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Buy An eBook And You Won't Need Any More Bookshelves

Sandra Prior
Aug 8, 2008
Peter James is one author who recognized the possibilities of electronic books long ago. His techno-thriller 'Host' was the first novel to be released on floppy disk back in 1995 and he has long been an advocate of technology catching up with the paperback.

There's nothing sacrosanct about the printed word. The paperback is a ludicrously ineffective device. It's too bulky. Besides the portability advantage paperbacks aren't environmentally friendly, and a vast percentage of them get pulped. If you can see every single word that's ever been written on one computer screen, then it's evidently more efficient.

There's a lot to be said for every book being stored digitally as well as on paper. Not only would it be ecologically friendly, but also no book would ever go out of print. Imagine if the great Library of Alexandria had been downloaded to disk before it got burnt down - or, less fancifully, if textbooks were available as ebooks, allowing them to be durable, instantly annotated and easily updated. This version of preserving the mind bogglingly vast number of books that have been published beyond their paper incarnations is perhaps the most important factor in the evolution of ebooks.

However, even if schoolchildren in 20 years are using super resolution ebooks instead of traditional hardbacks, it still won't mean the end of the book as we know it. It's a variant of the 'death of the book' argument that's often leveled at the Internet, and is as palpably untrue. Far from killing off the printed word, the Net has been helping it.

Authors are discovering that setting up their own Web sites helps them stay in contact with readers, not have to rely on their publishers for precious promotional funds and significantly boost their sales.

Skeptics always see the advent of fresh technologies as a face-off between the old and the new, when it's increasingly obvious that the two tend to co-exist happily. The Net and the printed word are feeding off one another, and it's precisely this cozy relationship that ebooks hope to emulate.

Patricia le Roy's 'The Angels of Russia' was allowed to compete for the Booker Prize in 1998, a first for a digital title. Such has been the interest in le Roy's book that it was published as a paperback, bringing the relationship of books and ebooks full circle. That's the plan, anyway.

In 2001 Microsoft entered the digital book publishing business. Microsoft is sensibly pushing for an open ebook standard, so that all the different machines can read the same texts. Microsoft is essentially trying to stop the sort of technology war that happened between the x2 and k56flex modem standards. Microsoft's clear type technology, available in Windows XP/Vista triples the resolution of anything previously available on a computer screen.

With Microsoft onboard, it looks as if the future of ebooks in one shape or another is assured. It's the Net that has done more to popularize the idea of reading from a screen than anything else - and it's also the Net that will ensure that, whatever ebooks turn out to be in the future, we'll be able to get hold of any available text, anywhere. Just as the Net is helping the sales and distribution of real books, so it'll help ebooks preserve all our literary yesterdays.
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