order e-books,
customers can establish debit, credit, or e-cash accounts.
The Glassbook Plus Reader adds features, including a copy of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the ability to annotate book passages, and permission to give or lend a book to another individual. Both Readers allow laptop users to turn the computer on its side to read the text, almost emulating an open print book. Electronic books are available in PDF and Open eBook Publication Structure formats. The Glassbook Reader also supports the Electronic Book Exchange (EBX). Books can be read on Pentium computers running Windows 98, Windows 95, and Windows NT 4.0. The company plans to introduce Macintosh and Windows CE versions.
A Glassbook Content Server is available to those publishers, distributors, and booksellers wishing to sell titles on their own Web sites. The Glassbook Library Server also allows academic, public, and corporate libraries to store electronic books on their sites. The Web-based system manages the acquisitions, storage, and lending of electronic titles. “Each e-book is encrypted…so that only the legitimate borrower of a book can read it.” Software required by libraries must include Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 4 or later, Internet Information Server (IIS) 4.0 or later, Microsoft Data Access Components (MDAC) 2.1 or later, Windows Script Host 5.0 or later, and Internet Explorer 4 or later. Library patrons can search titles, check out, and return electronic books using Internet Explorer 4 or later or Netscape 4 or later. A beta version is expected this year.
Following in the
vision of Dick Brass at Microsoft, Glassbook has also designed an “e-book
purchasing station for bookstores, coffee shops, or anywhere book lovers
gather.” A beta version of the Glassbook Kiosk will be available in 2001.
Kanakaris Communications Inc.
Kanakaris envisions the direct delivery of interactive content including music, movies, and books directly over the Internet to computer devices available in offices, schools, homes, cars, on a worldwide, around-the-clock basis. Kanakaris intends to be a leading player in the content and technology of direct, over-the-Internet delivery. Kanakaris has the rights to distribute the largest number of copyright books electronically on the Internet (as of August 1999, over 250 books online and rights to distribute 2,000 more), has movies of many different genres available (currently over 200, ranging from Hollywood classics to genre films). Kanakaris has a wealth of additional Internet content, which includes interviews, art, and specialty items…. Kanakaris is also involved in developing its technology to allow a delivery of books to hand-held computer devices such as PalmPilot and other PDAs.Customers can read free excerpts before they purchase electronic books. Inexpensive titles cost as low as $2.95 each, but like many other e-book publishers, these low-cost works tend to be in the public domain or are out-of-print. One can search the database of e-book titles by keyword, topic, author, or title. Payment is made by credit card (MasterCard and Visa). Books (complete with any illustrations) can be downloaded directly into your computer to a default location or to a location you specify. “Downloading takes from 2 to 15 minutes for each NetBook depending upon the file size, your Internet connection, and the amount of congestion on the Internet at the time of download.”
Titles include “popular best sellers…a wide variety of in-print, out-of-print, and never-before-published books.” Books are downloaded into hand-held devices, such as PalmPilot, VISOR, and Windows-Powered PDAs.
The unique Personal
Digital Library, a secondary storage service, lets customers who have bought
and downloaded books into hand-held devices store their works on the Librius.com
Web site. Users then have Internet access to content they have purchased.
The Web site provides
useful information about electronic books, including a definition of this
new medium and detailed instructions for downloading and installing free
eReader software that works with various hand-held devices.
textbook and technology publishers include McGraw-Hill, W.W. Norton, John
Wiley & Sons, The Wall Street Journal Online, Oracle, and O’Reilly
Software. Publishers set the prices for complete texts and/or individual
public, corporate, and private libraries are netLibrary’s primary targets.
netLibrary offers two types of e-book collections, available 24 hours a
day, 7 days a week. The Public Collection provides access to over 2,500
public domain electronic books (available at no cost when one signs up
for membership). The Private Collection includes the public domain titles
plus “contemporary,” copyrighted e-books. Libraries must commit to ordering
a minimum of 500 electronic books. “Pricing is based on publishers’ list
prices, with discounts based on volume [see the list of participating publishers
netLibrary is also developing alternate pricing models — such as term-lease
and pay-per-view options — that will provide affordable access to multiple
copies of eBooks during peak usage.” In addition to the e-book pricing,
netLibrary charges “a small annual access fee…applicable to all eBook titles,
starting 1 year after the initial purchase. The access fee for each eBook
is calculated on a sliding scale based on the original purchase amount.
At present, netLibrary eBooks are not compatible with hand-held readers,
such as the Rocket eBook and the SoftBook.”
Like a paperback, customers can write notes, underline, and bookmark pages. PC system requirements include an IBM-compatible PC, 486 or higher; Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows NT 4.0; 16 MB RAM; 10 MB hard disk space for Rocket eBook software; one available serial port; Internet access, and a Web browser. Macintosh users must have Power Macintosh PowerPC 601 or higher; Mac OS 8.5 or higher; 16 MB RAM recommended; 10 MB hard disk space for Rocket eBook software; one available serial port; USB machines require a USB-to-serial adapter; Internet access, and a Web browser.
Customers buy electronic
books (called RocketEditions) directly from Web-based booksellers (currently
barnesandnoble.com, powells.com, and Ecampus.com). E-books download into
one’s computer; users can then transfer titles to the Rocket eBook portable
device at their leisure. Since NuvoMedia is a distributor of electronic
books (and not a publisher at this time), pricing is determined by the
rights-holder and the retailer.
Online Originals has two lists of published titles: Works, which are stringently selected for their literary or intellectual quality, and produced by our editors to a professional standard; and OO Direct, titles which are carefully chosen by our editors from amongst thousands of submissions, and offered to readers exactly as written by the authors. Each work arrives by e-mail as an attached file. When you open it, the work looks just like a book on your screen….You can easily jump to any page, adjust the size, print out, and even search for keywords.Each title costs $7. Only credit card orders (American Express, MasterCard, and Visa) are accepted.
Softbook Press, Inc.
You don’t need
to own a computer when purchasing books from Softbook. The SoftBook Reader
has a built-in modem, so you only need a telephone line to select titles.
The Reader costs $599.95 when purchased by itself, or a one-time payment
of $299.95 plus a commitment to buy $19.95 worth of content each month
for 2 years; enterprise-wide pricing programs are also available. “Books
are priced competitively — at or below discount bookseller prices….”
|Electronic Book Directories/E-Bookstores|
Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts
Barnes & Noble
Books on the Internet
The On-line Books Page