Thursday, September 6, 2007

The eBook

The NYTimes has an interesting little article today about the latest version of the eBook: the Kindle. This time, it's wireless and can download text from online stores like Amazon or Google. Even though it seems unlikely that these tech giants would pursue something they didn't think was profitable, eBooks have a history of not working out:
That disappointing history goes back to the late 1990s, when Silicon Valley start-ups created the RocketBook and SoftBook Reader, two bulky, battery-challenged devices that suffered from lackluster sales and a limited selection of material. The best selling e-books at the time, tellingly, were “Star Trek” novels.
I've always thought that I really enjoyed the portability of taking a book with me on the train or to the beach in a way that I don't enjoy towing a laptop or palm pilot (does anyone use these anymore?) around. I do, however see a great deal of value in making research texts available in virtual format. I can't even count how many times in college I read a text and then went back later to study or write about it, but couldn't remember the exact page. If I had all my textbooks in virtual format, it would make research much more efficient (and already has, with so many articles available in PDF or full text format online). Not to mention that buying the virtual textbooks would be much cheaper than purchasing the same text in paper format because the publishing would be so much more efficient.

What the future of virtual books will be I'm not quite sure yet. I have a feeling that people will want to keep paper books around for at least a while because of the romantic or sentimental connection of the literary tradition, but in the meantime, I read thousands of words a day on my computer screen, so I sense the printed word will become even more of a rarity, if not render it obsolete.

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