The book is dead – long live the (Kindle?)

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for a while but just been too damn busy!

Electronic books (e-books) have been available in one form or another for a while. However one problem has been the lack of a decent platform on which to read them. It’s not much fun downloading a big PDF and trying to sit at your desk and read it off your PC or laptop screen. However recent developments have made the e-book much more of a viable proposition. First, the arrival of e-ink – a display technology that uses much less power than a standard TFT LCD, and additionally provides a display that actually looks a lot like real paper. It can be read easily in bright ambient light, and from extreme angles. Second, the appearance of two hardware platforms that make use of e-ink, Sony’s e-book Reader, and Amazon’s Kindle (US only so far – boohoo).

kindle2

The new Amazon Kindle 2

Although the first Kindle looked like a dog, apparently it was very successful and now the second and much prettier (and very Apple-esque) version has just been released. Coincidentally, everyone’s favourite pocket multifunction device the iPhone has also just received a Kindle app that allows iPhone users to download e-books from Amazon and read them on their beloved phones. The iPhone also has it’s own much lauded e-book reading app Stanza which reads a number of common e-book formats (.pdb, .epub, .prc, .pdf etc). It also functions as a store front, links (from within the app) to Fictionwise and a number of other sources of e-books both free (Project Gutenberg) and for purchase.

So, is the book really dead? Will e-books take over the way CDs killed of the vinyl record? Well, no, or at least not for a  while. There is no doubt that e-books have come a long way and are now a viable way to read books, magazines and other text based media (newspaper article are also available). The screen technology is acceptable, there are some good devices and there are undoubted benefits in being able to carry around a large amount of books in a small form factor. (Think going on a long trip). However there are situations where you might not want to pull out your Kindle. It is still very expensive ($359 currently). The latest Sony reader costs about the same. You might feel inhibited about taking this out in certain situations (you might get it stolen or you might get mugged). The books themselves are not cheap. On average they seem to be about the same or more expensive than the paperback versions (excepting special offers). For me however the main problem is that there is still something special about having an actual book. It is cheap. It looks nice on your shelf. You can lend it out to a friend. You can donate to a charity shop or sell it second hand. If you lose it or it gets stolen you have not lost $300!!  And of course although the selection of e-books available is quite large, it is still nowhere as good as regular books even in a moderate sized bookstore, and certainly online you can get virtually any book in paper form. Until the ebooks are so much cheaper that they are disposable (like about half the price of the equivalent paperback), and the reading devices themselves are also cheaper (I guess <$100 or so) I don’t think e-book reading will really take off as a mainstream option for non-geeks.

What do you think?

Current e-book Sci-Fi Bargains:

Use Of Weapons – Iain M Banks $1

Déjà Vu – Ian Hocking £1

Any Cory Doctorow novel free

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