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Some Thoughts On The eBook

Posted by acdtest on December 8, 2003

Some Thoughts On The eBook

fter watching a TV version of A Christmas Carol (the George C. Scott one), I urgently felt the need to again read Dickens’s original text, which is something I haven’t done in decades. A quick glance through my present library assured me that my copy had gone the way of the rest of my previous library, which is to say up in smoke and flames some eight years ago, and hadn’t yet been replaced.

Damn! And I really wanted to read that book. Now. This instant.

Believe it or not, it took me almost an hour before realizing that all I had to do was log onto the Web, Google on the search string “a christmas carol” + ebook + free, click to the indicated website(s); click on “Download”, and, Voila!, in less than five minutes (and in this case, at zero cost) the complete text of Dickens’s classic, beautifully book-formatted, ready for my on-screen perusal, was permanently resident in my computer.

Today’s conventional wisdom is that while the eBook (especially the fiction eBook) is essentially a dead-in-the-water concept at present, it will not always be so, but even when that future time arrives, the ink-on-paper volume will still reign supreme because one will never be able to snuggle up with cold, phosphor type on a glass or plastic screen in a hard plastic or metal portable case, like one can with a bound, ink-on-paper volume.

Well, I’m here to tell y’all that’s a total crock; one perpetrated by whomever to make all you ink-on-paper-book-loving Luddites and semi-Luddites feel more comfortable about the future of your beloved ink-on-paper volumes. Just one development is necessary for the eBook to replace almost totally the bound, ink-on-paper volume forever: a proper display screen; a screen where type and images will display in a way indistinguishable, except by physical touch, from ink-on-paper. Or display in a way perhaps even more vivid and warmly intimate.

You perhaps doubt my word on this. If so, do this little thought experiment.

Think of a paper-thin sheet of plastic on which appears a page of text (or text and images), the plastic sheet of the same size as a typical size ink-on-paper trade hardcover volume, and the page of text displayed indistinguishable in appearance from the ink-on-paper book page. Now affix that sheet of plastic to any substrate of your imagining; say, something an inch-thick, and about the same shape and weight as a standard size trade hardcover paper volume of the same thickness, and made of just about any material you like. Now place a rigid, thin, side-hinged cover on top of the whole thing.

There you have your eBook of the future. As cozy and cuddly a thing to snuggle up with as any ink-on-paper book you ever owned. Except it’s not a book. It’s a dozen (two dozen; ten dozen; whatever) books. And not just a certain, unchanging dozen, but a dozen that can be exchanged with any other dozen at your pleasure, one by one, by the simple expedient of plugging in the appropriate credit-card size memory module, and in a flash (PI) copying its contents into your eBook. Or be exchanged by connecting your eBook to your computer wherein is stored your complete library of hundreds or thousands of e-volumes, all of which were previously downloaded from the Web. Or be exchanged by logging onto the Web directly with your eBook, and downloading whichever volumes you desire.

And you can do this 24/7 without leaving your home, and have the volumes in your eBook in a matter of minutes. And I here make no mention at all of the other benefits of digital text such as the invaluable search function, integrated dictionary, note taker, highlighting and annotating functions, etc., etc. Nor do I make any mention of the production advantages over ink-on-paper for publishers, and the inventory advantages for booksellers.

How far off in the future is that sine qua non display technology that will replace almost totally the ink-on-paper volume forever? I of course don’t really know, but I’d be willing to bet, giving odds, that five years out is not over-optimistic. I mean, we’re talking here about a multi-billion-dollar consumer market for eBooks (machine and texts), and when a market of that dollar size is at stake amazing things can and do happen. All that’s required is a recognition by the industry that such a market is for real, and here right now, not a blue-sky, if-come affair.

Well, even though those who make up that vast consumer market (that’s to say, you) may not know it, that market is very much for real here and now, and waiting. Waiting for the proper display technology to make its appearance. As I said, you may not know you’re waiting for it — until you actually see it, that is — but the industry does know, and so it won’t be long now in coming.

Trust me.

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