In Part 1, we talked about the impact of e-books on the publishing industry and libraries. The short answer is that the impact is big and no one knows much more than that. The sand is still shifting; just in the last couple of weeks we’ve seen the US Supreme court rule on Google’s effort at digitizing pretty much every book ever published stopped by US courts and Harper Collins announce a new digital-only romance line called Avon Impulse, committing to putting out a new e-book every week.
But we can be sure of one thing; because of the low production costs, publishers will do their darndest to make e-books a very popular, if not the preferred, way to consume the written word.
So that led to some thinking. How might they do that? What happens to books when the limitations of physical production and shipping disappear?
We can get a hint from how DVDs have evolved over the years. Just as DVDs now include much, much more than just the movie itself, e-books can include more than they ever have before, offering features that readers will choose to access or even turn on or off, depending on their preferences.
Imagine your favourite piece of fiction with photos of locations. Sure it’s been done with books like The Illustrated Da Vinci Code. But that was available only in hard cover at hard cover prices. Imagine if that became the norm.
And books wouldn’t have to stop at pictures. How about the sound of crickets for the chapter where the characters are out in a field, restaurant noises for a date scene or battle sounds for a war novel. You might be able to even set your own soundtrack to play in the background through headphones attached to your e-reader. And not just music; if you like reading at the beach, you could listen to the soothing sound of waves while you’re reading.
You could read that long description of what the character in your spy novel sees from their hideout…or just watch a short video as a camera pans across the scene, maybe with that green night-vision effect for extra realism. For non-fiction fans, imagine being able to see copies of documents or letters, videos of historic events or read along to recordings of famous speeches. That kind of extra perspective could make the driest piece of history come to life.
And like DVDs, e-books could include interviews with authors or editors and even alternate endings. Die-hard fans could read drafts of the work in progress, listen to recordings of the author describing the creative process, how they came up with certain scenes, characters or paragraphs. Even view different proposals for the cover art.
E-readers with touch-screens could include games to let you draw, play a game based on the story or even answer a quiz to test your retention of the chapter you’ve just read.
These aren’t pie in the sky ideas; all of these can easily be implemented with today’s technology. There’s no telling when or even if e-books will actually head in this direction but you can be sure that as soon as someone does it, the rest will follow, whether that first step is taken by a publisher or an e-book reader manufacturer. Which brings us to yet another big question, this time about the future of e-book readers themselves.
The other massively popular device in 2010 was Apple’s iPad, the first really successful take on something called a tablet computer. The iPad’s success has led to, by some accounts, the launch of over 50 different tablets this year from a variety of computer manufacturers, including industry heavyweights like Motorola, Samsung and RIM. While tablets are more expensive than an e-reader, they do everything an e-reader can do and much, much more. They’re essentially a portable computer so if people are going to carry around something that’s bigger than a cell phone, some will choose a tablet over an e-reader. That will have some kind of impact on e-book reader manufacturers, including booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble that are committed to a particular e-reader, but no one can yet say exactly what that is.
Though the future of e-books is unclear, it is definitely very positive; 2011 should see the popularity of e-books continue to grow. There will be more devices, more features and happily, lower prices.
We at the library believe that there is not just a place but a need for both e-books and traditional paper books and we’re proud to offer both to our patrons. E-books are available through the Downloadable and Digital section on the homepage of our website so, if you haven’t yet, consider giving e-books a try. There’s no denying their advantages and you might find you love their convenience. Or you might find that what works best for you is a combination of paper and e-books; choosing e-books for light reading, while waiting at the doctor’s office for example, but taking the traditional route for reading in bed or doing research.
Whatever you choose, and whatever the future holds for e-books, you can be sure that your library will continue to offer the latest technology so that you’ll be able to enjoy whatever the future brings. And whether you prefer e-books or paper, we’ll continue to give you the choice.